How This Newark Educator, Musician is Using His Talents to Give Back

The program is aimed to break down social barriers and introduce the young students to new experiences in contrast to what they have become accustomed to within their own community. These experiences can include a number of activities such as “Dress for Success Days” where the students understand the meaning of putting on a suit and tie, attending motivational conferences, and going on camping trips. 

Fostering personal growth is just one facet of the club. It also encourages the students to give back. Most recently, they held a winter coat drive for residents in need and the homeless. More ideas are on the way, too. Ritchwood-Jordan said the students want to learn how to cook for Mother’s Day to serve breakfast to the moms of the school community.

“We want to get them inspired and to spark interest in the world - not so much into the culture of what they deem as ‘normal’ because of where they come from,” he said.

For Ritchwood-Jordan, giving back to the community is nothing new. The lifelong Newark resident has found countless ways to reach residents, both young and old.

In 2015, he founded the nonprofit Victim to Victor Outreach, an initiative that works to provide education opportunities like scholarships and resources to underserved individuals. As a special education teacher, he has also served an active role in working with people diagnosed with autism and other special needs.

Most of this work, he said, is funded through his career in music and education. 

Ritchwood-Jordan, who goes by the stage name “JaRich,” said he can’t pin his style down to any one genre, simply describing himself as a “singer.” While listening to his music, the influences of R&B, gospel, soul, rock and funk can be heard.

Those talents didn't come out of thin air. They run deep in the Newark man's DNA.

As a youth, his musical prowess was embedded in him through his grandmother, Barbara Ritchwood Hill, a renowned gospel organist. Growing up, he said he had vivid memories of performing wherever his grandmother played, oftentimes in church choirs and at funerals.

“The gift trickled down from there,” he said.

Although singing in church probably felt like a normal part of growing up for Ritchwood-Jordan, he discovered he had a unique skill for singing at 6-years-old through his Fourteenth Avenue Elementary School music teacher, Michelle Montero. While participating in routine singing exercises in class, Montero noticed something special in the young boy's voice.

“I always knew I came from a musical background, but at that age you’re not really taking it seriously. I was just singing for fun,” he said. “She was the one who said she was really going to work on this gift. Every music class, I was the one she chose to do certain things with and pulling me to the side to do breathing exercises or using me as an example for certain things. That turned into her preparing me for my very first concert.”

From that point forward, singing weaved its way into the life of Ritchwood-Jordan. In light of his success on the stage and in the studio, his efforts to better serve his community were not lost on him.

He has released several albums and multiple singles, using funds earned from music streams to support his outreach endeavors. During the coronavirus pandemic, he released two albums and dedicated the proceeds towards feeding homeless residents.

The Newark man has also found other avenues of service. Like music, education was just as pivotal to Ritchwood-Jordan's upbringing.

Inspired by his elementary school teachers who were “stern but loving” to him as a student, he said he knew at an early age he wanted to become an educator.

“They really cared, and they showed it,” he said. “That’s what made me want to go into education. They showed they were concerned about not only my educational needs but my overall life. They were trying to shape me as a person.”

Upon graduating from Centenary University in Hackettstown with a bachelor’s degree in English, he began his teaching career at Harriet Tubman Elementary School where he served as a teacher’s aide. From there, he became an aide at Thirteenth Avenue School, where he earned his substitute certification. Following the pandemic, he went to MPTCHS, where he works today as a self-contained teacher.

Even in his capacity as an educator, Ritchwood-Jordan continued to find ways to give back. Inside the school building, he said he noticed many students lacked access to basic necessities and material items.

“You would hear their stories, feel for them and ask yourself, ‘What can I do?’”

Once he received permission from school administrators, Ritchwood-Jordan helped students in a variety of ways whether it was getting them a fresh meal, a haircut, or buying them new shirts and shoes.

Upon finding the Boys to Men club at MPTCHS, he said he hopes to grow the program and has even floated the idea of getting students from outside the school to get involved.

“When we were conducting meetings virtually because of the coronavirus, some students had their friends from the community join in,” he said. “We started talking about allowing other young high school men to join in on the experience across Newark of the county. That’s where we want to take it because we feel the young men need it.”

Ritchwood-Jordan’s commitment to his community hasn’t come without some worthy recognition either.

Earlier this year, the Newark City Council signed a resolution that commended Ritchwood-Jordan’s various efforts to better serve residents. On Jan. 28, he also received a letter from Gov. Phil Murphy in celebration of his 30th birthday. 

In his letter, Murphy expressed his appreciation of the Newark man’s dedication to serving others. 

“It is my hope that with your many years to come, that you continue your great work for the people of New Jersey,” Murphy wrote.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-02-04 03:31:48 -0800