A Note for Jordan Miles…and for all black and brown boys living in a police state…

It was a sunny afternoon in “Pollock Town” and the bells signaling the end of my school day at Camden High had rang a few hours before. I was home. I decided, as I typically did, to leave my grandmother’s house—which happened to be my house (and at various points in time, every family member’s house)—on Vanhook Street (as it was named then) to my Aunt Arlene’s house directly around the corner. We lived in a neighborhood where youth played outside often, where homes were literal camping grounds for neighborhood children, where fights broke out and brought everyone to their porches, where “posses” were family and formed because of boredom, and where one might receive love as easily as s/he did bullying. Drugs, like other urban spaces, had a stronghold on our neighborhood. I assume that’s the reason that our police took to our neighborhood as if it were a war zone where civilians figured in their skewed imaginations as either the drug user or pusher. Most forgot, I assume, that they too had family in our small city who just as easily matched their stereotypes given that most of the presumed “shining shields” were from the same hood that they had begun to terrorize. I digress….but, not really.

I walked elatedly as I turned the corner of the street where my Aunt’s house was located—adorning my fresh kicks, rocking trendy gear, and flaunting my flashy herringbone necklace with matching bracelet. I’ve always had a penchant for nice clothes and sneakers even if I could not really afford them. So, I would clean my sneakers with a toothbrush and iron my clothes as if I worked at a professional dry cleaning service. I understood, honestly, the lure that pulled other young brothers into a fast-paced life of drugs and money: even while I witnessed the lives of those that I love being wrecked by drugs, I desired to live the “Rap City” life (at least wear the clothes that rappers were wearing in the videos) every day. But, I was lured by my dreams of something better and books instead; though, I managed to live into “street” fantasies every now and then. But, my black male body—adorning fresh kicks, rocking trendy gear, flaunting flashy herringbones—remained a point of surveillance because of its seeming displacement from the “set” (read, drug corners). I assume.

A city of Camden cop car turned the opposite corner as I walked passing young and not-so-young black males on the corner. The car increasingly picked up speed as it moved down the street in the direction I walked. I walked to my aunt’s house often, practically lived there, and had my share of eyewitness accounts of police happenings on the block. So, I expected there to be nothing new but the mundane emergency response to some neighbor’s call. The car moved quickly unto the sidewalk. I was surprised considering that there wasn’t anyone walking on that part of the block but me. The black cop jumped out of the car and screamed words that I still don’t remember to this day–lthough, he mentioned something about “look out boys”–because I was in shock as my arm (the same arm that I would typically use to write essays in my advanced English courses, the same arm that I would use to place money in the hands of bus drivers when traveling downtown to take college-level classes at Camden County even while a high schooler, the same arm that I used to make silkscreen t-shirts as part of my summer youth employment job) was violently placed behind my back as if the black cop wanted to break my arm as well as my spirit. I could see my aunt’s boyfriend, Big Sam, running down the street and feared that the black cop would turn from me and beat the black man coming his way. But, he didn’t. He threw me in the back of the car and was unaware that I was a student in Camden High’s IPLE (Institute for Political and Legal Education) where Coach Hanson had taught us about Miranda rights and what happens when our law enforcement officers break the law by failing to recite them. I am certain he was unaware of this fact, because I matched his image of the public enemy: black, male, and hood. So, he drove away without reading my rights. He angrily asked, as he drove, my name to which I gave him none….my birthdate to which I responded by asking him for his ID number…my purpose for walking the street to which I asserted “walking to my aunt’s house.” Shoulder hurting and spirit broken, I sat in the back terrified for my life, and, for a second, the life of every black male in an America that still images us as terrorist..an America where black men see each other as enemies.

Sam finally caught up with us on Atlantic Avenue, which is about seven minutes away-by car-from where I was initially picked up. I am certain that the black cop would have rather me walk back home (or worse, limp) if he had his choice. Sam commenced his appeal: he’s a good kid, an “A” student, don’t mess with anybody, ain’t never sold drugs, going places. I sat in the back of the locked police car pissed as hell and sad to the point of tears. He eventually let me go, but his hands are still felt on my arm and the pain is still very real in my shoulder. Even as I write this I feel the need to cry: for the brother who couldn’t see me…or himself in me and for those who are innocent victims of police brutality whether they are guilty of committing crimes or not.

This is for Jordan Miles! And, while my tears might have been the result of a broken spirit then, I cry tears of righteous indignation in solidarity with those who stand against the machinations of a police state today.


A Review of Manning Marable’s “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention”

Manning’s Invention, or, Malcolm’s Reinvention?

Manning Marable’s “Malcolm X” is an adroit craftsperson: an artisan who is skilled at undergoing perpetual “reinventions.” Marable’s thesis, in his now widely discussed and contested Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, is grounded in the proposition that “self-invention was an effective way for [Malcolm] to reach the most marginalized sectors of the black community giving justification to their hopes.” According to Marable, Malcolm’s travels (between his pasts and futures) and travails (to define his self and his politics) in a raced, classed, irreligious (read, anti-Islamic) and imperialist American (and, later, international) context were driven largely by his desire to engage in the process of relentless reinvention: a process of continual, purposeful becomings, not necessarily for himself, but for the “black community” that would eventually claim him as its “Prince.”

Marable’s biography, flowing from this idea, recreates the sometimes tragic, and, mostly gallant, life and death of a martyr who dies for a cause—for others—but also a radical (and complicated) freedom fighter who dies also to his “self” and volition. Malcolm, via Marable, is caricatured as a “social being”—only imagined within the context of his beingness-in-relation-to the larger societal context where there exists a need for a salvific protagonist of the burgeoning black radical tradition and villainous antithesis to the very ideas of the presumed democratic tradition of white racist (and liberalist) America. But, as Baldwin illumines when writing about Richard Wright’s Native Son in his essay “Many Thousand Gone”: “the reality of a man as a social being is not his only reality and that artist is strangled who is forced to deal with human beings solely in social terms” (emphasis added). Marable, who was committed to the task of a historian as opposed to fiction writer, develops a narrative that refuses to allow space for Malcolm X the “human being” who exists without the ostensible proclivity towards “self-reinventions” that benefit others while only tangentially benefiting the human actor himself.

One must, then, interrogate the argument that is weaved into the narrative arc that directs Marable’s historical analysis of Malcolm X the “social being.” If the argument goes that Malcolm’s life “narrative is a brilliant series of reinventions,” as Marable suggests, then it would follow that Malcolm Little/Detroit Red/Big Red/Malcolm X/Malik Shabazz/El-Hajj Malik Shabazz were merely iterations along a continuum of perpetual and purposeful becomings, which were driven by external forces only, rather than the living-into, or, rather, states of beings that emerge and re-emerge as a result of the contextual life spaces and experiences that propel any human being toward self-motivated (and sometimes unmethodical) change. The former is a sign of a tragic life while the latter opens up the possibility for life’s complex beauty.

So, was the life of Malcolm X one defined by reinventions (for the sake of everyone but himself) or was Malcolm X delimited by Marable’s drive to invent a Malcolm X whose propensity manifested towards such desires? And, did such a desire impact the Malcolm X that the reader is left to grapple with? Even if one is not sure of that answer, s/he should read Marable’s work with that question in mind or otherwise s/he might find him/herself guilty of submitting to a politicized historiography of a sociopolitical Malcolm X that fails to fully capture the human being who just happened to be, like all of us, social and political.

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

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.

To be, or, not to be: On being a “true” Newarker

What qualifications must one meet to be considered a “true” Newarker? Must one be born-and-bred-in-Newark? Should a person rent or own a place in Newark to be considered invested?  And, is there a term requirement (say, no less than 5 years) that one should adhere to before he or she is considered legit? Should a person be required to work IN Newark?

Since my arrival in Newark, I’ve seriously pondered these questions. When I meet folk, some are sure to note the fact that they were “born and raised” in Newark and others acknowledge that they are “lifelong” residents. To me, the responses that I usually receive in this regard signifies that one’s Newark-status is connected to one’s rootedness in Newark and the length of time s/he has lived in the city. It speaks to a people’s need for protection: protection from leeches who could care less about the city’s potential (unless it grows their pockets) and the city’s most precious resource, its people…protection against those who dismiss the particularities that characterize Newark as place (i.e. it’s social and political history, cultural productions, spirited legacy, etc)…protection against folk who show up with promises but leave having not fulfilled any of them. I get it.

As an adolescent living in (and, later, adult resident of) a city, like Newark, the sentiments of those shared by Newarkers are all too familiar. Camden, though it has its own particular issues and historical context, is a city, like Newark, that has a rich history and complicated present even while it maintains a bright future. For that reason, many Camden residents-including me-cautiously gazed upon any person from the “outside” moving in. I wanted to know what they wanted from us, from the city that we called “home” and others called “ghetto”. I wondered: what were they attempting to gain…what dollars were being made…what was in it for them…what would Camden residents lose? I pondered all of these questions and allowed my suspicions to guide my responses until I was challenged to reconsider my own stake in the city that I so vigorously sought to protect.

Case in point: During my final year at Seton Hall University, I sent resumes to nearly every company on the planet. My very modest resume, which touted a degree in social and behavioral sciences, made its way into the personnel departments (or trash bins in those departments) across the country. I wanted a good job, great pay and dope place to live. Not once did I, Mr. Concerned Life-long Citizen of Camden, consider heading back to South Jersey. Indeed, I wanted to do everything but. As it turned out, I did not receive any call backs from the many places I sought to work and ended up interviewing, with angst, for a non-paid, youth missionary position located where, you ask? In the place that I had been running from the entire time: Camden. I returned in my role as a disgruntled “urban youth missionary” serving middle-school aged youth in an afterschool program making a $30 a week living allowance.  I actually lived in a house three blocks away from my mother’s house–the house where I grew up–with 14 other people who hailed from other states and countries. During that experience, I discovered that my 14 housemates–non-lifelongers, strangers, perceived parasites–who moved to Camden to serve, for no pay, actually did so because of their commitment to the city and its people even while my commitment had begun to wane.

As I prepare myself for, yet, another stop on my life’s journey outside of Newark, I am harnessing the wisdom gained from my own experience. It is possible for one to be committed to and passionate about a place whether he or she resides in that city or not. It is equally possible that one can tout a life-long resident card and lack the commitment to and passion for a city that s/he claims. Personally, I am committed to the revitalization of urban spaces and the uplift of the people who live/work/pray/play within them. Such commitment remains and ties my personal mission to the broader social and economic justice platforms of the Camdens, Newarks, Trentons and Patersons of the world. It seems that we might all consider what it means to be “true” to Newark and “true” to ourselves in that process.

In community,