Starting Up a Catholic Homeschooling Co-op in the Heart of New York City
She is a recent convert to the Faith, at this past Easter Vigil. She says her conversion was ‘a slow and deeply intellectual process, with many issues to contend with before finally accepting the Faith–primarily, issues of culture and ethnicity.’ Now, however, Lovina Ikenga is putting her Faith –and everything she’s got – on the line in a brand-new venture, a Catholic home schooling co-op for boys. Especially at Christmas, Lovina’s story is more than inspiring for all of her fellow Catholics.
The Blood of Slave Traders
I am a first generation born American. My parents came to this country in the late sixties from Nigeria; though they were not refugees per se, Nigeria was not safe for them because of the Biafran War. Both of them come from the same tribe, the Igbo and can trace their ancestry back to the same infamous Igbo town, Arochukwu.
The Igbos of Arochukwu were notorious for their participation in the trans-Atlantic slave trade; they traded thousands of slaves to Europeans. I have the blood of slave traders within me. This knowledge provided me with a very false superiority complex when it came to dealing with traditional black Americans.
I was indirectly taught by my Igbo community here in New York to view blacks somewhat contemptuously. They were victims, people who were not smart enough to make it without government help because of their historical circumstances. I grew up not really having anything to do with them or their institutions. I was taught to feel proud of my last name (which was not that of a slave master) and the fact that I spoke fluent Igbo because of my mother's instruction and having spent many holidays and summers in Arochukwu. All of this set me apart from the black American children that I sometimes encountered. When I was growing up, the Igbo communities of New York and New Jersey were a pretty tight-knit group.
My Father’s Religion
So, in terms of worship, it went without saying that growing up I never set foot inside a black church. I was raised in a VERY White Anglo-Saxon Protestant church, Grace Episcopalian Church in Brooklyn Heights. We were one of two black families at the church. With the exception of the pastor (and his wife), Reverend and Mrs. Sherrill, the parishioners were not particularly friendly–they were a melancholy and brooding sort.
From what I remember, my father's reaction to Grace Church and its people was interesting. I could tell that he did not enjoy the services, but going there was more of a status thing.
However, he always kept one foot in the traditional religion of his ancestors. I was fascinated with the rituals that he would sometimes perform as a result of the traditional worship–especially when we were in Arochukwu. I remember having a deep desire to understand these rituals and how they had come into existence. The religious traditions were all a part of something that the Igbos call “Omenala Ndi Igbo“, which roughly translates as “the ancient traditions of the Igbo people”.
I felt that knowing the roots of all of this would put me on a different level not just from blacks who did not know their history but from whites as well. There was so much reverence for everything–even how a kola nut was presented to a guest, who might have come to see you unexpectedly.
College, Roots and Classical Education
From these experiences, I began to intuit that knowing one's history very well was the key to being truly civilized. All of this also played a huge part in what I chose to study. I have a B.A. in history from CUNY and an M.A. in classics from the University of Colorado at Boulder. I also did a study abroad program at Christ Church, Oxford University.
Sometimes, I meet people who are impressed with all of this, but they shouldn't be. I was a high school dropout even though I went to prep schools; and it took many years for me to get my act together. I guess in many ways, what the secular culture was offering did not seem legitimate, even though I bought into most of it. At this point I had completely left the church. I bought into all of the “intelligent agnosticism” of the 80's and 90's. All of this and of course other things paved the road for what we have now: the tyrannical and technocratic atheism of the information age.
But when it came to my college degree(s), I was unequivocal. I was not going to study something that would prove to be worthless in a few years or decades. I wanted to study the things that did not change. I wanted to be able to pass on a legacy of knowledge to whomever. So until I found classics and the Romans in particular, I worked in the special events industry, helping to plan and work parties for the most impressive people of the world at that time (I worked for one of the top catering and events companies in the country for many years).
Deciding to major in history and pursing a graduate degree in classics was important because it showed me how superficial my understanding of many things including myself really was. The whole notion of feeling superior because of my non-slave ancestry was torn to shreds. Everyone has been a captive at some point in history. And to use any form or side of captive history to judge a people, no matter how recent the history might be is just foolish. It exposes a deep level of ignorance.
Speaking of captivity, I love these words of St. Jerome when he was thinking and writing about the Roman Empire in its final phases: “Capitur urbs quae totum cepit orbem–the city which captured whole world is now captured“. I just love that because it is true of all things that are great in the eyes of the world. At some point, it will all come to an end. Isn't America now going through the same thing? It's all trifles in the end.
The ancient standard bearers both pagan and Catholic are my best teachers. They showed me how not to put my trust in worldly things. From the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius to the snippets that I have read from Eusebius' History, all of them humbled me with their knowledge.
But the great fathers of our Faith were also my guiding light to the One True Light. They led me to Jesus Christ. They were my road map to the ultimate treasure! I would never have converted had I not met them. Now, I want to do everything that I can to pass this on to the boys that I work with.
This classical home-school co-op was a long time in coming. Basically after finishing graduate school, I had to move back to New York because there was no real work in Colorado for me. It was 2008 and the economy was tanking. Also, even though I wanted to teach, I refused to do an additional degree in education. I knew what was going on at the ed schools, and I wanted no part of that nonsense. So moving back to New York, although I dreaded coming back to a disappointing quality of life, made sense. New York was where the jobs were supposed to be, but I was wrong because the job situation was the same. I was so depressed. Here I was with all of these qualifications and credentials and no one wanted me! It was a very bad time. I felt as if God had completely abandoned me.
Finally, I found some part-time work as a NCLB (No Child Left Behind) tutor. I was beyond overqualified for the position, but I was so grateful. I took the work very seriously. I was sent to work with inner-city students who were seriously struggling in school. Mostly middle school students who just hated school.
I was allowed to use my own curriculum, so I began to introduce my students to Latin and abridged versions of the great literature of our Western Civilization. They loved it! Through the study of Latin, I also began to teach them the lost art of English grammar. Children who once really struggled with reading and writing were now excelling. I re-introduced the concept of old-fashioned arithmetic–basic, intermediate, and advanced. The fact that children who could barely subtract, multiply or divide were being asked to do algebra in their elementary and middle schools was ridiculous. But this is exactly what the education schools are pushing.
American children are being robbed of a proper education–this has been going on for generations. Now with the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling–what a nightmare this will bring to public schools and private ones that accept government money. They all have to change their curriculum to accommodate the decision. Everything is breaking down. We are eroding from within. But there is always hope in Christ.
Former NCLB clients began to request my services; I soon became overwhelmed with clients and had to start a real business. That business, a classical supplemental education company, was the precursor to the co-op.
That business taught me a lot. But it was missing something very significant. It was missing Jesus. It just got to a point where it had to be all or nothing. But I didn't want to open a school because I wanted heavy parent involvement. I wanted the parents to be held accountable, to stop outsourcing their responsibilities. But most importantly, I wanted a Christ-centered curriculum.
TODAY, I LIVE IN ROCKAWAY BEACH, A CULTURALLY VIBRANT COMMUNITY WORKING HARD TO RECLAIM ITS FORMER TRADEMARK AS THE “POOR MAN'S RIVIERA”. A lot of money is coming in here; it’s the new ‘it” location.
I LIVE IN A BEACH HOUSE APARTMENT. THE APARTMENTS ARE SMALL BUT HAVE INTERESTING FEATURES; SOME OF THEM ARE PERFECT FOR CLASSROOMS. When I decided to start the home-school co-op with some parents, my landlord was happy to rent us additional space. So, I came up with this idea of the home-school co-op. It's a hybrid–a cross between home instruction and a Catholic classical private school that is run by the parents and myself.
NYC DETECTIVE JUSTIN JOHNSON, THE CO-OP'S TREASURER, HAS A 13 YEAR OLD SON AT THE CO-OP. He is my rock. He is also going to convert to Catholicism. He has already been attending Mass regularly for about a year.
HIS SON IS DOING BEAUTIFULLY, AND DETECTIVE JOHNSON HAS BEEN AMAZING in all that he does for the co-op–from his home improvement classes with the boys to the way he has handled the money situation.
THE CO-OP IS FOR BOYS ONLY. I am especially good with boys who are just not doing well in a regular school system. The ones that have the parents crying and pulling out their hair.
WE HAVE FIVE STUDENTS NOW, AND INTEREST IS GROWING. But this is a paradigm shift, so people are not always quick to understand. We need members, but they need to be the right fit.
GENERALLY SPEAKING, I THINK THAT I KNOW WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT. One of the other problems that we have in our society is how masculinity is being attacked. The progressive left has demonized and mutilated the definition and ancient understanding of patriarchy.
BOYS ARE BEING TAUGHT THAT THEIR MASCULINITY IS AT ODDS WITH “FAIRNESS”. So the culture is finding interesting ways to emasculate young boys–turn them into deflated genderless creatures who worship at the altar of video gaming and online pornography. This is Satan at work.
I TRULY BELIEVE THAT CATHOLIC HOMESCHOOL CO-OPS CAN HELP TO TURN THIS SHIP AROUND. My boys study lots of Latin, arithmetic, literature, logic, and so forth; but they also go fishing, dig in the dirt while weeding gardens, play “mudball” on the beach, and build things. And they love Jesus.
WE STUDY THE BIBLE AND CATECHESIS. THEY ARE IN HEAVEN. I am very hard on them. I push them to the limit — a lot of tough love. They crave it, and I don't think that they would have it any other way. They are excellent students and so well behaved. We get complements where ever we go.
THE BOYS’ PARENTS BEING COMPLETELY INVOLVED ALSO MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE. The intellectual bond between the parents and the children continues to grow and grow. It is a beautiful thing to experience. I am so honored to be a part of all of their lives.
I HAVE LEARNED THROUGH EXPERIENCE AND RESEARCH THAT ONE OF THE WAYS THAT GOOD SCHOOLS OR CO-OPS TURN BAD is by being forced to accept students that they originally would never have dreamed of accepting. This is what has been happening to Catholic schools in New York for so long. I know many Catholic schools that now accept Muslim students and allow them to pray their own set of prayers! The schools have had to lower their standards in order to pay the bills. This is the giant elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about because everyone wants to be “inclusive”. It's all very pathetic. I will never predispose my boys to this.
WE HAVE AN ON-GOING MICRO-FUNDING CAMPAIGN. We need people from all walks of life to donate a very small amount of money every month — $6.00 – $7.50. That's all that we need. People can set this up via our FB page (desktop or laptop only).
AS A RECENT CONVERT TO CATHOLICISM AND AS A CLASSICAL EDUCATOR, I AM LIVING A NEW LIFE. I have had high powered positions, made good money and met very trendy and glittery people, but I was always restless. I really struggled to find my way.
But meeting the great minds of Christian antiquity like St. Augustine through my classical studies put an end to all of that. Works like his Confessions were very moving and delightful for me. I'm still struggling but in a different way. My struggle now, for the most part, is a beautiful thing filled with mystery.
Right now my job is to be extremely focused on this co-op. We are still swimming for survival. As much as I really want to believe that Our Lord and Savior wants this, in the end His Will must be what is done. I know that it will really break my heart to not be able to see this project through. I start to tear up just thinking about that possibility. So I will fight hard to stay the course. If I can get this co-op off the ground, then we might think of opening one for girls in the near future.
Phone: (718) 673-2266
Catholics Who Homeschool Cooperative of New York
c/o Lovina Ikenga
176-25 Union Turnpike #429
Fresh Meadows, NY 11366