Is Newark heading in the direction of catastrophe or progress?

In response to Brad Parks’ article, “Laid off cops, a shattered economy, an $83 million deficit. Fear returns to the tragic city that is Newark,” which was recently published in the New York Post, COIN reached out to Newarkers and asked them to respond to the following:  Is Newark heading in the direction of catastrophe or progress?

Here’s what a few of our respondents had to say:

Fayemi Shakur:

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.

Rose Farias:

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.

Stacie Newton:

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.

A Guest Post by Rev. Bill Howard: On Newark Education

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

Originally posted at

5 considerations by 2 writers: on collaboration in newark

Newark, not unlike other urban centers in our present moment, is in the midst of incessant change across many areas. However, education reform seems to be taking center stage. For example, some warn that the education reform agenda and community engagement initiative (PENewark) steered by Mayor Booker’s office will bring about a disastrous end, while others who support and applaud the efforts are fueled by the hope that a city-wide conversation will spark the construction of a world-class educational system in Newark. Indeed, there have been vitriolic disagreements between citizens…standoffs between organizers…finger pointing, blaming, debasing and public shaming all in the name of education reform. Visions are spoken of and strategies imagined, but how might they be actualized in the midst of snappish tension? Change is used as a rhetorical strategy, but how can change be made real unless the boundaries that turn friends into enemies are demolished? It seems, at least to us, that the ends (broader visions) often look the same (namely, the shaping of a stellar, cutting-edge public educational system in Newark that shapes every student into a globally-aware, socially responsible citizen of our tomorrow) but the means (the strategies) that Newark must engage such that our vision(s) can be actualized are often very different. Herein lies our issue: one can argue, quite persuasively for example, that a good reform strategy that may work, say, in New York City, might not be the best for, say, the South Ward of Newark. We get that! But, what are the rules of engagement that might make room for constructive collaboration, discussion and, even, debate that result in shared-work and vision? Moreover, how can we do the work of reform and activism with a shared sense of purpose, that is, a desire for the best for our youth, in ways that does not derail the aim of community-building and solidarity? Below, we offer five considerations that may useful guide posts for our journey.

1.  Know and name the “real” enemy. Too often we point the finger at the wrong people and not the institutions, ideologies, systems and particular leaders that support dangerous strategies. Each of us maintains a particular analysis, and even politic, regarding education reform. For example, charter schools may be seen by some as a neoliberal tool used to further privatization and others may see charter schools as experimental public school models that might serve as laboratories for testing innovative curriculum, pedagogical practices, extended day learning projects, etc.  If you believe charter schools to be more of a problem than a solution, it may be very easy to lump all charter school leaders or components into a singular category of “enemy” without regard for the particularities that shapes individuals’ commitments, politics or education philosophies. On the contrary, if you believe that all (or even most) traditional public schools in Newark fail our youth, it may be the case that you see traditional public school advocates as menaces as opposed to friends. Either way, the contentious stance maintained by both sides creates the opportunity for a certain (dis)solution of community rather than a space wherein all can come together, in a unified spirit of concern for our students, our youth. And, when that happens, we make ourselves the enemy of cooperation.

2. Transparency is our friend: Reform of public systems does not take root when practices include back door dealing, lack robust competitiveness and systems of accountability. In Newark, it can seem efficient to do business through the “traditional handshake”. Yet, projects desiring to create real transformation deserve the influence of method and due process. When business transactions have implications for the public-at-large, leaders must be proactive about 1) vetting potential ideas over a “significant” amount of time before stakeholders (both field experts and community members) 2) sharing the responsibility of implementation (i.e. the person with the idea need not solely control the resources or execution plan) 3) developing a system of accountability that is shared with the public (let the public know how you target goals, empower the public with tools to track/monitor evolution of projects and share conclusions to help provide lessons for  the future).

3. Realize that “parents” don’t always know best and that the “children” too have voices. Often, community members can be heard referring to the “elders” in our community or can be heard making references to “up and coming”, “emerging”, “new”, and “young” leaders.  And, we should note: there are lots to learn from the wise…from those with an array of life experiences…from our elders! But, it is also the case that one’s status as an elder should not predicate the ignoring of the voices of the “young”. In addition, if we are use to the same rhetorical line of thinking, might it also be said that parents can also be wrong? Now, is it the responsibility of emerging (or new?) leaders to attend to the advice of those who have come before? Yes! Emerging leaders should ensure that our elders are at various tables, if nothing else, and to ensure that they are sought out for their advice. The moment, however, when relationships are wrongly ordered based on ideas like “the young should listen while the elders talk” or “elders should move out of the way and allow the young to exercise their autonomy” is the moment when barriers are built that prevent collaboration. The best collaboration is fashioned when the table is set for equals and not hierarchized.

4. Defamation won’t get us to the destination.  Let’s get right to the point: disagreeing with a person because of his/her positions is one thing, purposefully destroying the character of that same person is another. It is possible that folk can disagree without having to malign another, without having to smirk at another’s seeming downfall, without having to participate in the public shaming of another…to wish the worse for another. Social change requires a certain change in the change agent…that change typically tends toward justice and not the reverse.

5.  History is our best teacher. What didn’t you like about leaders from the past? What don’t you like about your peers? …don’t do those things, don’t be that person!  Create an environment that includes people and written policies that regulate your actions and the dealings of people on your team.

darnell moore and bryan epps

A World AIDS Day Speech: A Celebration of Life

T, one of my closest friends during my teenage and college years: a young man that was esteemed by so many, a passionate friend with a heart and smile that was mesmerizing, a jokester, a confidant, a loving brother, a responsible son, a compassionate and gentle lover, an angel…passed on much too early–and too the dismay of many of those that loved him, passed on from this earth with a life shrouded in shock, secrecy and shame.

I missed his going-home service, but discovered that no one was daring and devoted enough to name the disease that complicated his illness and wreaked havoc on his striking, but fragile, body.

His choice of “lifestyle” un-named.

His wrestle with HIV-related illness, un-named.

His ability, strength and witness to a life worth living, even while having to face the fear of public and private humiliation, un-named.

The fact that he shut the world out because of their fierce judgments, un-named.

T, a brilliant, beautiful, bountiful, blissful Black man whose life, humor, generosity, and candor touched the lives of everyone he came into contact with, passed on without having the full story of his life told. T, and many others who are infected with/or affected by HIV/AIDS–should not have to exist in the memories of family and friends un-named because of one’s inability to see beyond the negativity that is too often attached to HIV and AIDS. Thus, I am here to proclaim loudly, in solidarity with all of you, that we can still celebrate life even in the midst of seeming despair.

I know that it seems paradoxical to laugh when a situation may call for tears, to jump up and down in an excitable fervor when the time calls for a solemn embrace, to shout out a heart-felt word of thanks even though the moment may warrant silence; however, we are living during a particular space in time that requires us to be paradoxical, to see light even in the midst of darkness, to laugh when we should be crying, simply, to break the rules that have governed our responses to HIV/AIDS for far too long.

I am not arguing for us to be ignorant to the grim realities that we are faced with right now as it relates to HIV/AIDS and its local, regional and global impact, no. We can not ignore the disturbing fact that among the five (5) counties in the Newark Eligible Metropolitan Area [EMA], Essex County is grossly impacted by HIV/AIDS. We can not be happy that the city of Newark is home to the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS [PLWHA] in the EMA. We can not jump up and rejoice because of the fact that women in general, African-Americans specifically, infants, children and men-who have sex with men, are populations that are disproportionately affected by HIV. No!

These facts are and should be alarming to all elected officials, public officers, corporations, small businesses, schools, hospitals, community leaders, adults, children, mothers, fathers, gay, bi, straight, black, white, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, rich or poor…everyone in our city, everyone in our county, everyone in our region, everyone in our country…everyone in the world. Yet, like any other epidemic of this proportion that has ravaged the lives of the most marginalized in our communities we can not allow IT to overcome our tenacity, our strength or our ability as human beings to transcend the desperation and sadness that cloaks even the mention of HIV or AIDS. We can’t! And, we won’t!

Far too many of us are gripped by fear because of HIV/AIDS.
We won’t get tested because of fear.
We won’t tell our status to those whom it directly affects because of fear.
We won’t tell our closest friends about the plight of our infected and affected partners, family members, or friends because of fear.
We won’t sip off of the cup of that person we know is infected because of fear.

HIV/AIDS: it should not be named, we think.
HIV/AIDS: it is a disgraceful disease, we think.
HIV/AIDS: it’s God’s punishment for sinful behavior, we think.

But I am here to advance the argument that as long as we continue to give power to fear, negativity and shame…as long as we allow HIV/AIDS, and those infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS to be pathologized, we will have no reason for celebration. Therefore, if we are to take back our lives, our witness, our communities and our bodies, we must first de-pathologize the epidemic and testify to the realistic dimensions of its impact while at the same time humanizing our fight, our human struggle against it.

But that still doesn’t respond to the difficulty of celebrating when many think that we should be looming in despair. It doesn’t respond to the real questions that plaque the minds of those who daily face HIV/AIDS: Like, How do you expect me to celebrate what some see as an impending death wish? How can I dance when my body still wants to rest? How is it even possible for me to speak about my plight against a disease so demonized?

These questions are real. They are piercing and hint at the reality of what it is like to live under the label of HIV positive. But I am reminded of the ability of the human spirit and the human body to rise above despair. The ability of the human body to still produce a smile even when one is fighting back a tear. The ability of the human spirit to rejuvenate itself even after the most difficult of tragedies. The ability of the human body to resist pain and atrophy even after being told that it is being warred against by venomous viruses. The ability of the human spirit to stand up and rejoice even when the world that it resides in appears to be dressed in gloom and desperation.

Several years ago, I boarded a plane in route to California. I can remember the day like it was yesterday. The sky was a dark and a gloomy grey, a hard rainfall was pouring wetting everything in its path…I entered my plane with sullen, worried and teary eyes…I was crying on the inside and shedding tears on the outside. Life seemed to be at its worst! I felt alone. I felt depressed. I felt as if there was no need to live on. I watched the wing of the plane shift and glide through the wind gust as we took flight…I watched the rain batter the wings…I could see the lightning flashing across the sky…more tears and more pain. As we elevated I sensed a shift in the atmosphere. The rain was slowing down…and the grey was rapidly disappearing. I was still hiding my tears until finally we flew so high above the clouds that the sun was shining as boldly and beautifully as ever. It was almost as if the universe was sending me a message…encouraging me that as long that I could live long enough to see what stood on the opposite side of the gloomy clouds I would have reason enough to live on and rejoice. My tears ceased…my hands dried, I took a deep breathe, and I rejoiced.

In the same way, the world would have us to think that we exist only in the dimension of gloom…in the grey, but I would like to encourage you to stick your head up above the cloud so that you too can see the sun shining bright! I ended landing in California and, yes, it was still cloudy, but I had already seen the sun and therefore still had reason to rejoice. We may not be able to wish away the alarming statistics or the harsh realities associated with HIV/AIDS but we can change the way we view our selves in the midst of it.

It is possible for us to celebrate life, yes, even if it’s in the midst of disparity.

-darnell m.