Epps: When did you first realize you were a leader in Newark?
Hall: In June 2009 at the Newark-Essex Pride Parade. To take on the role of coordinating a parade and having individuals participate in the parade was the moment that I knew I had what it takes to rally folks together.
Epps: Tell us about your love relationship with the city…including joy, pain, etc?
Hall: Well I love the Newark. To be around such passionate people who are living out their dreams is wonderful. The love that I have here has challenged me to look at life differently. It has challenged me to have a bigger hunger for life and take what it is that may come my way.
On top of that, to be in an area that has an appreciation for the arts, is amazing. I am a lover of house music; I have gained so much respect for the house ball community; I am in love with the storytelling of photography and spoken word, as well as me being around fashionistas. All of this was created or transformed in the NYC/NJ metropolis.
Epps: How has your work at NJCRI informed your opinions about the city and its progress?
Hall: I cannot lie, my family and friends were nervous about me leaving Kentucky to come to Newark; they are VERY protective of me. But it was not until I helped a 19 year transgender female who was attacked by a group of guys that I realized that I cannot be someone who sits around and complain about how unsafe Newark is. As I began to advocate for many LGBTQ folks in Newark, I realized that Newark is a city made up of some of the most amazing people ever. To be around people who take pride in their city and appreciate all of Newark makes me love Newark so much more. As a frequent runner, I feel overwhelmed with so much from Newark when running from the Ironboud through Downtown and to the Central Ward and people are cheering me on. That feels hella good! It shows that this city is moving in the right direction, all they want is to be recognized and seen as valuable resources in giving Newark this rebirth.
Epps: If you had one wish for Newark what would it be?
Hall: For it to be the premiere city that I hear it used to be. I love downtown Newark and the history of Newark. Newark should be “the other” city that attracts folks for arts, nice dining, partying, or whatever else.
Epps: Any advice for future leaders of the city?
Hall: You cannot do it alone. We all have a vision for Newark moving forward, but it takes collaboration. It means reaching out to people who are from Newark, those who want to be voice but do not know how. It is about empowering one another because in return we are empowering ourselves to do much more.
Epps: Tell us about your opinions on the following
Hall: This is a good one, but I love Iberia in the Ironbound of Newark,
Hall: I have to go with the Ironbound
Most treasured moment…
Hall: Going out for the first time, I went to Krash and it was so surreal, as if I was reliving a movie I used to watch as a kid. To see people showing their appreciation for music and representing a borough or Jersey was AMAZING!
Biggest Difference between Newark and Kentucky…
Hall: Well in Kentucky, I can take my time and smile. In North Jersey, you have to move at a pace because you have other people who are just as hungry as you. Also, in Kentucky, everything is very black and white, but up here, it is one colorful portrait. I love both places because they have helped me grow into the Aunsha I am today. I do have to say though, that it feels good to have found true love in Jersey!
Newark’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Concerns Advisory Commission Reflects on the One-Year Anniversary of the Tragic Death of DeFarra Ivan Gaymon
NEWARK, N.J., July 20, 2011– Two weeks ago, the Essex County Grand Jury declined to bring any charges against Essex County Sheriff’s Officer Edward Esposito in connection with the July 16, 2010 shooting death of DeFarra Ivan Gaymon in Branch Brook Park. The grand jury’s decision has brought that fateful day back into the minds and hearts of many within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. While the Newark Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Concerns Advisory Commission respects the integrity of the judicial process which found that no crime was committed, we recognize that this ruling is not a comforting closure for those most affected by the painful loss of Gaymon. All of the Commissioners empathize with the Gaymon family and friends and the pain they have endured.
Amid such pain and loss, positive steps have been taken that the Newark LGBTQ Commission hopes will cast a hopeful light on the Gaymon tragedy. The Commission applauds Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, State Senator Theresa Ruiz, and others within the County government for the recent formation of the Essex County LGBTQ Commission. The formation of this Commission is a direct result of the dialogue and negotiations between County officials and LGBTQ leaders from Essex County during the aftermath of the Gaymon tragedy. The LGBTQ Commission provides Essex County LGBTQ residents with an official voice, influence, and access to policymakers and officials in Essex County government.
“The Newark LGBTQ Commission is forging an alliance with the County’s LGBTQ Commission. We hope that as we work to empower LGBTQ residents in Newark and improve policies and relations within Newark’s City government, we can work in tandem with the County’s LGBTQ Commission to make all of Essex County a safe and affirming place for all people,” adds Perris Straughter, Chair, Newark LGBTQ Concerns Advisory Commission. “We strive to have ongoing and direct dialogue with police and safety officials before crises arise, not after.”
The Newark LGBTQ Commission is committed to work collaboratively with the County LGBTQ Commission and both City and County officials to ensure LGBTQ persons are treated with equal dignity by law enforcement and to improve the flow of information between law enforcement and the LGBTQ community when a crisis occurs. The Newark LGBTQ Commission strongly encourages the County LGBTQ Commission and County officials to review the various policies, procedures and operations that adversely impact the LGBTQ community such as the undercover enforcement operation in the Gaymon case. We believe that while such policies, procedures, and operations are intended to foster a safer County, each must not unfairly target or disproportionately impact LGBTQ persons.
The Commission again gives condolences to the family and friends of DeFarra Ivan Gaymon and hopes that the world remembers the man who was a father, husband and business leader. After such a tragedy, we look toward a hopeful future because of the newly established power and voice that the LGBTQ community has in Essex County. Gaymon’s legacy is one that will empower others and help to keep others safe for years to come.
About Newark LGBTQ Concerns Advisory Commission
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Advisory Commission was founded by Mayor Cory A. Booker and the Municipal Council in June 2009 and its initial seven members were appointed in July 2009. The LGBTQ Commission seeks to improve conditions affecting the cultural, social, economic, political, educational, general health and well-being of LGBTQ individuals and their families, by studying and developing- through partnering with various groups and multiple levels of government – policies, programs and practices to recommend to the Mayor and Municipal Council. In carrying out its mission, the Commission meets monthly on the second Thursday of each month at 6pm in City Hall. All Commission meetings are free and open to the public.
I am ecstatic to see the most recent “Special Section” of the Star Ledger Magazine, dated May 31, 2011, dedicated, solely, to the purposes of making visible queer New Jerseyeans (and, apparently the “community’s” buying power as evidenced by the many consumer ads placed throughout), but I am troubled by the issue’s utter failure to irradiate all of the diverse “textures” and “colors” that its picturesque, rainbow-colored title page ostensibly seeks to reveal.
Inside Jersey: Living Gay in the Garden State offers readers a disturbingly myopic frame of a “gay” Jersey that is, literally, monochromatic and insular in its lack of representation of non-white, non-suburban and non-middle class queer New Jerseyeans. What could have been a nuanced and commemorative segment ends up being nothing more than a seemingly under-researched piece that is certain to offend anyone who hoped, like me, to browse the segment and see a semblance of racial, ethnic, economic, neighborhood, and cultural diversity on any of the pages. But, maybe I am misreading the articles and images in failing to see the diversity that the editors intended to present beyond that of sexual identity.
This Special Section highlights a few exceptional locales where queer persons and families exist; however, queer New Jerseyeans also reside contentedly in urban spaces like Camden, Paterson, Trenton, Jersey City, Elizabeth, and Newark, as well. While we tend to turn to suburban, middle-class municipalities and townships like Collingswood (I grew up in neighboring Camden) and Maplewood (I went to undergrad in neighboring South Orange) as progressive, forward-thinking communities where queers can live comfortably, it is vitally important to consider the lives of queers who live outside of those spaces.
For example, I’ve lived (until recently) and am active in the city of Newark and have experienced the strongest sense of community and welcome as a queer man of color than any other spaces, including suburban locales like Laurel Springs and Princeton to name a few. To be sure, Newark (while it has its share of issues) was the first city in New Jersey to establish an official government instrumentality that advises the Mayor’s office on LGBTQ concerns. In fact, it was a coalition of mostly Newark-based advocates and not Maplewood or Montclair residents—along with a few representatives from Garden State Equality including Steve Goldstein, who worked with the county of Essex to establish a similar county-wide body this past year. Newark has been home to one of the state’s—and region’s—most celebrated pride week’s, namely, Newark-Essex Pride Week, for several years bringing Newarkers and non-Newarkers into communal celebration. Newark is home to the Hetrick-Martin Institute’s HMI-to-Go program, an initiative of the oldest and largest LGBTQ youth-serving organization in the world, which provides academic and mental health supports to Newark youth. Newark, under the auspices of the office of Mayor Cory A. Booker, was the host location for a brunch sponsored by the New York Chapter of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association in 2009. And, there’s so much more to say about Newark, which is only one of the few urban spaces where queers exist, which has been left out of the writers’ narratives describing queer Jersey.
Queers in New Jersey are diverse (i.e. non-white, Latino/Hispanic, working and jobless poor, non-married/non-partnered families, rural and urban, and/or non-LGBTQ identified) beyond the ways they are typified within this Special Section. The fact that the editors failed to illumine this fact leaves no other choice but for one to wonder about the absence. If it’s the case that the section seeks to drive a consumerist market towards the purchase of everything from cabaret show tickets to condominiums or that writers traced the usual trail of news stories (or lack thereof) located in media outlets focused on queer Jersey, then it is clear why the issue proves problematic. Whatever the case, I failed to see my queer, black, urban reflection in the rainbow-esque offering, and I am afraid that others might fail to see reflections of themselves, as well.
Sakia Gunn would have celebrated 23 years of life today. We are left, however, with the task of honoring Sakia-a young daughter of Newark-whose days were shortened by way of a physical weapon (a knife) and ideological artillery (heterosexism/sexism). But, Sakia’s spirit remains among us: waking us from our social (un)consciousness and enlivening us to do the work of justice in Newark, NJ and elsewhere. In fact, hate may seek to destroy but it doesn’t kill. Here are 10 reasons why:
1. After Sakia’s murder, her family and friends stood up for justice. Young Newarkers, like Dawn James and Valencia Bailey, galvanized others to stand in solidarity with Sakia’s family, pushed city leaders and politicians to act and organized peaceful memorials.
2. The Newark Pride Alliance (NPA) was formed under the leadership of LaQuetta Nelson and James Credle in response to Sakia’s death. NPA began its advocacy work armed with the mission to ensure that safe spaces are created and maintained in the city of Newark.
3. Cory A. Booker, who was a councilperson at the time of Sakia’s murder, turned his attention to the case, in particular, but would vow to make LGBTQ issues a priority.
4. Filmmaker, Charles “Chas” Brack, directs and produces “Dreams Deferred: The Sakia Gunn Story,” and, along with Sakia’s family members, begin to carry her name from Newark to other spaces around the world.
5. June Dowell-Burton introduces the City of Newark to LGBTQ pride when she founded Newark-Essex Pride Coalition and Newark-Essex Pride Week. Pride moved queer celebrations from meeting rooms and other social spaces to the streets of Newark.
6. The City of Newark, with the Newark-Essex Pride Coalition, under the auspices of Mayor Booker, councilperson Dana Rone and June Dowell-Burton, raises the rainbow flag at the entrance to Newark City Hall.
7. Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship (LITUFC) forms the Social Justice Center as an extension of its faith ministry to address issues of injustice in the community. True Colors, a queer youth initiative, was subsequently developed to provide avenues of expression for queer youth.
8. New Jersey Community Research Initiative (NJCRI) develops and implements Project WOW, a drop-in center for queer youth who are engaged or disengaged from the school system.
9. NPA, in partnership with the City of Newark, Hetrick-Martin Institute and Rutgers-Newark, chaired 3 free full-day conferences on religion, education and health, hosted a series of trainings for Newark Public Schools, advocated on behalf of queer students and provided trainings to NPS students…the City of Newark now has an official instrumentality, thanks to Dana Rone and Ronald Rice, Jr., that advises the Mayor on LGBTQ concerns and the county of Essex, following the city’s lead, has just organized its own body to do the same…the city of Newark and Newark Public Schools is now home to the HMI-to-Go afterschool program for queer youth….Rutgers-Newark LGBTQ groups now hold annual events on campus…New Jersey Performing Arts Center hosts its “Newark is Burning” event…African American Office of Gay Concerns, with the assistance of FemWorks and MedinaCiti, launches its “Status is Everything” Campaign….
10. The Sakia Gunn High School for Civic Engagement, an initiative spearheaded by the Hetrick-Martin Institute and the Newark Public Schools and supported fully by Sakia’s mother and family, will open its doors in the city of Newark in the Fall of 2012….and sooooooooo much more! Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Matthias Pressley are right in warning us against the need to lift up Sakia as a victim and martyr only. Instead, they encourage us to celebrate Sakia, the young, vibrant, human being, from Newark. Today, on her birthday, we celebrate her spirit that continues to drive Newarkers to serve toward the end of creating safer spaces.
Add to the list your celebratory comment or event that you would like to name in honor of Sakia…
It was a sunny afternoon in “Pollock Town” and the bells signaling the end of my school day at Camden High had rang a few hours before. I was home. I decided, as I typically did, to leave my grandmother’s house—which happened to be my house (and at various points in time, every family member’s house)—on Vanhook Street (as it was named then) to my Aunt Arlene’s house directly around the corner. We lived in a neighborhood where youth played outside often, where homes were literal camping grounds for neighborhood children, where fights broke out and brought everyone to their porches, where “posses” were family and formed because of boredom, and where one might receive love as easily as s/he did bullying. Drugs, like other urban spaces, had a stronghold on our neighborhood. I assume that’s the reason that our police took to our neighborhood as if it were a war zone where civilians figured in their skewed imaginations as either the drug user or pusher. Most forgot, I assume, that they too had family in our small city who just as easily matched their stereotypes given that most of the presumed “shining shields” were from the same hood that they had begun to terrorize. I digress….but, not really.
I walked elatedly as I turned the corner of the street where my Aunt’s house was located—adorning my fresh kicks, rocking trendy gear, and flaunting my flashy herringbone necklace with matching bracelet. I’ve always had a penchant for nice clothes and sneakers even if I could not really afford them. So, I would clean my sneakers with a toothbrush and iron my clothes as if I worked at a professional dry cleaning service. I understood, honestly, the lure that pulled other young brothers into a fast-paced life of drugs and money: even while I witnessed the lives of those that I love being wrecked by drugs, I desired to live the “Rap City” life (at least wear the clothes that rappers were wearing in the videos) every day. But, I was lured by my dreams of something better and books instead; though, I managed to live into “street” fantasies every now and then. But, my black male body—adorning fresh kicks, rocking trendy gear, flaunting flashy herringbones—remained a point of surveillance because of its seeming displacement from the “set” (read, drug corners). I assume.
A city of Camden cop car turned the opposite corner as I walked passing young and not-so-young black males on the corner. The car increasingly picked up speed as it moved down the street in the direction I walked. I walked to my aunt’s house often, practically lived there, and had my share of eyewitness accounts of police happenings on the block. So, I expected there to be nothing new but the mundane emergency response to some neighbor’s call. The car moved quickly unto the sidewalk. I was surprised considering that there wasn’t anyone walking on that part of the block but me. The black cop jumped out of the car and screamed words that I still don’t remember to this day–lthough, he mentioned something about “look out boys”–because I was in shock as my arm (the same arm that I would typically use to write essays in my advanced English courses, the same arm that I would use to place money in the hands of bus drivers when traveling downtown to take college-level classes at Camden County even while a high schooler, the same arm that I used to make silkscreen t-shirts as part of my summer youth employment job) was violently placed behind my back as if the black cop wanted to break my arm as well as my spirit. I could see my aunt’s boyfriend, Big Sam, running down the street and feared that the black cop would turn from me and beat the black man coming his way. But, he didn’t. He threw me in the back of the car and was unaware that I was a student in Camden High’s IPLE (Institute for Political and Legal Education) where Coach Hanson had taught us about Miranda rights and what happens when our law enforcement officers break the law by failing to recite them. I am certain he was unaware of this fact, because I matched his image of the public enemy: black, male, and hood. So, he drove away without reading my rights. He angrily asked, as he drove, my name to which I gave him none….my birthdate to which I responded by asking him for his ID number…my purpose for walking the street to which I asserted “walking to my aunt’s house.” Shoulder hurting and spirit broken, I sat in the back terrified for my life, and, for a second, the life of every black male in an America that still images us as terrorist..an America where black men see each other as enemies.
Sam finally caught up with us on Atlantic Avenue, which is about seven minutes away-by car-from where I was initially picked up. I am certain that the black cop would have rather me walk back home (or worse, limp) if he had his choice. Sam commenced his appeal: he’s a good kid, an “A” student, don’t mess with anybody, ain’t never sold drugs, going places. I sat in the back of the locked police car pissed as hell and sad to the point of tears. He eventually let me go, but his hands are still felt on my arm and the pain is still very real in my shoulder. Even as I write this I feel the need to cry: for the brother who couldn’t see me…or himself in me and for those who are innocent victims of police brutality whether they are guilty of committing crimes or not.
This is for Jordan Miles! And, while my tears might have been the result of a broken spirit then, I cry tears of righteous indignation in solidarity with those who stand against the machinations of a police state today.
Manning Marable’s “Malcolm X” is an adroit craftsperson: an artisan who is skilled at undergoing perpetual “reinventions.” Marable’s thesis, in his now widely discussed and contested Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, is grounded in the proposition that “self-invention was an effective way for [Malcolm] to reach the most marginalized sectors of the black community giving justification to their hopes.” According to Marable, Malcolm’s travels (between his pasts and futures) and travails (to define his self and his politics) in a raced, classed, irreligious (read, anti-Islamic) and imperialist American (and, later, international) context were driven largely by his desire to engage in the process of relentless reinvention: a process of continual, purposeful becomings, not necessarily for himself, but for the “black community” that would eventually claim him as its “Prince.”
Marable’s biography, flowing from this idea, recreates the sometimes tragic, and, mostly gallant, life and death of a martyr who dies for a cause—for others—but also a radical (and complicated) freedom fighter who dies also to his “self” and volition. Malcolm, via Marable, is caricatured as a “social being”—only imagined within the context of his beingness-in-relation-to the larger societal context where there exists a need for a salvific protagonist of the burgeoning black radical tradition and villainous antithesis to the very ideas of the presumed democratic tradition of white racist (and liberalist) America. But, as Baldwin illumines when writing about Richard Wright’s Native Son in his essay “Many Thousand Gone”: “the reality of a man as a social being is not his only reality and that artist is strangled who is forced to deal with human beings solely in social terms” (emphasis added). Marable, who was committed to the task of a historian as opposed to fiction writer, develops a narrative that refuses to allow space for Malcolm X the “human being” who exists without the ostensible proclivity towards “self-reinventions” that benefit others while only tangentially benefiting the human actor himself.
One must, then, interrogate the argument that is weaved into the narrative arc that directs Marable’s historical analysis of Malcolm X the “social being.” If the argument goes that Malcolm’s life “narrative is a brilliant series of reinventions,” as Marable suggests, then it would follow that Malcolm Little/Detroit Red/Big Red/Malcolm X/Malik Shabazz/El-Hajj Malik Shabazz were merely iterations along a continuum of perpetual and purposeful becomings, which were driven by external forces only, rather than the living-into, or, rather, states of beings that emerge and re-emerge as a result of the contextual life spaces and experiences that propel any human being toward self-motivated (and sometimes unmethodical) change. The former is a sign of a tragic life while the latter opens up the possibility for life’s complex beauty.
So, was the life of Malcolm X one defined by reinventions (for the sake of everyone but himself) or was Malcolm X delimited by Marable’s drive to invent a Malcolm X whose propensity manifested towards such desires? And, did such a desire impact the Malcolm X that the reader is left to grapple with? Even if one is not sure of that answer, s/he should read Marable’s work with that question in mind or otherwise s/he might find him/herself guilty of submitting to a politicized historiography of a sociopolitical Malcolm X that fails to fully capture the human being who just happened to be, like all of us, social and political.
Jeffries reacts to the states decision to supersede the school board’s vote.
“I understand the district and state have decided to continue with the proposed new schools for the coming school year despite the board’s vote opposing them. I have been clear that I profoundly disagree with the board majority’s decision to oppose all of the new schools, as several of the new schools quite clearly would benefit our kids, and that standard — and that standard alone — should motivate all of the district’s decision-making. It is also the case that I believe the vote of multiple board members was manipulated by external political brokers motivated by self-interest, rather than the best interests of our Newark children. However, self-determination is the essence of democracy, and state takeover — or at least the indefinite takeover Newark has experienced — is anti-democratic. I am a strong proponent of community-based education reform, which requires decision-making authority to rest with the parents and community of Newark. So, even though I deeply oppose the board majority’s decision to reject all of the schools, the remedy for bad decision-making by local officials is to convince them they are wrong or to elect replacements, not to have their decisions superseded by state actors.” Shavar Jeffries from his Press Release on April 9, 2011.
It’s the system… stupid
Institutions that aspire to provide people with the right of education and equitable access to all the resources needed to obtain knowledge should consistently assess their impact. With this said the Newark Public Schools (NPS) and its Advisory Board (AB) should use recent events as an opportunity for growth.
NPS as a notional model for constructive community based involvement:
Newark can be described as a city of revolution. A place that enthusiastically participated in the nation’s struggle for independence, in the country’s economically based industrial revolution, in the world’s revolution to uplift the marginalized and reassign influence to the disempowered, etc. This is at least part of the city’s history and equally relevant its present landscape. It is my opinion that the school system and its leadership did not appropriate the needed level of regard to this fact during the process to develop premium choices for Newark parents and students. Newark should have one of the most developed systems for community input and democratically determined policy. However conflict regarding outreach and relationships persistently plague all sectors of the City. The institution with the primary task to educate people can also be a center for which people educate and inform institutions.
The AB has the opportunity to reassess its impact and engage underprivileged community members to ensure all parents and students have premium choices:
Shavar’s response above indicates the breakdown of a board and its chair (I know because I have experienced this first hand). A board chair should be the voice of unity for his/her board’s decisions not the voice of dissention. The recent vote of the AB is confusing and as a result it is not hard to understand why the State would overrule the vote of a board in frenzy. Shavar himself a lawyer by training, voted against two schools, one of them being a high school designed to encourage students to be civically engaged. Named after a murdered lesbian identified Newark teenager the school is in keeping with the city’s history of revolution and ensures safety for some young people who, though provided equal protection under the law due to their identity, still experience bullying and physical attack. It is clear that the school board is out of touch with best practices and marginalized groups. The school board needs to evaluate its voice in the city.
To say Newark is on the brink of catastrophe is a terrible type of propaganda to promote. Giving into so much fear really underestimates the power we actually have. Newark residents aren’t scared, maybe in part because they don’t know how bad the budget really is but they can see the problems it’s causing. Still, when people whine about the economy we keep pushing on because most people in low-income communities have been making due with less for a long time. Residents aren’t interested in all the political beef going on and I think we all recognize this is a time for meaningful, innovative collaboration. Contrary to public opinion, Newarkers are people who really participate in their city but they want to know their concerns are truly being addressed. We’ve had to sacrifice so much. Personally, I don’t believe in lack but I do believe in love. There are always resources and creative solutions out there. We just have to find them or create them and we’re going to hold our leaders accountable. But we have to hold ourselves accountable too. Every single resident can be a leader and find a way to contribute to something, a community program, their child’s school, a shelter, something. The type of progress we can create actually makes me feel excited about the future. Otherwise, we’re just waiting to be saved by something or someone and we’ll be disappointed if we do that. I’m not worried though. Tough times are supposed to bring out our best. We just need to get inspired and figure out who we can work with.
Rev. Dr. M. William Howard, Jr.
Newark is in a very delicate predicament right now, and bankruptcy looms on the horizon, especially given the inability of the State to offer help. Not only is only about 30% of the land taxable, but the housing stock has been dramatically depleted the past 40 years in ways that make replacing it nearly impossible, simply because the land is not available. When you consider the level of foreclosures or near foreclosures the residents who are property owners face, as well as the threat of foreclosures property owners who rent to Newark residents also face, along with the dramatic shortfall in revenue already, the whole thing could come tumbling down.
In my chats with certain people in positions to know, there is no real clear plan to fix any of this for the long term; maybe even no realistic vision on how to proceed from here. More than anything else, the residents need viable places of work in order to earn a solid income. Arguably, a whole segment of the population would have difficulty competing for the kinds of jobs that might come along in the so-called 21st Century Economy. It is well documented that over 60% of the jobs in the City are held by commuters, and the jobs that are held by City residents are among the lowest paying jobs, and the adult literacy rate is tragically low. This will not change through rhetoric. The great truth of Black and Brown political power all over America, and arguably in Africa and elsewhere, is that political power has not translated into economic power. Look at Zimbabwe today, and expect that it will be South Africa tomorrow.
We must have a thoughtful, vigilant, disciplined, not-so-vocal, long-term strategy on how to achieve and sustain economic standing if we are not going to forever be the marginalized, worker-consumer that we still are after all these years of struggle. I remain hopeful, but I also am sobered by what has to be done for this hope to become manifest.
With what its people have weathered especially since the decline of manufacturing and the flight of capital, beginning just after the Second World War, there is cause to believe Newark will be the phoenix it needs to be. Meanwhile, here we are in the now.
Newark’s true greatness is yet to be defined.
After reading Brad Parks’ article in the New York Post, for the most part, I agree with his overall assessment about Newark and find his perspective, considering that he doesn’t claim Newark as his home, to be insightful. He incorporated the critical opinions of some heavy hitters such as Dr. Clement Price and Dr. Dan O’Flaherty, those whose opinion I respect and weigh greatly. In his article he makes a poignant statement that, for me, hits the heart of the matter when it comes to Newark’s continuous struggle, “There was a far more psychological toll (from the riots)…Fear did more to undo Newark than any bullet could ever have”.
Newark as a community is divided and is unable to see the truth, the reality that we as a people are more powerful than we realize. We as a community must dispose of the illusion of separation, emptiness and abandonment. The time for angry rhetoric is OVER! We have the right to be angry. However, it is this very aspect that emotional hustlers seek to capitalize on. They mystify the facts, or, perhaps they don’t know it themselves, so they utilize our voices to further their desires, all the while the needs of the community are never met.
Our destinies lie in each other’s hands. This isn’t a black, white or brown issue. It’s OUR issue. It’s NEWARK. It is time for us to put our differences and agendas aside and do right by the citizens of Newark. We are all accountable because we all have a voice and are stakeholders who play a major part in the change of Newark. But this voice will not be heard and will be intentionally ignored if it doesn’t actively engage in things such as voting, assisting Municipal Council and Board of Education meetings, as well as play an active role in the discourse about change. The way to empowerment is demanding information. We must become informed and we must educate ourselves on the processes / systems from which all government functions. Critical to this is also the participation of Newark’s true leaders, the “organic” leaders I like to call them, to step up to the plate. Change is no longer a luxury, but a necessity and the opportunity presents itself to us now.
Newark is at the precipice of Greatness but let us not forget…that while greatness is what Newark must pursue…only greatness lives on the edge of destruction.
For the first time in my life, I am very concerned about the future of my home, the City of Newark. We are in a period of time when most municipalities are learning to do more with less; however, what I do not understand is how is it possible that City’s leadership was fully aware of the growing deficit and chose not to act responsibly. Instead, they’ve acted desperately. The impact of an increase in the number of city employees (especially those who are Newark residents) who are newly employed is likely to have a serious impact on our community. All of these factors, increased unemployment, property tax increases will not do very much to stablize the economy of Newark. When times were “good” the city recieved numerous grants and financial incentives for various projects in the city. The city was even the focus of a national docu-drama hosted by a major cable channel that did not seem to generate much for Newark. Where are these supporters now during a time when the future of Newark is seemingly seriously threatened? I think what is most offensive is to know that part of the City’s financial issues could be solved if we recovered the back-rent that is owed to the City from the Prudential Center (yet, the city still provides top tier police security for a team that hasn’t made good on its end of the bargain). What our city needs now is a serious plan that will guide the city toward prioritizing our needs and resolving its financial issues in a realistic but progressive fashion. What we dont need is an administration that overlooks logic and the type of commonsense that will advance Newark.
Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of the ACLU-NJ:
When Newark Mayor Cory Booker swept into office in 2006, we had great hope that his administration would stay true its campaign promises of maintaining an open, transparent government, improving the long troubled relationship between police and residents and boosting the free speech rights of Newarkers. Now in his second term, the mayor has taken steps in the right direction on some civil liberties, such as immigrant rights and the rights of gays and lesbians. For example, he has worked with community advocates to address tensions over day laborers in the Ironbound and he has spoken about the need to create a “safe space” in Newark for LBGT youth to congregate. No Newark mayor even acknowledged injustices facing the gay and lesbian community until Booker. But when it comes to other issues, such as reforming the police department, the situation is dire. The relationship between the police and residents has been fraught with tension for decades, with few signs of hope for change. Newark has failed to implement even the most basic accountability measures. This year the ACLU-NJ filed a petition asking for the U.S. Department of Justice to step in and monitor the Newark Police Department. The 96-page petition cited 407 complaints of serious misconduct. Instead of acknowledging the need for outside help, the mayor has denied the problems, and attempted to deflect and minimize the complaints of abused citizens, claiming that the allegations – which include false arrests, assaults and deaths in custody – are “frivolous.” With severe budget woes, layoffs and a drastic spike in violence, the city’s problems are spiraling out of control and lack of police accountability only worsens the crisis. Having the Department of Justice monitor the police department will not resolve Newark’s problems over night, but it is a step in the right direction to protect citizens and avert lawlessness among our law enforcers.
That there is robust discussion about public education in Newark is, in my view, a very good thing, and it would be unfortunate, no tragic, if this window of opportunity were missed to markedly change the poor quality of education that too many receive in Newark public schools.
There are differing opinions about what to do, but there is little, if any, disagreement about what the broad parameters of what a “good education” is. Some say less dependence on standardized tests and and more emphasis on critical reasoning and writing skills. But by and large, there is more consensus than some may think.
Where disagreement may surface in the days ahead is in how the “good education” will be delivered. Will it come through a massive closing of existing schools, replacing them with alternative charter schools, or will there be a genuine effort to infuse existing schools that are failing with proven best practices, in collaboration with the teacher’s union, as shown in the case of Brockton (Massachusetts) High School, and reported in the 9/27/10 edition of the New York Times? While I expect the current discussion of the content of education and school atmospherics is valuable, more focus should be upon the issue of structural delivery. This is especially important because there is a well-organized, well-funded movement in favor of trashing the old structures and replacing them with something totally new. Whether this latter approach is sustainable over the long term is yet to be proven.
Whatever is to work must be largely homegrown, built from the inside out, like all fundamental social change—with a very measured, cautious dose of what well-meaning folk not directly invested in the outcome have to offer.
Author: Rev. Dr. M. William Howard, Jr., Pastor, Bethany Baptist Church