Education: Relationship with former Principal Connolly made school feel like home

  • Martin Toe Aaron Baker / Mulberry Crek Imagery

Concord High School
Published: 7/19/2021 6:18:12 PM

Martin Toe came to Concord with his family in 2003 when he was just seven years old, and as a child from an immigrant family, he struggled to find his place in his new country.

But when he got to Concord High School, he met someone who impacted his life.

Toe built a strong relationship with former Principal Gene Connolly, just as he was trying to figure out where he belonged. Connolly was always interested in the students and helped guide Toe.

One day at school, Connolly asked him, “What do you got in your hand there?” Toe recalled.

“Oh, it’s just the Bible. Nothing interesting, just a Bible,” Toe remembered saying.

The principal took notice.

“He was like, ‘Martin is this man of faith,’ ” Toe said. “I grew close to him, because he was just this person that you just literally gravitate to, very nice, very caring, and knows almost all the students. That’s just how he was. He would have a Catholic cross in the back, but then have a Buddha and a Hindu symbol. He really cared about everybody, and cared about how everyone felt.”

Toe graduated from Concord High in 2014, the same year Connolly was diagnosed with ALS. Connolly remained principal while he fought the disease, eventually getting around with a scooter and talking to students through an iPad. He died in 2018.

“He definitely made Concord High School feel like home for me,” Toe said. “Doesn’t matter what I was going through, I could go to Connolly and speak to him. And he always listened. He was a great listener. And the guy was insightful. You could be having the worst day and he would tell you exactly what you needed to hear.”

Toe, now 24, came to the United States from Ivory Coast, a country in West Africa, but originally his parents were from Liberia. His parents fled the country with Martin and his sister due to civil war. The family ended up in a refugee resettlement program.

At CHS, Toe and some friends developed Freestyle Friday and performed music on CHS Live. Eventually, he made a mixtape that he sold.

Now Toe, a housing justice organizer with Granite State Organizing Project, lives in Hooksett and continues to make music, often referencing his past and his desire for social change in his writing.

The bio on his website, martintoe.com, describes him this way: “Driven with compassion and out of respect for people, Martin picks up the call to be a surreal change-maker and a voice in his generation, a musician, and an educator in the culture.”

Toe said he and other Liberians “love to give back.”

“The people are some of the most loving and compassionate people you ever come across,” he continued. “If you ever know a person who is from Liberia, when hanging out with someone from Liberia, there’s never a dull moment.”

Earlier this spring Toe was featured on New Hampshire Public Radio’s “The Morning Edition” in a series called “The Show Goes On.” In October he was named Stay Work Play NH’s Civic Leader of the Year.

 This profile is part of a series written by students in Linda Lawson’s journalism class at Concord High School, as part of a collaborative community storytelling project with the Concord Multicultural Festival and Report for America. 



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