Marc Antoine Lavarin ‘09 stood in the front of the MLK room, idly chatting with his old history teacher, Malcolm Cawthorne, as people slowly filtered in, filling the seats and subsequently standing in the back once no seats reamained. He was the day’s speaker for the Black History Month Speaker Series during A and E-blocks on Thursday, Feb. 14.
His opening slide had a picture of a bird reaching for something on its back, with the word “sankofa,” which means “reach back and get it”, in the Twi dialect of southern Ghana.
“It’s been something that has guided me, a lot of my principles and a lot of the work I do today,” Lavarin said of the word. “We’re always responsible to move forward, but as we move forward, we’re always responsible for going back and reaching back and getting those that are behind us.”
Lavarin places a lot of value on his family as the proud son of Haitian immigrants.
“When I introduce myself, I like to introduce myself first as a son. I’m the son of Haitian immigrants, and that has always grounded me in anything that I have done in my life,” Lavarin said. “My mom came here, not married, not knowing the language and not knowing anyone. It always grounds me in the work that I do, the fact that I’m a product of immigrants. I’ve never had to do anything completely on my own, and my parents made sacrifices for where I am today.”
Lavarin reiterated these values frequently throughout his speech, often connecting his family and childhood with his adult life.
“In life, I am always playing for this team,” Lavarin said early in the speech, pointing at the picture of his family on his slide. “When I was a football player, our coach at the time, Mitjans, always used to say, there are certain people who play for the name on the back of their jersey, and there are individuals who play for the name on the front. I’m always doing it for the family.”
Lavarin, a former METCO student who lived in Mattapan, has gone on to teach in elementary and middle schools around Massachusetts and has become an assistant minister at historic Alfred Street Baptist Church.
However, as Lavarin described, he wasn’t always so confident about his future. He did not figure out what he wanted to do until well after leaving high school, and to the many students in a similar situation, he believes that it is completely okay.
“So much of life is spent living in the gray areas as opposed to being black and white,” Lavarin said. “I didn’t really figure out what I wanted to become, what I wanted to do, until pretty late, but the one thing I did know is that I wanted to give back. I did know I wanted to think about my friends in Mattapan, I wanted to think about my parents in Mattapan, I wanted to think about how what I do is going to give back to the community I grew up in.”
Lavarin told stories about his experiences both as a student and as a teacher. For Lavarin, teaching 5th and 6th graders was a formative experience that helped him realize the value of his work and its impact on the kids he worked with.
“One thing I really paid attention to while I was teaching was the interactions that I had with my students because I knew that my presence was important there,” Lavarin said. “I knew that I needed to show up for them and give them my best. There’s something about kids that makes you give them your best, whether you’re ready to or not. I knew that I wanted to give back, but I didn’t know how much they would mean to me when I gave back. The hardest thing I ever had to do was leave that classroom.”