By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – Andrew Parker III said he was always involved in politics, but a nudge from the former Egg Harbor Township Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough lead the former star student-athlete’s appointment to the township’s zoning board of adjustments in 2011.
Parker now has a share of history as the first African-American elected to the Egg Harbor Township Committee – chosen in 2018 – and now he is making a run to become an Atlantic County Freeholder.
“Becoming the first black to serve as an elected official in EHT is a fantastic accomplishment,” Parker, a third-grade teacher at the Pennsylvania Avenue School in Atlantic City, told Front Runner New Jersey.com this week. “The demographics of Egg Harbor Township are changing, and our township committee should be reflective of that.
“I campaigned on the importance of social equity and diversity, social equity within the municipality, social equity within the community, and social equity within the party. I am a firm believer that each member of society should be represented in a balanced and just manner. I am pleased to say that the rest of the members of the Township Committee are very open-minded and want the best for the entire community,” he added.
Born and Raised Atlantic County
Parker is born and raised in Atlantic County. His parents moved from Atlantic City to Egg Harbor Township when he was 2-years-old and live in the same house he grew up in. He helped his father, Andrew Parker, Jr. start his own business, Parker Aire Heating and Air Conditioning, which he continued to operate.
He said Egg Harbor Township is home and he wants to continue improving it and the county for all of its residents.
“During my time on the township committee, we have increased diversity within the police department by promoting a female lieutenant, hiring Hispanic police officers, and promoting qualified women and African-Americans up the ranks,” Parker said. “Also, the number of minorities representing the different boards in the township increased.
“We have minority representation in the economic development board, zoning board, veterans affairs board, and rent review board, to name a few. We have watched the shift in our society and how more and more people are engaged in the crucial conversations, conversations that open the door to change,” he added.
Parker married his college sweetheart Neysha Parker after they met while attending the University of New Haven in Connecticut. Both were scholarship athletes, Parker in football and his wife, a native of Puerto Rico, in volleyball.
“When we met, I was in my junior year of my bachelor’s in criminal justice, and she was a freshman on a volleyball scholarship working towards her bachelor’s in airways science. We became the best of friends and developed a relationship. Now, we live in Egg Harbor Township, not too far from where I grew up, with our three children. Just as we found each other, we also discovered our shared love for education together.
“While I was helping my father start a business, Neysha and I decided to start substitute teaching in Atlantic County. After being substitute teachers, we became paraprofessionals and then classroom teachers,” Parker said.
While Parker teaches in Atlantic City schools, his wife teaches in the Camden City School District.
“I love that we both get to go to work and make a difference every day in communities that need our support,” he said.
Coaching and Mentoring
While helping his father, Parker said he started coaching youth sports and mentoring young people. He said that proved to be a natural extension for him when he went to the classroom.
“I was already coaching youth sports and mentoring children in my community, so making the transition from the field to the classroom was not as hard as I thought,” Parker said. “The experience I have coaching children in sports gave me the confidence to teach in the school. It is where I developed the passion for transferring information and watching the kids
grow into not just good athletes but into good citizens of the community and school. Many of them I still reach out to when they need advice.”
In education circles around the country, there is a limit of male African-American teachers. Parker said he finds his position as a role model important.
“I take my role as an educator, role model, coach, and counselor very seriously. We need to see more positive images of black men in our community,” Parker said. “Children need to see successful black men and women in all segments of the community. Today children and young adults are bombarded by messaging in social media, the mainstream media, in music, and movies. Not all of this messaging is positive, so now it is more important than ever that people like me step up.”
Becoming a Game Changer
In politics, Parker said he was proud of his friend Antwan McClellan making history after the first African-American to represent Cape May County in the State Assembly. Her currently serves as the only Black Republican in the body. As a Republican, like McClellan, he said the former Ocean City councilman’s run was inspiring.
“Antwan McClellan is a good friend and colleague,” Park said. “I am very proud of the success and the good work he’s doing in LD1 and across our state. The issues that Antwan is fighting for and his courage to run as a Black Republican is an inspiration. People like Antwan and me are a game-changer for the Republican party. Not only do we empower an entire block of votes within our community, but we also bring a valid perspective to the Republican party.”
Now Parker is preparing to make his own statement by running for the Atlantic County Freeholder Board seat currently held by Democratic Ashley Bennett. Bennett recently dropped out of a U.S. Congressional campaign against Jeff Van Drew. Parker said he believes the county better.
“I was approached several times by different people who asked me to consider running for Freeholder in Atlantic County, specifically for the third district,” Parker said. “It took me a while to reflect and pray on it. I consulted family members, friends, and several of my mentors, and I decided that the Freeholder board can benefit from my skills and experience.”
There were several other subjects Parker touched on in his interview with Front Runner New Jersey.com.
FRNJ: How are has it been going from the classroom to a remote environment?
Andrew Parker III: As teachers, we have more responsibilities and expectations than before,” Parker said. “Over the past six weeks, we have been refining our remote learning skills and tools. Teachers all across this state had to turn on a dime and implement remote learning with very little preparation. The most challenging task, for me, has been reaching the students and making sure they are at home completing their daily assignments.
Atlantic City allows us to use ClassDojo as a communications tool and Google Classroom as an instructional tool. Every student received a Chromebook to take home the last day of school, and it is expected for each student to complete the assignments. The district also developed a remote learning curriculum for us to deliver instruction. There is also a paper-pencil based option given to students to complete these assignments. The challenge comes when we cannot be sure or make sure each student is login in the class and completing the work as assigned. To reach the kids that are not active in class, we are always making phone calls trying to reach out to the parents so they can get their child in class and to complete the daily work. This year, I have an inclusion classroom, which is a classroom that combines general education students and special education students. Even though I prepared my class to be active during independent studies and how to log in and complete an assignment in Google Classroom, it is uncertain if the students are going to log in to the class and complete the tasks. It is always a challenge to get third graders to complete their work daily during school hours so you can only imagine the extra work we have to do when we cannot see them at school every day and have to depend on a computer to complete the task.
FRNJ: I see you’re a member of the local NAACP and Hispanic Association. Any other community organizations?
Andrew Parker III: I am a Prince Hall Past Master with the Masonic Lodge 16 in EHT, Past Potentate, and Deputy of the Oasis of Atlantic City Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine Prince Hall affiliated with the Desert of New Jersey. Professionally, I am a member of the Atlantic City teacher’s union, and on a state level, I am an active member of the NJEA. I represent my school district as a part of the NJEA MOC (Members of Color) movement, local evaluations committee, actions committee, and an NEA RA (Representative Assembly) delegate, charged with debating the vital issues that impact American public education and set Association policy and activities for the year ahead. I am also a fellow alumni of the 2013 Siemens STEM Institute, where they chose their top 50 Science and Mathematics teachers in the country to participate in a week-long training in Washington, DC. There, I was able to meet great fellow teachers, meet and have a round table discussion with then-President Obama’s top chief
education advisors about the direction education was going, etc. In the community, I am a member of Mentors Meet in Atlantic County and a mentor in the Atlantic City mentoring program.
FRNJ: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Andrew Parker III: I’m a driven person. I’m never someone who would settle, so every day, I find myself doing something different. In 5 years, I would hope to be into my second term as a Freeholder and working to help improve Atlantic County. Outside of my political life, I want to continue to be a beacon of hope for our community and work hard to make sure that all people of color have an opportunity to succeed.
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