Norman Kim-Senior graduated from Washington and Lee University in 2005 with a double major in Spanish and Economics. After graduating, he taught Spanish, coached Cross Country and served as the head of a residential house for seven years at Pomfret School, in Pomfret Connecticut. He also served as the faculty advisor for VOICE, the school’s minority student organization, and CultureFest, a group focused on fostering deeper knowledge of the different cultures represented on Pomfret’s campus. While working at Pomfret School, Norman completed his master’s degree in Spanish at Middlebury Language Schools. He now works at the Lawrenceville School where he serves as a Spanish teacher, freshman soccer coach and head of a residential house. In the winter, he works in the school’s Community Service office in the afternoons. Norman’s new passion project is teaching basic computer literacy classes in Spanish to local Spanish-speaking community members from Trenton, NJ and Lawrenceville NJ. Norman is married to fellow Shepherd alum Tran Kim-Senior and is the father of two children.
“The Shepherd Program showed me that there are many paths to help communities that are in poverty. I do not need to major in poverty in order to help the poor and I do not have to take the traditional paths to working with the underserved in order to help those communities.”
I grew up in poverty, and I know its rhythms, flavors, smells, textures, pains, power and yes, JOY. My friends and I laughed a lot when we played or on some Saturday afternoon when we got sidetracked by an alluring cane field instead of finding the wild “broom weed,” as we called it, that we used to make the brooms to sweep our yards. My mother and the adults around me celebrated each academic success that I had and each bible verse memorized and successfully recited during our annual Christmas celebration at church. Yes, even in poverty deep enough to make an eight year old cry from the frustration of having to plead with family members to watch his baby sister so that he could get to school on time, there was still great joy. The many discomforts of poverty also fueled my determination to find academic success and to seize every opportunity that came my way. And yet, beyond my own personal experiences of poverty, I had never stopped to think about how I got there. How did my family end up in poverty? I had just assumed that it must have been a side effect of living in a poor country whose poverty was brought on by unfair trade practices from places like the US and Europe as well as the legacy of slavery. So, by the time I was sixteen, I had already formulated my superhero complex. I would one day become a brilliant economist, make lots of money, and buy my family’s way out of poverty while campaigning against the trade policies that I blamed for trapping my country in poverty.
I came to Washington and Lee University having spent two years studying business and accounting at Jonathan Grant High School and another two years studying economics at the United World College of the Atlantic. I continued my courses in economics and accounting at Washington and Lee and in my second year, I discovered something called the Shepherd Poverty Program. This was my first opportunity to bring academic rigor to the problems and forces that had shaped much of my life up to that point. In those courses, I gained an understanding that poverty could be generational, and I saw that structural policies could reinforce the barriers that kept people trapped in poverty. I came to understand that powerful people constructed a narrative about poverty every day, and I saw that these narratives were often negative. I also came to see that the color of your skin could make your poverty invisible in the USA, or ennoble you for struggling through the difficulties of poverty. Far from being just a personal battle to be won by clinging to the adage that “education is the key to success,” I finally heard the biblical claim “for you always have the poor with you” (Mark 4:17, New American Standard Bible) in a newly oppressive light. It might have been at this point when I stopped having complete faith in the promise of trickle-down economics. Should I succeed on my original path, it would at best bring some help to my family and perhaps some hope to some unknown families out there, but if it did not, I would never know.
Today, I am a teacher at an elite boarding school that is sustained by some of the wealthiest and most powerful families in the US, in Jamaica, and in many other countries abroad. I have only worked in schools like this since leaving Washington and Lee. With regards to the poverty of Jamaica, which is still very real for the majority of the people there, this job has allowed me to see that there are and were people in Jamaica who had more wealth than I
could have imagined. So, clearly, the picture is more complicated than my youthful analysis of the situation. I am also not teaching at one of the many public schools that serve primarily underserved populations, and I am clearly not living in Jamaica. So it would seem that I have totally abandoned the values and aspirations from my youth.
I am the first to tell you that not much about my life has gone according to plan: not my marriage, not my two kids, not my profession and not where I live. And that is fine, because at 16, college was an unaffordable dream too, which was not supposed to happen. Perhaps more importantly, the Shepherd Program showed me that there are many paths to help communities that are in poverty. I do not need to major in poverty in order to help the poor, and I do not have to take the traditional paths to working with the underserved in order to help those communities. In addition to teaching, I am the head of a house (Housemaster) in a 216 year old institution where once a person with my skin color would not have been thought sufficiently intelligent to hold a teaching position. Some of the students come from underserved communities like the one I grew up with and need to be reminded that they belong here and that they have a right to their dreams, and I help with that. I have taken students, some of them from quite privileged backgrounds, to Bolivia for the past three years to work with a group called Fe y Alegría in their efforts to address issues of poverty in Bolivia. Furthermore, I have the opportunity here at Lawrenceville to work with our Community Service office to help extend some of the opportunities that we have on campus to the local communities in Trenton and surrounding areas that need some help. Additionally, my high school in Jamaica was one of the first public high schools in Jamaica to have its own website, and I helped to make that happen. There are many other aspects of my job that that allow me to do exactly what I wanted to do when I was sixteen, and that is to help other people improve their situation and reduce the difficulties associated with the economic limitations that they face. The Shepherd Poverty Program has helped me to be at peace with the way my life is unfolding.
In my shepherd internship, I worked with the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation, a community based economic development agency, in the housing department. I worked with Mr. Andy Sedensky to catalogue housing units that the DBEDC had worked on for a mapping program that they were introducing, and I attended three hour-long requisition meetings. I researched brownfield remediation techniques using plants, and I sat around on a worksite at a factory because someone from the organization had to be there in order for the DBEDC sponsored workers to do their job. This work was not glamorous; the salaries that the professionals earned did not break any records; and the people in that office would not be getting red carpet treatment anytime soon. However, this corporation worked at the ground level to produce real changes and real benefits that had the possibility of building a firm base in a community from which future economic success could sprout. I still believe in the work that needs to be done at the top with policy, and I also have a deep appreciation for shepherding that needs to take place at the grass roots level. The Shepherd Poverty Program gave me the knowledge and the confidence to navigate my way forward regardless of how I currently define my profession and my connection to this inter-generational task of building pathways out of poverty and defending the dignity of the people who are making that journey. I am a Shepherd alumnus, and I am so proud of that fact!