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.

my challenge: what can i/we do for others in need

I received an email yesterday from a friend regarding the death of, yet, another beautiful soul, Mosey Alexander. I didn’t know Mosey; yet, my heart was/is torn.

I am feeling challenged today because it is clear to me that beyond my/our need to truly dig into and deconstruct my/our understandings of suicidality among LGBT youth (and adults)…beyond my/our desire to call out the systems, the ideologies, the theologies, the state practices/regulations and the isms that oft serve as the invisible hands that kill others…beyond my/our need to pontificate and debate, march and testify in this moment…I am left to consider what it is that I/we are possibly being called to interrogate?

I can recall the moments in my own life when I considered suicide and made actual attempts to take my life. In retrospect, it was in those moments when I felt as if I had been wading through violent waves and my cries for help, as silently-loud as they may have been, had often gone unheard. I remember calling friends and literally fumbling over words as I asked for help. Is it that friends were unable to read my cries for “help” when they were coded by statements like: “I don’t know. It has been really hard for me to get pass this heaviness” or “Sometimes, I just want to end it all” or “Yeah, I know it will get better, but when?” or “I can’t take it anymore”? I actually remember sleeping through the most beautiful and sunny of days on a bustling college campus only to wake up at night–after having missed classes, crying and hiding under my blankets, while situated in a dark room where the sun was blocked out by curtains–to walk and talk with others, while in pain, and, yet,  feel alone the whole time.

But, what is my point? I think that we are being presented with opportunities to intervene in the life of another. Indeed, we have to consider the big system issues (i.e. intersectional structures of oppression, state practices/laws, media affects, theologies etc.) that weigh down on folk, but we must also consider the mundane practices (i.e. they ways in which we relate to family members, friends, and strangers; our presences-or lack thereof-in the lives of those in need; our willingness to listen when others speak; our desire to help when others cry out for our help; our responses-and our responsibility-to say and do something when others may hint at suicidal ideation, etc.)  that order, or dis-orders, our lives daily. In other words, we actually have a responsibility to ensure that we live lives that don’t feed into the systems that we critique as oppressive.

It’s quite basic, what I/we can do:

1). Stop hating! Literally…I am challenging myself to think and utter positive things about other people. We kill with our words and our actions…conversely, we can also give life with our words and our actions. I have to cease the jokes that hurt others…I have to cease the eye rolling, the harmful gesturing, the ignoring, the hubris, the stuff that marks others.

2). Be present! I am challenging myself to not only be by the side of others (beyond moments when they are in need) but to be PRESENT: attending to the spoken and unspoken cues; putting my phone down when we are together-this is difficult for me; empathizing with their situations; answering the phone when others reach out when, in fact, they may be calling out of need (I’ve been there. I’ve called friends many-a-time in pain only to speak to voicemails. I am also guilty of not answering calls when others needed me). Essentially, I am challenging myself to practice what it means to be human, that is, what it means to be a relational being.

3). Take care of SELF! I am challenging myself to get in touch with my own “stuff”…my desires, my ideologies, my prejudices, my dislikes, my joys, my pains, my ish, the negative energy that I might disperse, my vulnerabilities…Not doing so prevents me from being present and possibly perpetuates the kinds of negative energy that harms others. Even more, when I am in touch with self I am better able to be in touch with others.

In sum, our activism doesn’t have to wait. Change, does not have to be imagined as something forward.  It starts with us…now! It begins with me/us answering: Who will I love today? Who will I help? Who will I hug? Listen to? Attend to? Whose tears will I wipe? Who needs a smile? Who needs food? What can I do to make someone else’s cloudy day full of light?

all love…darnell

Creating Space to do the Heavy Lifting: The Potential of Autonomy within the Newark Global Village School Zone

Every day in Newark Public Schools (NPS) hardworking, committed, and knowledgeable people are engaged in the arduous work of transforming schools.   They are principals, teachers, parents, students, and community partners.  Yet, in the flash of press cameras, front-page national headlines, charismatic leaders, and unprecedented private gifts, the work being done as seven public schools join together to dismantle the underperformance shared by their schools is easily forgotten.  Layer on a climate of reform that glamorizes the kind of top-down control that prohibits the collaborative efforts required to transform public schools (or any organization for that matter), this work may even seem obsolete.

However, on a flawless October afternoon a few principals from these seven hardworking schools sit together excitedly recounting how their teachers returned from a professional development day not only brimming over with instructional strategies they believed would improve their teaching, but also convinced they needed time during the school day to observe and learn from each other.  In their conversation, it is quite evident that what has started to take place in these schools is far from immaterial.  It is, in fact, the work that in the long-run matters the most to changing schools.

Supporting the implementation of the very collaborative and deep localized professional learning discussed by the principals are two Memorandums of Understanding (MOU). An MOU is a legal document that creates formal agreements between two or more parties.   The first MOU is an agreement between Newark Public Schools (NPS) and the seven schools in the heart of Newark’s Central Ward that formally joins these schools as the Newark Global Village School Zone (NGVSZ) and grants the NGVSZ schools autonomy from district policies and procedures in numerous areas.  The second MOU is between NPS and the Newark Teachers’ Union (NTU) and establishes modifications to the collective bargaining agreement including among other things compensation for extended-learning time, teacher transfers, and professional development.  These MOUs are the framework through which the NGVSZ will transform the conditions, expectations, and accountability for public education in the Central Ward.

As is the work of any legal agreement, the MOUs are technical articulations of the roles and responsibilities of the NGVSZ schools and their relationship to the school district and teachers.  However, the roles and responsibilities articulated in the NGVSZ MOUs are directly tied to best practices in core aspects of school organization, teaching and learning, community engagement, assessment, governance, and accountability—all of which are widely held levers for creating excellent schools.

While it’s true that much of what is laid out in the MOUs has been done—for example, school based decision making, local governance, and extended-day—what chomps at the bit of change are three things. First, is the acknowledgement that to build sustainable change these aspects of schooling must be transformed in concert; change must occur across every domain of the educational process simultaneously. Second, is the recognition that to have meaningful impacts on the opportunities and outcomes experienced by students, transformation must occur at every point on the developmental pipeline along which children travel; resources must be mobilized to address every aspect of children’s lives. Lastly, is the belief that sustainable change requires those most impacted by the problems that exist in schools and communities are an integral part of identifying problems and creating their solutions; organizing parents, teachers, students, and leaders to produce critical analyses of problems leads to transformational solutions.

At a time when the public debate about how to solve the problems of public education is locked into caricatures of superheroes and villains and dichotomies between the “status quo” and “real innovation,” the NGVSZ MOUs concretize a vision of what it takes to do the work everyone is talking about.  When Newark Public School Superintendent, Dr. Clifford Janey, charted the path of the NGVSZ schools in this direction, he drew on a long history of experiences that had shown him over time how public schools could use autonomy to achieve greatness while remaining part of a larger school system.  For example in Boston, where Dr. Janey was previously superintendent, a network of autonomous schools called the Boston Pilot Schools have lower retention rates than other Boston Public Schools, and higher test scores and higher college persistence rates for their graduates.  But, students in the Boston Pilot Schools are not just scoring higher.  They are scoring a lot higher.    In fourth grade—just to pick a grade—the proportion of students scoring advanced proficient on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) was 59% in ELA and 76% in math.  The framework through which the Boston Pilot Schools Network was able to utilize autonomy to achieve this success while remaining a part of Boston Public Schools was made possible through the collective efforts of the superintendent, the mayor, the teachers union, and the school committee in a school district under Mayoral control.

When the MOUs for NGVSZ were crafted, the principals of the seven schools went directly to the Boston Pilot Schools’ model for a blueprint of what needed to be in place to support this kind of student success within the zone, and within NPS.  What they encountered were policies, structures, and practices that had created the flexibility called for at the school-level to organize schools, staffing, and curricula in ways that best meet the needs of the students in each school.  This autonomy allowed the Boston Pilot Schools to differentiate their practices to support the specific strengths and needs of their school communities.  With a well-documented and scientifically evaluated model to guide the direction of their vision, the NGVSZ principals incorporated the following policies from the Boston Pilot School model into the NGVSZ MOUs:

  • Waiving of rules and policies that are not specifically applied to NGVSZ or that are necessary for compliance with state/federal laws or applicable collective bargaining agreements.
  • The flexibility to plan, design, and implement curricula and assessment developed by teams of classroom teachers, Department Chairs, coaches and other relevant professional and to work in collaboration with university partners with expertise in these areas.
  • The option to extend the school day for all instructional personnel or stagger the schedules of all instructional personnel according to the work hours required by the current collective bargaining agreement.
  • Authority as to allocation and expenditure of site-based per-pupil allocations, including Title I funding and grant funds, consistent with regulations of the state of New Jersey.
  • Collaboration between NGVSZ and NPS in the hiring of principals and development of a process for selecting and assessing teachers and paraprofessional.

Some will say what worked in Boston will not work in Newark.  Others will argue that when something has been proven to dramatically transform schools it should be tried in other places.  In my experience, both perspectives are correct.  Of course, very few things can be replicated in exactly the same way in new contexts where they are influenced by entirely different sets of relationships, histories, politics, cultures, and events.  However, that does not mean a good idea should not be considered because it took root some place else first.  It does mean, that a critical part of replication is understanding the particular local context and assessing how this context maps onto a “good idea” or a scientifically proven program or a best practice.

I might suggest that creating a zone among a feeder pattern of NPS schools is just one way in which the local context played out in determining how to move autonomy within a network of schools forward as a best practice in NPS.  Another example of how local context is extremely relevant to NGVSZ is in the extensive work that goes into building support across many layers of stakeholders in Newark.  While the Boston Pilot School network was developed out of partnership among Boston’s mayor, the superintendent, and teachers union, in Newark building the collaboration where stakeholders from every level hold NGVSZ and NPS accountable for meeting the terms of the MOU is an essential underpinning of the work.

At the heart of autonomy are vision and accountability.  When the teachers mentioned earlier in this post returned from their professional development session they were not only invigorated by a vision of what their practice could look like, they were inspired to open their classrooms, thereby establishing a level of public and collective accountability that by most accounts did not exist before.  Supporting this energy requires that principals and the schools they lead can deliver what these teachers need to reach the pedagogical expertise they envision and to ensure that accountability becomes an authentic tool for driving meaningful teaching and learning.  Research shows that this depth of responsiveness requires the kind of attention to school-level needs—the local—that the vision of autonomous schools set in motion by Dr. Janey and articulated in the NGVSZ MOUs call for.

The state of public education is at a new high in the public imagination.  While public schools may be the “sexy” reform agenda of the moment, our children and communities have been calling for the best education possible for much longer than the public memory will allow.  NGVSZ has created the scaffolding through which it can bring everyone’s focus in on the work of building great schools that are responsive to students and communities they serve. There are, of course, bumps in the road, fit and starts if you will.  However, the true vision of NGVSZ resides in what can happen when those who work directly in schools and classrooms have the opportunity to respond to the learning and other needs they see their students and colleagues struggle with everyday.  For those who doubt that the majority of teachers and principals we already have can do the heavy lifting or make the professional choices that this change demands all you have to do is look to Boston for strong evidence that autonomy yields achievement.

Lauren Wells, Ph.D.


The Broader Bolder Approach to Education

Metropolitan Center for Urban Education

Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Development

New York University





The Trouble with Intellectuals and the Culture of Poverty

by fayemi shakur

As a young person, being identified as an intellectual always made me cringe. In elementary school, I loved it because it seemed to make me special in some way. By the time I reached high school, I seriously disliked the association and rejected opportunities to attend a school for the academically gifted. Even in college I gravitated more to community meetings than classrooms. Back then I couldn’t articulate why the academic intellectual label rubbed me the wrong way. It’s a good thing to be a person who thinks. However, intellectuals go too far sometimes and yet not far enough. I am cautious and mindful of the way intellectuals share their gifts and how much authority and influence they are given to define people and places.

My brilliant friend and cultural anthropologist, Dr. Aimee Cox, shared a recent New York Times article about the culture of poverty making a comeback among scholars. It reminded me all over again why some intellectuals and intellectualism still rubs me the wrong way.

The article shares “new” studies that are surfacing about the culture of poverty. For those who remember or studied the Moynihan Report of 1965 similar studies were used back then to influence policy in ways that negatively impacted impoverished communities. So this resurgence of scholarship on culture makes me stop dead in my tracks.

Why? The article acknowledges that the topic generates much interest on Capitol Hill because so much of the research intersects with policy debates.

Then I read this:

To Robert J. Sampson, a sociologist at Harvard, culture is best understood as “shared understandings.”

“I study inequality, and the dominant focus is on structures of poverty,” he said. But he added that the reason a neighborhood turns into a “poverty trap” is also related to a common perception of the way people in a community act and think. When people see graffiti and garbage, do they find it acceptable or see serious disorder? Do they respect the legal system or have a high level of “moral cynicism,” believing that “laws were made to be broken”?

Researching levels of moral cynicism and disorder, Sampson did a tired and lame study dropping stamped envelopes around a housing project to see who would mail it back as a sign of caring about members of their community. Is he serious? That’s what he’s using to judge whether or not these communities look after each other? And he teaches at Harvard?

Next the article mentions a favorite topic: why low-income women are unmarried. The findings report these women noted potential partners are not “marriage material”. Simplistic, trite findings like this don’t give me much faith in what these studies will report. It should be common knowledge that marriage rates in low-income communities are low due to the high numbers of men who are incarcerated and under the probation system and therefore unavailable. Some women are also rejecting and reconsidering marriage altogether for an array of reasons. The research doesn’t go far enough. It still sounds like making judgments based on values.

I get seriously territorial and protective when I hear things like this. I want to know who is doing the studying, how is it begin done, why is it being done and how it will be used.

Forget the conversation about values and morals. We know the answers already but nobody’s listening. Crime is connected to joblessness. Duh.

Morality? No, how about a discussion about spirituality, overall health and the impact the lack of quality supermarkets and high concentration of fast food restaurants has on low-income communities? Or what about how media programming influences young people?

Education? I can’t. I’ll be here all day. All types of excuses are used to explain why our children are left at a disadvantage, underprepared for their futures, and guaranteed a continued cycle of poverty –and how we, not government must fix it. It’s a sad truth but then where’s the accountability. It’s just not the same in places like Montclair, NJ and don’t tell me it’s because the parents are more involved. I’ve seen them, most of them just drop their kids off at school like most people do.

Attempting to explain why or how neighborhoods become “poverty traps”, blaming a “culture of poverty” or “shared understandings” sounds dangerously close to blaming the victim. I don’t support the idea of victimization. I’m glad some social scientists are willing to examine sustained racism and economic factors that create the isolation and “culture” in the first place. But, the fact that these studies are being reignited at all tells me that low-income communities are under the microscope again and policy related decisions will soon follow.

The only point that matters to me is: these challenges low-income communities face are honestly too big to expect individuals to be able to overcome on their own. The pull your self up by the bootstraps philosophy may have worked for some, but that type of individualistic thinking rarely helps the collective. Some people need more support than that and we should care more.

Thank goodness there are some intellectuals who really get it. Be an intellectual by all means, but be an intellectual that affects policy with a clear understanding of the people’s needs, rather than an elitist or simplistic perspective.

It’s always fascinating to me that some elitist intellectuals hold so much value but because of their own conceit they don’t know how to best use their influence to help others. Some just don’t care to think about it in that way.

In 2004, I had an opportunity to help organize and produce the National Hip-Hop Political Convention. There I met hundreds of grassroots activists from all over the country doing incredible work. No one waited or cared about the results of any study to roll their sleeves up and get involved in affecting real change. From prisoner rights groups to reproductive health activists, these young people were on it and truly involved in the communities some people only talk about it. Why not work with them and frame new perspectives and solutions? Some scholars actually do this and believe in the value of collaboration over mere research.

One amazing woman I met briefly was Adrienne Brown, an activist from Detroit and current Director of the Ruckus Society and a National Coordinator of the 2010 US Social Forum. Reflecting on a short story by Ursula K. Lee entitled “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”, Adrienne recently wrote an analysis of Lee’s work. Her words stay with me. She says “we must transform ourselves to transform the world. We have a moral imperative to reject happiness or luxury that relies on the systemic dehumanization of another – even if we don’t know what the alternative might be. We have to be willing to confront and walk away from systems founded in inequality…and we need to evolve our community organizing practices to be collaborative, not competitive.”

Is the academic community ready for that? Should policy decisions be made based on intellectual pap? I know lots of brilliant people who can do this effectively. If the academic community seeks to define our communities it should be done by intellectuals who inspire, support and create solution oriented action in a forward direction. And they need to really think out of the box. We don’t need Moynihan revisited – at all.

Spirited Words from Yusef Ismail, a Notable Newarker!

Make no mistake about it… I’m an Idealist. I will never stop believing in what this city can be. In the face of violence, I believe there can be peace. In the face of despair, I believe there can be hope. In the face of a politics that has divided us for too long, I believe we can be one people, reaching for what’s possible, building a stronger more united city.

That’s the journey I’m on today. But let me tell you how I came to be here. As most of you may know, I am a life-long resident of the city of Newark. Three generations of my family lived in the Baxter Terrace housing projects. Believe it or not, at one time, all of the people that lived there were like one big family. People looked out for one another.  It was in this “School of Hard Knocks” that I received the best education I ever had, and where I learned the true meaning of family, survival, and faith. Unfortunately, over the years the infamous housing projects became synonymous with drugs, crime and violence. Although my mother worked hard to support me and tried to provide everything I needed, the fascination with street life and the cash I could make from selling drugs was far too tempting to resist.

The only thing I gained from my years of running in the streets was a five year prison sentence and 5 gun shots wounds from three separate incidents. My last and most serious incident dates back in 2002. I regained consciousness at UMDNJ Hospital with a catheter lodged in my throat and several tubes attached to my body. I spent a total of six weeks lying up in a hospital bed. During my stay, through a series of operations and procedures, I was treated for the following: Diaphragm laceration, Liver laceration, colon injury, abdominal compartment syndrome, respiratory failure, multiple organ failure, and abdominal wall reconstruction. The doctors named me the “Walking Miracle” when I finally began to recover.

Believe it or not I gained something from this experience. Because it was in this time of crises, during the darkest hours of my life that I grew closer to God. The seeds of faith are always alive in us, but sometimes it takes a crisis to provoke them to grow. And it took a crisis to provoke those seeds to grow within me. I started replacing my doubts and my fears of changing with Faith. Faith in God and faith in my own abilities to overcome life’s greatest challenges.

It was through faith and an urgent need for change that led me to start my organization, back in 2005 and I’ve never looked back. Stop Shootin’ has continued to be at the forefront of a grassroots movement that has helped the City of Newark set the national standard for urban violent crime reduction. We’ve challenged the community to re connect with one another, and to recommit to eliminating senseless loss of life. There’s been significant strides in community leadership — people pulling together on blocks and in neighborhoods in phenomenal cooperation. We have achieved what many are saying is remarkable success.

But for all the progress that has been made, we must surely acknowledge that Newark has yet to fulfill its true potential. We still have much work to do, and a long road to walk before the truth of our city is fully realized. This is a time where you can go to any community meeting or street corner and hear people express anxiety about the future. I hear them convey their uncertainty about the direction we’re headed as a city. Whether it’s the upsurge of violence over the summer months or the lack of quality education or their jobs, you hear people say that we’ve finally arrived at a moment where something must change.

Now, the people of Newark understand that government alone can’t meet this challenge. We realize that we need to stop looking for some external force, some outside factor, some knight in shining armor to fix our problems. We are the source of our own solutions, our own changes, our own imaginative creations, not our government, our corporations, our political parties. If change is to happen, it must happen down deep in the psychological soil of our own being. We have to decide to change. We have to recognize reality.

Thus we do need change, not the campaign slogan type, but the substantive change. The kind that King talked about when he said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability”. It must be carried in on the backs of Newark’s most dedicated servants. We are that generation, this is our highest calling. In the months and years to come, it’s time for each of us to understand that we will never solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together because the challenges that are facing our community and our world are much greater than any of our personal, political or organizational differences. We are all in this together.  We may live or work in different wards and communities but we are fighting in a common cause.

Therefore, when our cause seems doomed and the future lost, when despair becomes unbearable and our hearts are on the edge of breaking, let us conjure hope and honor and high resolve in yet one more stubborn affirmation! I encourage us all to summon a new spirit of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us realize the potential power that our unity can unleash to bring about positive changes in our community.

Author’s Bio:

Yusef Ismail is a self- motivated achiever with a boundless passion to end senseless gun violence in urban communities, nationwide. Yusef is a Co-Founder of Stop Shootin’ Inc., which is a non-profit organization based out of Newark, New Jersey. The agency promotes programs and events focused on providing young people with educational, cultural, and economic alternatives to criminal activity. Since Stop Shootin’s inception, Yusef has managed the organization full-time as the Executive Director. Under his direction, the agency has continued to grow by leaps and bounds. Yusef has been vital in turning an often used catch phrase into an action-oriented organization. Yusef Ismail continues to give of himself, time, and talent selflessly to Newark’s youth and families.

Op-Ed: Newark and the Politics of Fear

Written by: Taquan Williams, Newark Resident

A couple of weeks ago, I received an “IMPORTANT WARNING” from the Newark Firefighters and Fire Officers Unions. It read: “this warning goes out to all home-owners, residents, children, employees, students and anyone else who may enter the City of Newark for any reason.” It goes on to state that Mayor Booker’s proposed layoffs “will lead to death, injury and the unnecessary spread of fire!”

Then, while driving up Clinton Avenue for my weekly haircut, I noticed an ad commissioned by the Newark FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) that read: “Welcome to Newark. Stop Laying Off Cops.” The ad also used the city’s skyline as the backdrop with a strip of red crime scene tape to invoke images of crime and death.

Both public relations campaigns reminded me of the tragic, attention-seeking “Help Wanted Stop the Killings in Newark Now” signs that the Newark Teachers Union (NTU), another deep-pocketed union in Newark. The NUT strategically purchased ad space near all of the Newark’s major highways and high-traffic areas in 2007. The signs garnered national attention because they played into the perception that Newark is a city being overrun by thugs and criminals.

However, this is nothing new. For decades, we have seen this narrative play out over and over again, with little change to the playbook. From the late night Jay Leno jokes of the 80’s, to the movies like New Jersey Drive (1995) to Conan O’Brien’s recent faux-battle with Mayor Booker.

Long before the 1988 U.S. Presidential Election, we have seen the “Willie Horton-ization” of Newark.  The only thing new about this strategy, is that it is being adopted by the very groups that have taken an oath to “serve and protect.” As someone that takes great pride in Newark’s rich history and its promising future, the current actions of the Newark Police and Fire Unions only do harm to Newark’s already fragile reputation and economic recovery.

We are in tough economic times; the worst since the Great Depression. Let me repeat: the worst since the Great Depression. While I’ve disagreed with Mayor Booker on minor issues, I don’t think he is left with many options in order to close the current budget gap.

Instead of invoking and provoking fear in the hearts of “home-owners, residents, children, employees, students and anyone else who may enter the City of Newark for any reason,” we should collectively come together to try to the share the pain that this recession has caused us to endure.

While I do believe that both organizations are well within their First Amendment rights, these scare tactics are antithetical to the oaths that each officer and firefighter are sworn to uphold.  In sum, they only perpetuate the myth that Newark is a dangerous and unlivable city. To me, it seems as if both unions have lost confidence in their own abilities to fight crime and keep residents and visitors safe. Going forward, I hope Newarkers loudly reject these fear campaigns. They only do harm to our great city.

On: Being “African”-American while in South Africa

So, I discovered that I am more American than African.

Indeed, the modifier that I oft use to self-identify as one of Africa’s diasporic children, remains a symbolic insertion, a prologue?, that attempts to place me before/within the context of America’s raciated colonialist, capitalist story of human exploitation and systematic terror. Such usage is more about me attempting to demonstrate a connection to the historical, social, cultural trajectory of enslaved Africans in America (and maybe a connection of my family of origin to a West African source) than anything else.

In no way was this realization a surprise. I had done away with the idealistic and romanticized notion of Africa as “home” a few years back (and now wonder: why so late?). And, even while I am deeply spirited by the fact that Africa, West African countries to be exact, remain the primary “source” of my familial lineage, I feel like I am more of an enigma as I roam (touring actually!) South Africa, in September 2010, than my White American sisters and brothers who are visiting with me today: I get a lot of stares and they walk through town without surveillance. I am treated with speculation even as I witness them maneuver the streets without care for their interactions. The funny thing is: I GET IT!




When I walk the streets of Cape Town, my ethnicity-the identifier which supposedly characterizes my place of origin-which, in this case peculiarly places me, partly, in Africa ceases to hold true. It connotes a connection-for some a genetic link-to Africa, the motherland, home. Yet, I was reminded the moment that I walked through Joburg International Airport that my Africanisms can not be found in my knowledge of the African continent, my understanding of the varied cultures and languages and religions and peoples and my deep connection to the struggles of Black people in Africa (and the colorisms that continue to caste Blacks as a class below Colored South Africans). My African ain’t the African of the people that I have fantasized and fetishized, oh no! I, yet, have lots to learn!

Looking into the faces, when I was bold enough, of the workers, producers pushing other folk (Black, White, Red, Brown) in wheelchairs, cooking and serving food at airport eateries, cleaning the bathrooms, sweeping the floors, shining shoes, collecting tickets, directing, signaling, sweeping, I saw my reflection, that is, the reflection of an “African?” whose life had been made easier by the labor of other Africans. I could sense an e(race)ing of the Black African within my African-Americaness as folk surveilled a Black English speaking foreigner in Nike sneakers, designer skinny jeans, an iPhone 4 (that I wasn’t using), Kodak camera, lap top, Jeep luggage and a Western attitude, walk boldly on the floors that were being mopped by Black South African laborers. My African, in that moment, was less impressionable than my seeming economic status. To be sure, my “American” ostensibly was most visible when I encountered other Black (Africans) especially when they found out that I was from Jersey. American: a sign for a certain “class position” and economic status that is connected to an imperialist, neoliberal project of the West that negatively impacts the lives of many in the East (and South), is what folk saw. And, I get it!

My short time in South Africa has already been cause for me to interrogate the complicated meaning-making process of racial identification and to realize that class positionality, access to capital (human and monetary) and State affiliation/nationality has everything to do with the project of race-ing. Indeed, I am forced to critique my own place in a capitalist project that continues to draw a wedge between Blacks in Africa and those in USA. I have been forced to deal with my appropriation of “African”: an appropriation that has everything to do with my fantastical ideals about place and heritage and less about the unified struggle against race, gender, sex, class, religious, economic, neighborhood, ability and other oppressions that ultimately have me looking more vaudeville than bona fide African. I now realize that I can no more claim my African than I claim “being from” New York even though I live 20 minutes away in Jersey.  Africa, at least Cape Town, South Africa, has challenged me to examine my conscious and actions in an America that makes invisible the tattered Townships where Black South Africans survive daily. It’s hard to do from the Cape Milner Hotel where I can see way pass the struggles of the valley as I lift my head, with a glass of wine, to the soaring mountains. With my many-a-Rand I can take a privileged ride via a wire car to the tip of Table Top Mountain, but fail to position my Rand so that they can fall in to the hands of NGOs building up the lives of those in the economically-distressed Townships that I’ve passed so that they can soar.

Author: Darnell L. Moore / @dnnewark on Twitter

A Journey Down a Redbrick Road: Reflections of a Black, Queer Newarker

“Get out the street you fag!” The words drifted on the warm spring waft like a dandelion seed. My grandmother always told me that if you can catch a dandelion’s seed with one hand you would be granted a wish. I grabbed his words with my hopeful fist and held them to my heart. Necks rolled and horns honked in this discordant urban musical, as I was suspended in an animated silence. It had occurred to me that the carnivorous driver waiting irately at the red light had just cursed me with the most unforgivable word, and yet while my brain informed me that I should be welling with fury, I was instead strangely roused with electricity. In the middle of West Market Street I pivoted on the heels of my patent-leather oxfords, and now facing my blasphemer, blew him a kiss.  After my grand display I did what RuPaul had taught me and sashayed away…

Hours later while retelling the event to a friend I began to think deeply about the exchange. My “kill-em-with-kindness” reaction was accompanied with a sincere gesture of my appreciation. Why was I thanking someone who had just called me a fag? In spite of the malicious intent of his words, that angry driver acknowledged and affirmed my sexual identity where previously internal and external forces attempted to refute its existence. After years of self-denial and repression, this milestone signified to the world and myself that I was happily queer. To a greater extent, and what I realized a year later in retrospect, the thirty-second exchange between the driver and myself represented a victory in another major internal battle between my identities. That day I remembered why I was a Newarker.

Growing up in the Bricks I’ve always felt like a deviant. Not a gun-totting, drug-selling deviant, but a book-reading, double-dutch-jumping deviant. The hyper-masculine archetype worn by men (of color) from my community was always too baggy to fit my waist. I tried with much effort (and with some success) to perform the black masculinity I observed daily: I chilled on the corner with pants to my ankles squawking at passing women, and on countless occasions defended my ‘manhood’ and feigned heterosexuality. Eventually I realized that my beliefs and actions did not have to be confined to the race, gender, and class specific social scripts that defined the lives of most men I knew; however, I now had no other model to which I could construct my identity. I began to perceive myself as the antithesis to the black, heterosexual men of Newark whom I encountered, and thus concluded that Newark represented everything that I was not. With this attitude I could accept all of my eccentricities and queerness.  Ironically, through the process of mentally liberating myself from the under/working-class schema that quelled my sexual and intellectual being, I was simultaneously denying my very existence: I had distanced myself from the world that I observed daily with the belief that the real people I encountered as I navigated the city and the very real place that is Newark was not connected to who I was.

It was not until I left Newark that I could truly begin to reconcile my clashing identities and resolve my existential conundrum. While living, working, and attending school in Washington D.C. for a year, my blackness, queerness, and working-class upbringing never felt so salient. My wealthy, white peers would bombard me with questions about gang-violence and car-jackings when they became aware of my origins. I quickly learned to avoid the shame I felt from associating myself with Newark by identifying ‘North Jersey’ or ‘Essex County’ as my home, although doing so failed to subdue my internalized sense of otherness induced by my new environment. During lunch one day I divulged my angst to a friend, “black is associated with crime, drugs, violence, poverty, and ignorance. That’s what people think of when they see me, and that’s just not me”. My friend, a white suburbanite, responded, “well, the black people I know are pretty intelligent; are rich, not from selling drugs; and don’t have guns—except to go deer hunting.” Her words made me realize that my ideas of an essentialized identity—informed largely by commercial hip hop, prevailing public opinion, news media, and my subjective experiences—placed me in a state of ideological and moral dissonance.  Hence began the point where I reinterpreted blackness and queerness not as conflicting modalities in the human experience, but as a charming couple that dances salsa and bachata to a soft, melodic guitar. Their nimble steps to the passionate rhythm of life blend into each other, until they spin and dip into an inseparable whirl. My romantic desires, scholarship, and love for jumping rope did not clash with the color of my skin or the place I was born and raised; they were rooted in them.

On that spring day as I meandered down West Market Street I recognized the smiling eyes and hopeful hearts that passed me. The sun was peering sneakily between the clouds to catch a glimpse of the liveliness of the city. After my dance with homophobia, I stood suspended in time, gazing afar at the animated miniature figures marching downtown. My spirit was a high as the cityscape, my rust-brick eyes stern but compassionate. After years of navigating the rugged thoroughfares of the Bricks, I could traverse any street unabashedly. That’s when it him me; I’m not only from Newark, I am Newark.

About the Author:

Kiyan Williams is a Newark-bred intellectual and activist. He is 2009 graduate of Science Park High School, Newark, NJ. He is currently doing his undergraduate work at Stanford University, where he serves as the co-chair of Black and Queer at Stanford (BLaQS), a support network and student organization that strives to increase the political awareness and social acceptance of issues surrounding race, gender, and sexuality. Kiyan is hopeful for the future of Newark, and more so excited to be a part of that future.

Notable Newarker #3: An Interview with Allen Kwabena Frimpong

1. When did you move to Newark, NJ? What brought you to the city?

April 29, 2009, was the date I moved back to Newark– from Piscataway (yeah I am giving P-Way a shout out)–to be exact. It’s funny how I can recall the exact date, right, but I think it was an abrupt transition in my life when I decided to return back to my birthplace. My parents were selling their house and going their separate ways and I just was making a huge transition in my profession starting to do international organizing work in the drug policy field all while returning to school to get my masters in urban planning. It was the right opportunity to actually live life on my own, so like Elaine Brown, of the former Black Panther Party says, I had to ‘seize the time’.

I had done some prior organizing work in Newark with young people for about two years. I had worked with several community-based organizations and schools conducting focus groups and interviews with young people from all walks of life. A lot of my engagement with social justice issues has been centered on public health.  At the time, I was a Fellow at Young People 4, a program of the People for the American Way, where I worked with the Harm Reduction Coalition in New York City. The Harm Reduction Coalition is an organization that promotes the health and dignity of those affected by drug use through advocacy and education. I was responsible for the creation of an initiative for young people to address issues of drug use called Brick Rebuilding (play off of Brick City..or “brick” aka a kg of drugs- rebuilding the knowledge and understanding we have about drugs and drug use). Before this I had made some really solid relationships with other Newark residents in helping coordinating outreach to people who were homeless in Newark in addressing issues around housing, food, their rights -basic needs. I think a lot of that engagement with folks was different for me in that I was really having exchanges with people that usually I wouldn’t be having – because they were homeless and on the streets. These lived experiences were really teachable moments for me, and the new friendships that came out of those experiences is what really pulled me to return to Newark.

2. How is Newark different from other places that you have lived? What characteristics are unique to Newark?

I think Newark is going through growing pains. In some ways healthy, in others not so much. You section off the side of town that borders the city where you can clearly see that the town has green grass and gates with ranch style houses (i.e Montclair), but then where the border of the town is…is the city with a sign that says welcome to Newark with abandoned housing, cracks in the concrete with cracked bottles. It’s a patchwork of those images mixed together. It’s going through attempts to be gentrified. Newark to me is a forced mixture of those two environments, and I feel like the people reflect that forced mixed environment. As there are people who move in and out of the city who most likely work for places like city government or Prudential..transient groups of people who don’t have homes, people who are invested in the city with friends, family, or maybe even lack thereof and those who are just trying to survive given their circumstances. Cities and towns are designed-it’s almost like being in a state of what is called cognitive dissonance where you know what the norms are, you know how people act, behave and when they are introduced to a new concept that they feel may or may not be of benefit to them..they are at a state of maybe confusion or resistance in some way, and I feel like that is how I see Newark. It’s the fear of the unknown.

Clearly, its different from Piscataway, because Piscataway I think is reflective of just any other suburb in New Jersey, especially the way its designed. Suburbs are designed as getaways (gateways) from the urban environment. I think Piscataway was very diverse in culture as it pertained to race, ethnicity, and class distinctions now that I look back at it and I think a lot of that exposure early on shaped my view of how I understood those very same things now and how those things impact society. Many people use the Newark rebellion as a reference point because it was such a big representation of an attempt of class suicide for Black people to rid themselves of a system that continuously was doing them harm. I think the thing to remember about Newark and other urban environments in America are that they have always been struggling to survive and live in structures that were designed and orchestrated to keep them out of spaces of privilege and power. In fact, before the rebellion of ’68 there was the rebellion of 1844 so you see Newark has always been at a constant state of struggle till this day.

3. Describe one positive experience that you have had in Newark since living here.

Well, I recently just saw one of the participants in the Brick Rebuilding project, a young brotha that attended Barringer High School who was just really getting into a lot of trouble, and had joined a youth organization as one of the peer leaders when I was coordinating the program two years ago. I saw him two days ago on Broad St. when I was walking to Penn Station to go to work. He yelled my name out, and I saw him wearing scrubs. He was in school studying to be a medical assistant and that really made me feel good that day. I remember at the close of the project I had taken the participants to Baltimore for a conference about people of color and the war on drugs, and so my participants were able to meet other young Black people from Baltimore and DC to share their experiences of how drugs affected them and what positive things they were going to do to change their community. For many of my participants it was the first time they left Newark, including him. He actually got to meet one of the cast members from “The Wire” who actually used to be a major drug dealer in real life, and I remember him along with everyone else really liking the experience and learning a lot so when I saw him two days ago it just really made me remember how much people can grow and progress out of struggle.

4. In what ways do you “give back” to the City?

In my international work I felt really disconnected from the things that were going on in my own neighborhood. I think part of that had to do with the fact that people in the international community don’t view the United States as a part of that community, particularly in the global south despite the fact that many of the issues they face are comparable to the issues marginalized people in the U.S. face. Now that I have parted from that for the time being and have returned back to doing national policy and capacity-building work I feel like the skills that I have gained are transferable in really valuable ways in how I can engage with people in my community better and be more present. One of the things that I would like to start doing is really reframing how we utilize people in our communities to develop self sustaining communities. When we say we are “giving back” I think one of the basic things to think about is – Why do we give back? (For what purpose?) Motivation and intent are very important for me and I feel like those things are driving forces that give us the ability to believe that we can succeed in our endeavors. More importantly, it allows for us to be transparent and honest with why we do the work we doThe other question that I think we should think about is who are we really giving back to? and to what end? I want to start really doing work from a place of asset building rather than from deficit, because I do think there are skill sets present in the community already that could be tapped to help develop safer communities, sustainable communities. I think it’s because we are conditioned to work from deficits we maintain deficits. I’d like to start engaging with environmental justice issues in Newark more, so since I have spoken it into existence hopefully it will happen.

5. In your estimation, what challenges and opportunities await Newark?

I just talked about working from deficit right? Just as a case example…I was just reading about how the American Civil Liberties Union of NJ (www.aclu-nj.org) filed a petition to the U.S Department of Justice to intervene with handling the abuses and misconduct of the Newark Police department. While I do agree that there needs to be some level of accountability on the part of the Newark Police Department a part of me also wonders what will be the way forward for them in improving the way they operate, and how will the Department of Justice influence that. Again, working in an asset-based framework what ways can we have the community in Newark uphold justice in their own community. What ways can they use their collective efficacy to hold people in the community accountable to a set of standards agreed to by the community? What restorative justice models has the city considered in dealing with its issues of crime? In what ways has the city improved community and police relations? What has been the end result? How does the city define community policing? And, again, who does it ‘serve’ to ‘protect’? I think answering these questions can open the door to some opportunities in improving how we sustain and maintain healthy communities not just in Newark but in other urban communities facing the same issues. We do not need to continue a cycle where communities are going through their own cycles of recidivism, and punishment. People who want to be invested in the safety and security of our neighborhoods should put their energy in building better relationships, and better communities, not conspiring on getting people in the community to snitch on each other and creating community distrust, stopping people and frisking them without any real probable cause, beating and locking up people- violating their rights.  Questions like this would be central in moving forward with changing how Newark Police Department operates.

Allen Kwabena Frimpong is from Newark, NJ currently working at the Harm Reduction Coalition in New York City as a capacity building assistance specialist for HIV prevention programs nationally. Harm Reduction looks at using public health interventions that meet people where they are at in mitigating the harms associated with potentially risky behaviors such as using drugs and having unprotected sex. He was the International Network Coordinator of Youth RISE the only youth-led global harm reduction network working on youth and drug policy issues internationally. Before Youth RISE, he coordinated HIV testing/counseling and support affected and infected youth in NYC. He is also an independent consultant whose work focuses on capacity-building with community based organizations, and also has a background in youth development & childhood safety/prevention. Allen has a strong history in doing community organizing work around social justice issues. He currently is obtaining his master’s degree in Urban Affairs and Planning at City University of New York, Hunter College in New York City.