Growing up as a young gay man from the Caribbean, I struggled to find a place where I felt like I “fit in”. On October 29th, 1997 I moved from Kingston, Jamaica to the United States and the possibilities of who and what I could become seemed endless! I did however continue to struggle to understand myself; family issues, other unresolved feelings and emotions. In many ways my arrival to The States heightened my search for a sanctuary.
After hearing about Project WOW! Youth Center I maneuvered my way to Newark. This was my first introduction to the city. At the center I participated in counseling sessions, eventually becoming a volunteer. Through this work my appreciation and dedication to Newark intensified and I was then recognized and hired on staff within 90 days. Accepting the position is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made (even after passing up on another offer for a position that paid doubled the salary!). Had I not worked in Newark I would have missed the opportunity serve its people.
I witnessed unique hardships that take place here. Many people “lack” connections to resources. This disconnect influenced my work with people here: HIV, substandard living conditions and homelessness all had deep impacts in those I cared for. Despite these complications I can not help but see the beauty here. There is an abundance of goodness and generosity to be found in the people. Everyone here embodies greatness.
Project Wow!/Newark helped mold me into the man I am today. Helped me to push the limits of who I thought was, what I am capable of and taught me how necessary it is to have meaningful relationships. After all we never know where our future will take us.
After Jamaica, Newark became my second home. Now as I move on to California it will forever be the place I developed friendships, redefined what family means, and where I enjoyed awesome experiences that I will forever treasure.
Instagram enables users to “discover — and tell — stories from around the world”. It has become an integral tool for Newarkers; allowing residents and visitors alike to learn about the various ways life can be experienced within the city.
Rahkim Bryant, creator of Wavegod Photography is on the cutting edge of detailing the Newark experience by using “the gram”. His work artfully communicates the quirky contrasts in the city’s natural environment and between its people. Photographing and filming for 6 years now he has no plans of putting down the camera anytime soon! Bryant explains “When I first started photography it was hard because I couldn’t afford equipment, so I learned how to use what I had and I mastered a style called “phoneography”… This is using your phone as a professional camera.
Below are some of his interpretive works (all featured on his Instagram account @wavegodphotography).
“I feel like my work is the eye of Newark. I like to document the good in my city, the small things we don’t look at. This is important because the news always shows the bad of Newark, but yet we have so much art and good people around us.” – Bryant
Rev. Timothy Levi Jones, the new Pastor-Elect of Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, talks with Bryan Epps.
Bryan Epps: What inspires you to do your work?
Jones: So many things! Certainly I’m inspired by my relationship from God and a deep gratitude for how gracious God has been to me. I do not take for granted the salvation I have through Jesus Christ and feel that is incredible motivation to do my work. But I also am inspired by the witness of my family and my people. I feel a deep desire to make the village around me proud. It is so clear that we stand on the shoulders of giants to do the work that we do today, and I do not want history to tell that I have dropped the baton that has been passed on to me.
Epps: How should we define a progressive Church?
Jones: A progressive church in 2016 is one that takes seriously the fight for justice for all people. Not regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, socioeconomic status or any other difference that exists amongst our people but because of the great diversity that exists within the world. All churches should follow the example of Jesus, and build an inclusive community that welcomes all and that seeks equality for all outside of the safety of a church building. It is not good enough to talk a good game within the sanctuary, or even to create great community in a church. To be progressive, a church must be willing to challenge the status quo that exists outside of the church and speak prophetically to world in dire need of life giving, justice filled messages.
Epps: 350 years ago Robert Treat came from New Haven and “founded” New-ark with a grand vision. What dream(s)/vision(s) helped contribute to your decision to come to the city from that same place?
Jones: I dream of community. I dream of pastoring a congregation that loves each other unconditionally and that loves the community that it resides in unconditionally. I dream of being a part of a community that helps change the narrative about a wonderful city like Newark. As I have begun this transition into Newark it has been interesting to listen to people’s reactions around the country as I share the news. Almost universally people say something along the lines of “oh wow, Newark huh? Yea you’ll have a lot of work to do there” or something like that. There is a built in understanding of Newark to be a place where you really don’t want to be unless you have to be. I dream of this no longer being the case. I dream of working with other churches, congregations of other faiths, the government and the people at large to work on the kinds of problems that cause people to say these things and ultimately to change those perceptions. As I have begun to meet the people and learn the history of this great city, I get excited about where we can go.
Epps: Is it possible for people to dream and actualize dreams collectively?
Jones: Not only is it possible but I believe it’s necessary. I do not believe that we can accomplish all that we set out to in a vacuum. Thus we need to realize our dreams as a community. I am reminded of something Dr. King said, “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent.” There is no dream that we can actualize that is separate from anyone else. Which also suggests to me that we need to dream dreams as a community if there is any hope for them to actually come about. I believe that God gives vision and helps guides our steps but I also believe that God speaks often times through other people. And in some ways, the dreams for me may be initiated or at least confirmed by those around me.
Epps: I read that you studied practical theology at Boston University School of Theology before teaching at Yale. It seems to be very applicable to Newark (if we viewed the entire city as a congregation). What are some of your thoughts on how theologians can help build the dreams of Newarkers?
Jones: The basic tenet of practical theology is the sense that our lived theology is based on an observation of our actual religious practices, an analysis of those practices based on history and theory, and then a redoing of those practices in light of what you’ve just researched. Practical theology attempts to mine what people actually think about God and God’s things by examining what we actually do. Applying practical theology to Newark might mean examining the practices of the people of Newark. What do people in this city do? What is important to them? Why is it important to them? What customs and traditions have become irreplaceable parts of the city and why? Doing this kind of analysis of the practices of the people of Newark would help determine what the city collectively wants to do. This may be a way for us to dream together, by looking at what we already do and figuring out why and what we need to continue to do.
Epps: So, let’s play a game of rapid fire?! Give me your first thoughts/responses on the following:
Portuguese or Italian food?
Jones: Can I say neither? Give me soul food any day but for the sake of the game I’ll go Italian.
Busy avenue or a quiet Street?
Jones: Busy avenue
Jones: Krimson and Kreme
Favorite book in the bible (author)?
Jones: I’ll resist the urge to say my namesake Timothy and say Ephesian (Paul….maybe)
Favorite “secular” book (author)?
Jones: Jesus and the Disinherited (Thurman)
Top 5 rappers?
Jones: In no particular order: Jay Z, Biggie, Pac, Lil Wayne, Eminem, with major apologies to Nas, Kendrick, Andre 3000 and Kanye.
Finally, can an intellectual find any joy in ratchet television aka reality TV?
Jones: Absolutely, if you can find a show that lets you escape reality without feeling too guilty I say go ahead and enjoy it.
Epps: Thanks so much!
More on Reverend Timothy L. Jones:
A native of Richmond, VA, Rev. Jones has served previously at St. John’s Congregational Church (Springfield, MA), First Central Baptist Church (Chicopee, MA), and as the Senior Pastor of Community Baptist Church in New Haven, CT. A scholar, Rev. Jones earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychologyfrom Amherst College, a Master of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology, and is a current candidate for the Doctorate of Philosophy in Practical Theology at Boston University. Rev. Jones serves his alma mata Amherst College as the Graduate Fellow for the Hermenia T. Gardner Christian Worship Series and is an Adjunct Professor at Yale Divinity School. A member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc, Rev. Jones is a former college basketball player who also enjoys comic books, movies, and working out. He is the proud father of three beautiful children, Sofia Esperanza, Ezekiel Levi, and Isabella Oleta. Visit Bethany’s site: http://www.bethany-newark.org/
During 2015 women’s history month Bryan Epps, Executive Director of the Shabazz Center interviewed Noelle Lorraine Williams. Williams is a conceptual artist living and working in Newark. (Above Photo Credit: Colleen Gutwein for The Newark Arts Photo Documentary Project)
Epps: What/who is most important to you?
Williams: Imagination is most important to me.
I live so our world community feels strong, imaginative and believes that all are contributors to the development of humanity, through utilizing our imagination and individual/collective power. My work deeply lies in the spiritual, not necessarily connected to religion.
I believe in the retelling of history to highlight interventions and acts of power and the sharing and claiming of public space for all people. I believe this is our contemporary popular spirituality
I particularly focus my work and interests on the United States, though my understanding always is as a part of a global community and diaspora.
I believe that culture: folk, fine and popular has the power to facilitate that. I also believe that community organizing can too. That is why so often my work is concentrated on community gatherings and events in public spaces like museums, parks, galleries and other “public” spaces.
The most important thing to me is the truth and the opportunity for all humans to live without fear of being hurt or murdered. My interests are with the most threatened communities African American women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. I also have interests in redlining, gentrification, abuse, immigration rights and sexual trafficking – how people are destabilized and made outsiders in different spaces.
Epps: How do the people and things that you believe are important manifest themselves in your work?
Williams: It manifests itself in my work as a multimedia artist (my website is rebornhome.com) and volunteer by working to provide opportunities for people to learn about historical counter narratives to oppression, and also by sharing opportunities to create and be a part of community.
Epps: Can we define your art? Or is it undefinable?
Williams: I am labeled as an artist. However, I am better defined as a spirit worker, meaning I use artwork and writing as opportunities for reflection and discussion about spirituality, identity, innovation and community. My practice includes creating events, discussions, lectures, workshops sculpture, photography and installation. I use African American women’s narratives as a lens to understand and engage the world.
The way I work towards building a sense of ownership and freedom is by: 1) Presenting liberatory and historically referenced narratives in my art work; 2) Having a dynamic, and organic art practice (aligning my spirit with my work) 2) Working with groups and using my vision to place innovation and community building at the center such as my volunteer work with Newark Gay Pride and arts initiatives in Newark.
Epps:How does the idea of place/community influence your passion?
Williams: Place is important, public places and private places – mainly because it is the measurement of how people feel that they can maneuver in this world, where they may walk and build that is a barometer to assess the level of freedom they experience.
Epps: Who is Dr. Betty Shabazz to you? How has she influenced you?
Williams: Dr. Betty Shabazz was a social and cultural worker with a relentless spirit and bold actions. Her work has always influenced me in that she challenges us to think of how we can take radical action and make bold moves even within an institutional context – whether it was by being a member of NOI or as an administrator and at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. Though it is a challenging road to work within existing institutions that so often possess classist (exploitative of poor people) and sexist/misogynistic values – she continued to translate those difficult opportunities in to acts of change.
Epps: Which other people have influenced your desire to shape history?
Williams: Oh my, so many! My mother who has always allowed me to think and grow independently and without the constraints of doing things just to be safe. Friends like our family friend Sylvia and my uncle Charles who told the most fantastic stories to me as a child and really engendered my need to tell and share stories. Artists, like Ntozake Shange and Alice Walker who continue to use art, spirituality and community interactions to create new imaginative spaces of the world. To community organizers like Ella Baker and Joo-Hyun Kang when she was at the Audre Lorde Project who both impressed the need to cultivate and support each individual so that they have a tailored relationship with organizations.
Epps: Where do you hope your work will take us?
Williams: I hope my work continues to excite people who engage it and foster dialogue whether it is through creating objects, events/experiences and/or fostering community. I hope that it will take us all to a space of affirming our unique imaginations, boldest thoughts and responsive actions about what it means to be a part of local, national and global communities.
Epps: When did you first realize you were a leader in Newark?
Hall: In June 2009 at the Newark-Essex Pride Parade. To take on the role of coordinating a parade and having individuals participate in the parade was the moment that I knew I had what it takes to rally folks together.
Epps: Tell us about your love relationship with the city…including joy, pain, etc?
Hall: Well I love the Newark. To be around such passionate people who are living out their dreams is wonderful. The love that I have here has challenged me to look at life differently. It has challenged me to have a bigger hunger for life and take what it is that may come my way.
On top of that, to be in an area that has an appreciation for the arts, is amazing. I am a lover of house music; I have gained so much respect for the house ball community; I am in love with the storytelling of photography and spoken word, as well as me being around fashionistas. All of this was created or transformed in the NYC/NJ metropolis.
Epps: How has your work at NJCRI informed your opinions about the city and its progress?
Hall: I cannot lie, my family and friends were nervous about me leaving Kentucky to come to Newark; they are VERY protective of me. But it was not until I helped a 19 year transgender female who was attacked by a group of guys that I realized that I cannot be someone who sits around and complain about how unsafe Newark is. As I began to advocate for many LGBTQ folks in Newark, I realized that Newark is a city made up of some of the most amazing people ever. To be around people who take pride in their city and appreciate all of Newark makes me love Newark so much more. As a frequent runner, I feel overwhelmed with so much from Newark when running from the Ironboud through Downtown and to the Central Ward and people are cheering me on. That feels hella good! It shows that this city is moving in the right direction, all they want is to be recognized and seen as valuable resources in giving Newark this rebirth.
Epps: If you had one wish for Newark what would it be?
Hall: For it to be the premiere city that I hear it used to be. I love downtown Newark and the history of Newark. Newark should be “the other” city that attracts folks for arts, nice dining, partying, or whatever else.
Epps: Any advice for future leaders of the city?
Hall: You cannot do it alone. We all have a vision for Newark moving forward, but it takes collaboration. It means reaching out to people who are from Newark, those who want to be voice but do not know how. It is about empowering one another because in return we are empowering ourselves to do much more.
Epps: Tell us about your opinions on the following
Hall: This is a good one, but I love Iberia in the Ironbound of Newark,
Hall: I have to go with the Ironbound
Most treasured moment…
Hall: Going out for the first time, I went to Krash and it was so surreal, as if I was reliving a movie I used to watch as a kid. To see people showing their appreciation for music and representing a borough or Jersey was AMAZING!
Biggest Difference between Newark and Kentucky…
Hall: Well in Kentucky, I can take my time and smile. In North Jersey, you have to move at a pace because you have other people who are just as hungry as you. Also, in Kentucky, everything is very black and white, but up here, it is one colorful portrait. I love both places because they have helped me grow into the Aunsha I am today. I do have to say though, that it feels good to have found true love in Jersey!
Newark’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Concerns Advisory Commission Reflects on the One-Year Anniversary of the Tragic Death of DeFarra Ivan Gaymon
NEWARK, N.J., July 20, 2011– Two weeks ago, the Essex County Grand Jury declined to bring any charges against Essex County Sheriff’s Officer Edward Esposito in connection with the July 16, 2010 shooting death of DeFarra Ivan Gaymon in Branch Brook Park. The grand jury’s decision has brought that fateful day back into the minds and hearts of many within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. While the Newark Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Concerns Advisory Commission respects the integrity of the judicial process which found that no crime was committed, we recognize that this ruling is not a comforting closure for those most affected by the painful loss of Gaymon. All of the Commissioners empathize with the Gaymon family and friends and the pain they have endured.
Amid such pain and loss, positive steps have been taken that the Newark LGBTQ Commission hopes will cast a hopeful light on the Gaymon tragedy. The Commission applauds Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, State Senator Theresa Ruiz, and others within the County government for the recent formation of the Essex County LGBTQ Commission. The formation of this Commission is a direct result of the dialogue and negotiations between County officials and LGBTQ leaders from Essex County during the aftermath of the Gaymon tragedy. The LGBTQ Commission provides Essex County LGBTQ residents with an official voice, influence, and access to policymakers and officials in Essex County government.
“The Newark LGBTQ Commission is forging an alliance with the County’s LGBTQ Commission. We hope that as we work to empower LGBTQ residents in Newark and improve policies and relations within Newark’s City government, we can work in tandem with the County’s LGBTQ Commission to make all of Essex County a safe and affirming place for all people,” adds Perris Straughter, Chair, Newark LGBTQ Concerns Advisory Commission. “We strive to have ongoing and direct dialogue with police and safety officials before crises arise, not after.”
The Newark LGBTQ Commission is committed to work collaboratively with the County LGBTQ Commission and both City and County officials to ensure LGBTQ persons are treated with equal dignity by law enforcement and to improve the flow of information between law enforcement and the LGBTQ community when a crisis occurs. The Newark LGBTQ Commission strongly encourages the County LGBTQ Commission and County officials to review the various policies, procedures and operations that adversely impact the LGBTQ community such as the undercover enforcement operation in the Gaymon case. We believe that while such policies, procedures, and operations are intended to foster a safer County, each must not unfairly target or disproportionately impact LGBTQ persons.
The Commission again gives condolences to the family and friends of DeFarra Ivan Gaymon and hopes that the world remembers the man who was a father, husband and business leader. After such a tragedy, we look toward a hopeful future because of the newly established power and voice that the LGBTQ community has in Essex County. Gaymon’s legacy is one that will empower others and help to keep others safe for years to come.
About Newark LGBTQ Concerns Advisory Commission
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Advisory Commission was founded by Mayor Cory A. Booker and the Municipal Council in June 2009 and its initial seven members were appointed in July 2009. The LGBTQ Commission seeks to improve conditions affecting the cultural, social, economic, political, educational, general health and well-being of LGBTQ individuals and their families, by studying and developing- through partnering with various groups and multiple levels of government – policies, programs and practices to recommend to the Mayor and Municipal Council. In carrying out its mission, the Commission meets monthly on the second Thursday of each month at 6pm in City Hall. All Commission meetings are free and open to the public.
I am ecstatic to see the most recent “Special Section” of the Star Ledger Magazine, dated May 31, 2011, dedicated, solely, to the purposes of making visible queer New Jerseyeans (and, apparently the “community’s” buying power as evidenced by the many consumer ads placed throughout), but I am troubled by the issue’s utter failure to irradiate all of the diverse “textures” and “colors” that its picturesque, rainbow-colored title page ostensibly seeks to reveal.
Inside Jersey: Living Gay in the Garden State offers readers a disturbingly myopic frame of a “gay” Jersey that is, literally, monochromatic and insular in its lack of representation of non-white, non-suburban and non-middle class queer New Jerseyeans. What could have been a nuanced and commemorative segment ends up being nothing more than a seemingly under-researched piece that is certain to offend anyone who hoped, like me, to browse the segment and see a semblance of racial, ethnic, economic, neighborhood, and cultural diversity on any of the pages. But, maybe I am misreading the articles and images in failing to see the diversity that the editors intended to present beyond that of sexual identity.
This Special Section highlights a few exceptional locales where queer persons and families exist; however, queer New Jerseyeans also reside contentedly in urban spaces like Camden, Paterson, Trenton, Jersey City, Elizabeth, and Newark, as well. While we tend to turn to suburban, middle-class municipalities and townships like Collingswood (I grew up in neighboring Camden) and Maplewood (I went to undergrad in neighboring South Orange) as progressive, forward-thinking communities where queers can live comfortably, it is vitally important to consider the lives of queers who live outside of those spaces.
For example, I’ve lived (until recently) and am active in the city of Newark and have experienced the strongest sense of community and welcome as a queer man of color than any other spaces, including suburban locales like Laurel Springs and Princeton to name a few. To be sure, Newark (while it has its share of issues) was the first city in New Jersey to establish an official government instrumentality that advises the Mayor’s office on LGBTQ concerns. In fact, it was a coalition of mostly Newark-based advocates and not Maplewood or Montclair residents—along with a few representatives from Garden State Equality including Steve Goldstein, who worked with the county of Essex to establish a similar county-wide body this past year. Newark has been home to one of the state’s—and region’s—most celebrated pride week’s, namely, Newark-Essex Pride Week, for several years bringing Newarkers and non-Newarkers into communal celebration. Newark is home to the Hetrick-Martin Institute’s HMI-to-Go program, an initiative of the oldest and largest LGBTQ youth-serving organization in the world, which provides academic and mental health supports to Newark youth. Newark, under the auspices of the office of Mayor Cory A. Booker, was the host location for a brunch sponsored by the New York Chapter of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association in 2009. And, there’s so much more to say about Newark, which is only one of the few urban spaces where queers exist, which has been left out of the writers’ narratives describing queer Jersey.
Queers in New Jersey are diverse (i.e. non-white, Latino/Hispanic, working and jobless poor, non-married/non-partnered families, rural and urban, and/or non-LGBTQ identified) beyond the ways they are typified within this Special Section. The fact that the editors failed to illumine this fact leaves no other choice but for one to wonder about the absence. If it’s the case that the section seeks to drive a consumerist market towards the purchase of everything from cabaret show tickets to condominiums or that writers traced the usual trail of news stories (or lack thereof) located in media outlets focused on queer Jersey, then it is clear why the issue proves problematic. Whatever the case, I failed to see my queer, black, urban reflection in the rainbow-esque offering, and I am afraid that others might fail to see reflections of themselves, as well.
Sakia Gunn would have celebrated 23 years of life today. We are left, however, with the task of honoring Sakia-a young daughter of Newark-whose days were shortened by way of a physical weapon (a knife) and ideological artillery (heterosexism/sexism). But, Sakia’s spirit remains among us: waking us from our social (un)consciousness and enlivening us to do the work of justice in Newark, NJ and elsewhere. In fact, hate may seek to destroy but it doesn’t kill. Here are 10 reasons why:
1. After Sakia’s murder, her family and friends stood up for justice. Young Newarkers, like Dawn James and Valencia Bailey, galvanized others to stand in solidarity with Sakia’s family, pushed city leaders and politicians to act and organized peaceful memorials.
2. The Newark Pride Alliance (NPA) was formed under the leadership of LaQuetta Nelson and James Credle in response to Sakia’s death. NPA began its advocacy work armed with the mission to ensure that safe spaces are created and maintained in the city of Newark.
3. Cory A. Booker, who was a councilperson at the time of Sakia’s murder, turned his attention to the case, in particular, but would vow to make LGBTQ issues a priority.
4. Filmmaker, Charles “Chas” Brack, directs and produces “Dreams Deferred: The Sakia Gunn Story,” and, along with Sakia’s family members, begin to carry her name from Newark to other spaces around the world.
5. June Dowell-Burton introduces the City of Newark to LGBTQ pride when she founded Newark-Essex Pride Coalition and Newark-Essex Pride Week. Pride moved queer celebrations from meeting rooms and other social spaces to the streets of Newark.
6. The City of Newark, with the Newark-Essex Pride Coalition, under the auspices of Mayor Booker, councilperson Dana Rone and June Dowell-Burton, raises the rainbow flag at the entrance to Newark City Hall.
7. Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship (LITUFC) forms the Social Justice Center as an extension of its faith ministry to address issues of injustice in the community. True Colors, a queer youth initiative, was subsequently developed to provide avenues of expression for queer youth.
8. New Jersey Community Research Initiative (NJCRI) develops and implements Project WOW, a drop-in center for queer youth who are engaged or disengaged from the school system.
9. NPA, in partnership with the City of Newark, Hetrick-Martin Institute and Rutgers-Newark, chaired 3 free full-day conferences on religion, education and health, hosted a series of trainings for Newark Public Schools, advocated on behalf of queer students and provided trainings to NPS students…the City of Newark now has an official instrumentality, thanks to Dana Rone and Ronald Rice, Jr., that advises the Mayor on LGBTQ concerns and the county of Essex, following the city’s lead, has just organized its own body to do the same…the city of Newark and Newark Public Schools is now home to the HMI-to-Go afterschool program for queer youth….Rutgers-Newark LGBTQ groups now hold annual events on campus…New Jersey Performing Arts Center hosts its “Newark is Burning” event…African American Office of Gay Concerns, with the assistance of FemWorks and MedinaCiti, launches its “Status is Everything” Campaign….
10. The Sakia Gunn High School for Civic Engagement, an initiative spearheaded by the Hetrick-Martin Institute and the Newark Public Schools and supported fully by Sakia’s mother and family, will open its doors in the city of Newark in the Fall of 2012….and sooooooooo much more! Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Matthias Pressley are right in warning us against the need to lift up Sakia as a victim and martyr only. Instead, they encourage us to celebrate Sakia, the young, vibrant, human being, from Newark. Today, on her birthday, we celebrate her spirit that continues to drive Newarkers to serve toward the end of creating safer spaces.
Add to the list your celebratory comment or event that you would like to name in honor of Sakia…
To say Newark is on the brink of catastrophe is a terrible type of propaganda to promote. Giving into so much fear really underestimates the power we actually have. Newark residents aren’t scared, maybe in part because they don’t know how bad the budget really is but they can see the problems it’s causing. Still, when people whine about the economy we keep pushing on because most people in low-income communities have been making due with less for a long time. Residents aren’t interested in all the political beef going on and I think we all recognize this is a time for meaningful, innovative collaboration. Contrary to public opinion, Newarkers are people who really participate in their city but they want to know their concerns are truly being addressed. We’ve had to sacrifice so much. Personally, I don’t believe in lack but I do believe in love. There are always resources and creative solutions out there. We just have to find them or create them and we’re going to hold our leaders accountable. But we have to hold ourselves accountable too. Every single resident can be a leader and find a way to contribute to something, a community program, their child’s school, a shelter, something. The type of progress we can create actually makes me feel excited about the future. Otherwise, we’re just waiting to be saved by something or someone and we’ll be disappointed if we do that. I’m not worried though. Tough times are supposed to bring out our best. We just need to get inspired and figure out who we can work with.
Rev. Dr. M. William Howard, Jr.
Newark is in a very delicate predicament right now, and bankruptcy looms on the horizon, especially given the inability of the State to offer help. Not only is only about 30% of the land taxable, but the housing stock has been dramatically depleted the past 40 years in ways that make replacing it nearly impossible, simply because the land is not available. When you consider the level of foreclosures or near foreclosures the residents who are property owners face, as well as the threat of foreclosures property owners who rent to Newark residents also face, along with the dramatic shortfall in revenue already, the whole thing could come tumbling down.
In my chats with certain people in positions to know, there is no real clear plan to fix any of this for the long term; maybe even no realistic vision on how to proceed from here. More than anything else, the residents need viable places of work in order to earn a solid income. Arguably, a whole segment of the population would have difficulty competing for the kinds of jobs that might come along in the so-called 21st Century Economy. It is well documented that over 60% of the jobs in the City are held by commuters, and the jobs that are held by City residents are among the lowest paying jobs, and the adult literacy rate is tragically low. This will not change through rhetoric. The great truth of Black and Brown political power all over America, and arguably in Africa and elsewhere, is that political power has not translated into economic power. Look at Zimbabwe today, and expect that it will be South Africa tomorrow.
We must have a thoughtful, vigilant, disciplined, not-so-vocal, long-term strategy on how to achieve and sustain economic standing if we are not going to forever be the marginalized, worker-consumer that we still are after all these years of struggle. I remain hopeful, but I also am sobered by what has to be done for this hope to become manifest.
With what its people have weathered especially since the decline of manufacturing and the flight of capital, beginning just after the Second World War, there is cause to believe Newark will be the phoenix it needs to be. Meanwhile, here we are in the now.
Newark’s true greatness is yet to be defined.
After reading Brad Parks’ article in the New York Post, for the most part, I agree with his overall assessment about Newark and find his perspective, considering that he doesn’t claim Newark as his home, to be insightful. He incorporated the critical opinions of some heavy hitters such as Dr. Clement Price and Dr. Dan O’Flaherty, those whose opinion I respect and weigh greatly. In his article he makes a poignant statement that, for me, hits the heart of the matter when it comes to Newark’s continuous struggle, “There was a far more psychological toll (from the riots)…Fear did more to undo Newark than any bullet could ever have”.
Newark as a community is divided and is unable to see the truth, the reality that we as a people are more powerful than we realize. We as a community must dispose of the illusion of separation, emptiness and abandonment. The time for angry rhetoric is OVER! We have the right to be angry. However, it is this very aspect that emotional hustlers seek to capitalize on. They mystify the facts, or, perhaps they don’t know it themselves, so they utilize our voices to further their desires, all the while the needs of the community are never met.
Our destinies lie in each other’s hands. This isn’t a black, white or brown issue. It’s OUR issue. It’s NEWARK. It is time for us to put our differences and agendas aside and do right by the citizens of Newark. We are all accountable because we all have a voice and are stakeholders who play a major part in the change of Newark. But this voice will not be heard and will be intentionally ignored if it doesn’t actively engage in things such as voting, assisting Municipal Council and Board of Education meetings, as well as play an active role in the discourse about change. The way to empowerment is demanding information. We must become informed and we must educate ourselves on the processes / systems from which all government functions. Critical to this is also the participation of Newark’s true leaders, the “organic” leaders I like to call them, to step up to the plate. Change is no longer a luxury, but a necessity and the opportunity presents itself to us now.
Newark is at the precipice of Greatness but let us not forget…that while greatness is what Newark must pursue…only greatness lives on the edge of destruction.
For the first time in my life, I am very concerned about the future of my home, the City of Newark. We are in a period of time when most municipalities are learning to do more with less; however, what I do not understand is how is it possible that City’s leadership was fully aware of the growing deficit and chose not to act responsibly. Instead, they’ve acted desperately. The impact of an increase in the number of city employees (especially those who are Newark residents) who are newly employed is likely to have a serious impact on our community. All of these factors, increased unemployment, property tax increases will not do very much to stablize the economy of Newark. When times were “good” the city recieved numerous grants and financial incentives for various projects in the city. The city was even the focus of a national docu-drama hosted by a major cable channel that did not seem to generate much for Newark. Where are these supporters now during a time when the future of Newark is seemingly seriously threatened? I think what is most offensive is to know that part of the City’s financial issues could be solved if we recovered the back-rent that is owed to the City from the Prudential Center (yet, the city still provides top tier police security for a team that hasn’t made good on its end of the bargain). What our city needs now is a serious plan that will guide the city toward prioritizing our needs and resolving its financial issues in a realistic but progressive fashion. What we dont need is an administration that overlooks logic and the type of commonsense that will advance Newark.
Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of the ACLU-NJ:
When Newark Mayor Cory Booker swept into office in 2006, we had great hope that his administration would stay true its campaign promises of maintaining an open, transparent government, improving the long troubled relationship between police and residents and boosting the free speech rights of Newarkers. Now in his second term, the mayor has taken steps in the right direction on some civil liberties, such as immigrant rights and the rights of gays and lesbians. For example, he has worked with community advocates to address tensions over day laborers in the Ironbound and he has spoken about the need to create a “safe space” in Newark for LBGT youth to congregate. No Newark mayor even acknowledged injustices facing the gay and lesbian community until Booker. But when it comes to other issues, such as reforming the police department, the situation is dire. The relationship between the police and residents has been fraught with tension for decades, with few signs of hope for change. Newark has failed to implement even the most basic accountability measures. This year the ACLU-NJ filed a petition asking for the U.S. Department of Justice to step in and monitor the Newark Police Department. The 96-page petition cited 407 complaints of serious misconduct. Instead of acknowledging the need for outside help, the mayor has denied the problems, and attempted to deflect and minimize the complaints of abused citizens, claiming that the allegations – which include false arrests, assaults and deaths in custody – are “frivolous.” With severe budget woes, layoffs and a drastic spike in violence, the city’s problems are spiraling out of control and lack of police accountability only worsens the crisis. Having the Department of Justice monitor the police department will not resolve Newark’s problems over night, but it is a step in the right direction to protect citizens and avert lawlessness among our law enforcers.