By Rann Miller | AC JosepH Media Guest Blogger
CAMDEN — Camden, New Jersey made me who I am.
One could assume that the forces of poverty, violence and criminality did much for the forging and shaping. But those who immediately trek to that assumption are without an understanding of, and respect for, the governance spaces that not only informed who I would become, but that also give the city its life.
My parents heeded the “recommendation” of my grandmother to enroll me at Respond Inc. when I was a kid, where she was the head nurse for all the child-care centers, and a center director. Much of my childhood was spent with Respond Inc. I was in the child-care program, the afterschool program and the Summer Career Exploration Program (SCEP).
From SCEP, I graduated from a student participant to a college monitor. While attending Rutgers University-Camden, I was tapped to be part of a revamped group of monitors for the summer of 2003. I remember meeting my boss for the first time, Annie Sadler.
I was shocked to learn that she lived in the city. I was use to all the white people who worked in Camden leaving Camden at the end of the day. She said to me, “There are still some white people left you know.”
At the time, Ann drove a Black PT Cruiser and she drove it everywhere; specifically picking up and dropping off kids — whether her own kids or kids from the neighborhood.
One day, she was without the PT Cruiser. She said her husband’s car was in the shop so he had the car until he no longer needed it. At the end of the work day, us college monitors asked if she needed a ride home. She thanked us but declined. Waiting for her after work was her husband in that Black PT Cruiser. That was the first day I met Rodney Sadler.
Over the years I’d come to know Rod well. He went from someone I respected to a person I went to for advice and counsel.
Those relationships don’t happen without the blessing of time. I like to think over the years, he saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself at the time. I was young, naïve and still growing; still getting stronger. But he sensed the potential … and he invested his time and poured in some of his wisdom.
I grew to understand that the brotha was more than just a marina man who loved boats. I discovered that the man was an activist who cared deeply about the city, particular the waterfront community.
For example, I didn’t know what the organization Save Our Waterfront (SOW) was about. Ann always talked about it; printing materials and making calls to schedule meetings.
Little did I know that Rod’s work with SOW was instrumental (if not responsible) for preventing a second prison from being built on the waterfront as well as removing the prison that was already there. Of course, over time, I learned of Rod and the work responsible for change in the city.
But it was our interactions that showed me the man that he was.
After my first summer working for Ann, she recruited me and others to work the afterschool program with her. My most lasting memory of those days was on Christmas Even in 2003.
We had to work from 7am to 5pm because the students were out of school. I had the crazy idea of cooking Christmas dinner for lunch. When Rod heard that I was cooking lunch, he offered to cook breakfast. He didn’t think twice. All Rod needed was to know that you cared enough to make a positive out of a less than ideal situation (working 12 hours on Christmas eve) to pitch in and help … and he was all in.
He took over the kitchen and made French toast, bacon, home fries, sausage, pancakes, and eggs for 50 kids and us adults … and the food was amazing. When we finished, we had the itis … bad. I had to cook lunch but I wasn’t quite over breakfast when it was time to prep.
There are other meaningful moments shared with Rod, including discussion over my career prospects amidst a career crisis in my mind only. I’d visit the county marina and sit for hours to glean wisdom to make my next move my best move. I bothered him regularly, yet I am sure he would say I was no annoyance at all.
He shared a lot with me in those moments. But what I remember most is when he told me to be patient … That the old guys, like himself, were getting older and that it would be up to us (younger folks) to fight for the people on the issues that mattered most and that I would have my time.
Those words ring so true as I engage in the very matters we discussed way back when. Again, he saw in me what I didn’t see.
There were also invitations to dinner as well as to parties to celebrate his birthday with the most crabs you’ve even seen to be eaten in one place. But more important than partaking was seeing a man who deeply loved and cared for his wife, his children, grandchildren and great-grands, while at the same time advocating for the people who weren’t in the rooms he had access to.
Rod’s life was a life well lived and so I was elated to hear of the decision to name the marina area and greenspace surrounding his residence Sadler Poynt Park at the behest of the people to honor his work and legacy. When I heard the news, I reached out to Ann immediately. A trip to Corinne’s Place with our old crew to break bread and toast to Rod is in our future. For now, I rest in the reality that one person can indeed make a difference.
Well done, Rod.
Bio: Rann Miller directs the 21st Century Community Learning Center, a federally funded after-school program located in southern New Jersey. He spent years teaching in charter schools in Camden, New Jersey. He is the creator, writer, and editor of the Official Urban Education Mixtape Blog. Follow him on Twitter: @UrbanEdDJ.
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