Read new acweekly.com columnist, Atlantic City resident and author Turiya S. A. Raheem's column each week — only at acweekly.com.
Maybe Atlantic City always had more cultural diversity than I ever experienced, maybe not, but when I returned in 2008 and worked for the U.S. Census Bureau for a few months, I was truly astounded.
I was assigned a section of Atlantic City that covered the blocks from the bay to the Boardwalk between Mississippi and California avenues. I had to walk these blocks for a couple weeks to check and record addresses.
Little did I know that I’d be taking a world tour.
For blocks and blocks, I would hear no other language spoken but Spanish. Then, there would be blocks and blocks where occupants spoke a different language at every house: French, Wolof, a Haitian patois, Ghujurati, Arabic, Bengali. One house would have a Virgin Mary statue in the front yard and next to it, there’d be a house with verses from the Qur’an on its front door.
I only knew this because of the little Arabic that I know. The letters probably looked as foreign as Russian to some census workers. Another house might actually have some Russian on its front door or something that looked like Sanskrit, and the next one would have incense sticks burning next to a statue of the Buddha.
This was not the hometown I remembered. I could hardly believe my eyes and ears.
When people opened their doors to guardedly watch me as I moved from house to house, I heard Mexican rhythms, Buddhist chants, Nigerian drums and Chinese string instruments.
I saw grandmothers with black kerchiefs tied under their chins, young mothers with colorful scarves draped over their shoulders, old men in all types of headwear with gray or orange henna-dyed beards, children in jeans, but with long tunics over them.
Sometimes, these children would translate for an older person after reading the government identification that hung down the front of my coat. More than once I had to explain that I was not with Immigration & Naturalization.
The pungent smells of curry made me hungry and sometimes, I was stunned by a spice that burnt my eyes when an occupant opened a door to watch me. I’d smile and show my badge to reassure people, but clearly, phone calls were being made about the short lady coming down the block with a pen and some sort of computer in her hands.
At times, I was nervous too, because there were alleys that I did not know about behind houses that I could not see from the street beyond terraces that had been created in Atlantic City when its first Italian immigrants came to work.
This was an Atlantic City I had never known in my youth, an area of the city that we moved through quickly on warm spring days when we decided to walk home from high school, because we knew the white kids there might bother us. If there were tan, brown or black faces living in this part of the city back then, I sure didn’t know anything about them. We just knew that area was one of the “white” parts of town.
Very few parts of Atlantic City can be called that anymore; the city is filled with people from such a variety of cultural backgrounds. At Atlantic Cape Community College’s Worthington campus in the city — where I teach English — we have students from more than 150 countries and most of them reside in Atlantic City.
Walking into businesses on Atlantic Avenue is like visiting the United Nations. This diversity is also reflected in the library-sponsored cultural performances on the Boardwalk during the summer. Most of the acts are local groups, not groups brought in from foreign countries, and the people, the music, food, songs and dances have added a delicious diversity to my hometown.
Turiya S.A. Raheem was born and raised in Atlantic City. Currently an English teacher at Atlantic Cape Community College, she loves to describe her neighborhood as “the other Atlantic City,” because it was not the casino-resort mecca most people know today. It was a place with a “cozy, down-home feeling” as she describes in her 2010 book, Growing Up in the Other Atlantic City: Wash’s and the Northside.
One of the best documentaries I watched last month was entitled 'More Than a Month' by Shukree Hassan Tilghman, a film student at Columbia University.
When are we going to hear more talk about the many efforts available to help parents, teen and otherwise, deal with their own lack of parenting skills, feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, depression and outdated employability skills?
"An urban high school is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It’s a global world now so it’s good to get to know people from a lot of different places, with a lot of different backgrounds. You can’t learn that from a book.”
At our family’s restaurant, we prepared special lunches for these Freedom Riders, known as the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Other business people, churches and homes around the city offered meals and shelter for this tired and disenfranchised group of activists who had traveled so far.
A.C. Youth Exposure has a curriculum that includes everything from mentoring, tutoring, job and scholarship counseling, college and career exploration, to field trips. Modeled after the five-year-old Youth Exposure program in Plainfield, N.J., it is designed for students in grades 5th through 8th, a group sometimes overlooked by other programs.
I’m not sure if many decision-making officials truly understand how important honesty, inclusion and transparency are to the African-American community.
Nadirah Ruffin, Atlantic City Board of Education, the CRDA town-hall meetings and Raheem's original poem: 'The Ocean Has a Way With Me.'
"Hopefully, by Tuesday, March 29, the A.C. Board of Education members can agree not to close this alternative program, which, according to many, has practically saved the lives of some young people."
"By the 1950s, Wash and Sons’ Seafood Restaurant was a full-service place seating more than 100. Among our guests were celebrities, like Redd Foxx, Sammy Davis Jr., Nipsey Russell, Moms Mabley and Count Basie, who were featured at nightclubs on Kentucky Avenue."
It’s been very weird. When I decided to self-publish my book in Dec. 2009, I did it because an agent in New York told me — and this is pre-Obama — that nobody’s interested in black history now. I said, ‘What?’ And she said, ‘Nobody is interested. That’s just the truth.’ Then, I think it was in April, HBO calls me.
With the new TV series based on early Atlantic City, Boardwalk Empire, coming this fall to HBO, I was glad when I received Turiya Raheem’s book Growing Up In the Other Atlantic City: Wash’s and the Northside. Finally there is a book that researches and documents the sights and sounds of A.C. from the African-American/Kentucky Avenue perspective. In other books and TV specials, places like Chicken Bone Beach, Club Harlem and the Wonder Gardens are footnotes to stories about places like the 500 Club and/or the Steele Pier. In Raheem’s book these places are more than just background. The long-gone...
Jacob Lawrence Day in Atlantic City
Black History, Jazz and Poetry