"Have you ever seen black fire?"
– Sheila Montague, reading from Ras Baraka's book A Black Fire!: Eulogy for My Father Imamu Amiri Baraka
On Wednesday at noon, about a dozen people gathered in the outdoor reading room at Military Park to hear mayor-elect Ras Baraka read from A Black Fire!, his published eulogy to his late father, Amiri Baraka. The reading had been publicized by Military Park and this very publication, and the crowd was eager to hear the mayor-elect and author/poet read his tribute.
But the reading wouldn't happen after all. At around 12:30 PM, Max Rodriguez of the Harlem Book Fair took to the microphone to announce that Baraka had cancelled his schedule for the day due to a family emergency, and would need to postpone the reading.
The crowd politely listened as Rodriguez made the most of his time with them, filling them in on the plans for the weekly author series, and taking suggestions for authors they'd like to see read in the park.
Then he had an idea. "Does anyone want to read from Ras' book?" he asked. A hand went up in a middle row. "Fabulous," Rodriguez said. "Come on up."
The woman turned out to be district leader Sheila Montague, who recently ran for a West Ward city council seat. She leafed through the book to find a passage to read and took to the microphone to read it.
Her impassioned recitation of the passage drew impressed murmers from the crowd. After Montague finished the nearly 6-minute reading, she got a hearty round of applause and a thank you from Rodriguez and the park's event managers.
"Now you see," said Rodriguez, "what we're trying to accomplish with this author series."
"Brick City tales" features scenes from around the city. You can send your own in words, pictures, or video to firstname.lastname@example.org. No hearsay – we'll require receipts.
The north end of Halsey Street just added another retail business to its growing roster of shops for every taste and need.
Meet Pooka Pure and Simple. The bath and body shop, launched and run full-time by entrepreneur and former graphic designer Dawn Fitch (and with help from her three partners: Donna Lynn, Tricia Akinwande, and April Mathis) sells handmade body products, including oils, body sprays, soaps, and scrubs.
The pleasingly fragrant, well-appointed store at 87 Halsey Street looks like something out of a Pier1 catalog, with baskets and stands displaying the shop’s custom fragrances.
Fitch herself is a friendly and gregarious owner, a useful trait since in addition to selling products, Pooka will also offer events and activities, including “Lunch Xpress Workshops”, where patrons can make their own scrubs and other products.
“I really want this to be an interactive experience,” she said, adding that she’ll create a kitchen setup in the shop’s window, where they’ll make scrubs and other daily specials from fresh ingredients. Interns from Rutgers University will engage with customers by handing out samples on Halsey Street.
Fitch plans for so much interactivity, in fact, that some of her customer engagement will take place well outside of the store. Pooka used to be located in Orange, at a retail space Fitch described as “beautiful, but there was way too little foot traffic.” When a realtor suggested she move to Newark, she hesitated. That is, until she visited Halsey Street and saw the new Prudential tower rising out of the ground. “I thought, maybe we do need to come to Newark,” she said with a chuckle.
But she was determined not to be satisfied with the built-in increase in foot traffic the move would bring. “I thought, ‘In order to maximize what we’re doing, we can’t wait. We’ve got to get in those buildings: into Prudential, into Blue Cross,'” she explained, describing some of the larger office buildings in the area. Fitch foresees offering workshops inside the companies, and will also be offering a “Gifts to Go” service targeted to professionals.
And for those customers who want to come to her, Fitch has been thoughtful about catering to the needs of the Halsey Street shopper: she’ll be offering curbside pickup services so customers don’t have to worry about parking. (Additionally, like other Halsey Street businesses, Pooka shoppers can also get free parking at nearby Edison parking lots.)
Penetrating nearby companies won’t be an unfamiliar task: Fitch actually grew her business in large part by taking her Pooka products to expos and companies, including Horizon Blue Cross downtown Newark.
She got her start 14 years ago in her kitchen, after a health scare motivated her to live a healthier lifestyle. A self-proclaimed “bath and body junky”, Fitch applied the same discerning eye to her bath product labels that she’d already started using with her food, and soon began creating bath products with natural ingredients after seeing what companies used in more common products. She used her graphic design skills to design a label for the products. The name “Pooka” derived from “Pookalitas”, a pet name from her mother.
Soon, her apartment became overrun with products, and her creations became so popular among her friends that they encouraged her to try selling them at the African American Festival at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel. Fitch figured she could kill two birds with one stone: “appease my friends, and sell enough stuff to buy shoes,” she said. But when she sold out of Pooka products, Fitch realized that she had a business.
“I like to say we started chasing the business,” she said. “It found me, and then it started running. I was the one who had to catch up.” Fitch was able to get her products into Whole Foods, but continued to bootstrap her business by vending all over the country. Her business acumen and social media savvy landed her and Pooka on the cover of Black Enterprise in 2012.
Now she’s bringing both her popular brand and thoughtful approach to business down to Halsey Street where, even with the temporary frustrations brought about by Prudential construction, there is a sense of activist business ownership and community. Fitch said she’s excited to be a part of it.
“It’s like a family down here,” she said. “I’m already at the point where I’m walking down the street and waving left and right.”
As if to prove her point, her business neighbor from Lenny’s Nutrition Center stopped in to give the shop a look a few minutes later. “Very nice,” he said with an impressed nod of approval.
April Peters, founding organizer of Newark's three-day Lean Startup workshops, will be delivering morning keynote remarks about the city's emerging technology scene at Google I/O Extended, a daylong conference to be held at Montclair State University today. Our Q&A with Peters about the conference is below.
The conference is a local outpost for the main Google I/O developer conference that will take place today in San Francisco. The purpose of the conference is to inform developers – those who will create applications and other technologies on top of Google's existing tech – and the rest of the public about the latest Google technology and products.
Google Developer Group North Jersey (GDG North Jersey) organized the conference; developer Todd Nakamura launched GDG North Jersey earlier this month. LaunchNJ also helped organize the conference, which will include live streams of the proceedings in San Francisco, as well as a custom message from Google to the North Jersey GDG, one of only a handful of such messages to be delivered to a local conference nationwide.
I spoke with Peters yesterday about the message she will deliver to the conference. Here's what she had to say:
Andaiye Taylor: What's going to be your primary theme when you address GDG North Jersey?
April Peters: My morning keynote will be about the emerging tech scene in Newark. The key idea for me is that not only is it emerging, it's also "in-merging": it's not just about what we're creating here, but about what other people are coming here to create and develop.
How would you characterize that emerging tech scene?
The feel of the various Newark tech and business groups is very collaborative. Everybody's working together, which is great.
And then you have to look at who's set up shop here. Audible is here. NJIT is running their high-tech incubator. Because [Google I/O Extended] is an event for all of North Jersey, it's important that other people know what's happening here in Newark, and that it's a game changer.
How did you meet Todd Nakamura?
We met at the Converge (new, free coworking space in Newark) launch party, and the two of us spoke at length there. One of the prevailing things he communicated to me was that he noticed a palpable energy among the groups [represented] there, and that it was a collaborative, and not a competitive, feeling.
He's been coming to use the coworking space ever since, and two weeks after the launch party, he mentioned that he was going through the application process to become a Google Developer, and spoke about his commitment to helping and supporting what's happening in Newark.
He'd initially asked me to just create the presentation around Newark's emerging tech scene, and that evolved into him asking me to do the keynote itself.
What's next with this budding relationship between Lean Startup Newark and GDG North Jersey?
We're already talking about more initiatives to bring GDG into the city of Newark, and sharing the wealth of resources that are coming from Google to some of the other groups here in Newark.
We'll catch up with Peters and Nakamura and continue to report back on those next steps and their outcomes.
Mayor-elect Ras Baraka, who is a published author and won acclaim as a spoken word poet in the decades before he won this year's mayoral election, will be reading selections from A Black Fire!: Eulogy for My Father Imamu Amiri Baraka in the reading room at Military Park this Wednesday from noon to 1:30pm. The book is a published version of the eulogy Baraka wrote and delivered at his father's memorial service.
The outdoor reading room is directly across from the Broad and New Street entrance to the park, and is open daily. The reading room is stocked with books from Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, and Source of Knowledge bookstore in Newark.
Amiri Baraka, to whom the mayor-elect's book is dedicated, was a poet, Newark stalwart, and is widely credited as the founder of the Black Arts Movement. He passed away this past January.
The Branch Brook Park Alliance will celebrate a restoration of the park – 14 years in the making – this coming Wednesday, June 25.
Branch Brook is the crown jewel of the Essex County Park system, the first such park system in the country. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Manhattan's Central Park. The restoration itself was managed by the alliance, a public-private partnership that was formed in 1999 with the specific charge to restore and revitalize the park.
The program, to take place from 11:30 AM to 1 PM at the Concourse Hill Welcome Center on Clifton Avenue, will recognize former New Jersey governor Tom Kean, President and CEO of the Newark Alliance, Alfred C. Koe
Stroll past the people playing table tennis and dodge children chasing each other on scooters, and a Newark parkgoer could witness yet another novel sight in the city's newly renovated Military Park.
It was the Next Stage Ensemble, acting William Shakespeare's comedy "A Midsummer Night's Dream", and their captive audience, lounging in park-issued chairs, their own lounge chairs, and on blankets.
The Next Stage Ensemble, a program of the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, put on an hourlong version of the much longer play on the park's north lawn. While Shakespeare in the park is a time-honored summer tradition in New York City, Newarkers and other visitors got to experience the English bard's play on a near-perfect summer evening without crossing the Hudson.
The diverse audience was actively engaged with the play, frequently laughing as the story built to its crescendo. And the nine-person acting company was itself the picture of energy and adaptability: they contended with the sounds of the city, managed their own frequent costume changes, and changed out the set themselves, all while bringing the audience into the play's plot.
"We knew this was an outdoor space in Newark, but we didn't quite know the exact location," said one of the actors during an audience question and answer session after the play. "We were like, 'Alright, here we go. It's gonna be a challenge,'" he said.
But even more notable than the challenge of staging a play in an outdoor city environment was the availability of a fun, free, family-friendly cultural experience in a lovely public space here in town. "I've been studying Shakespeare since I was a young kid," said Jah Jah Shakur, a professor at Essex County College, "so to see that in downtown Newrk, here in Military Park, was fascinating."
After the play was over, patrons of a nearby bar were themselves fascinated to hear what they'd just missed. "I love it," said one patron, "Newark needs a lot more stuff like this. You don't always want to go to Manhattan to get some culture," she said.
"I'd love to see something like this in Weequahic Park," she continued.
Military Park features daily programming that includes, games, fitness, and poetry. For a full schedule of Military Park activities, visit the calendar on the park's website.
The Honors Program will be presenting a weekly summer music series at Military Park starting Wednesday, July 2, and running every week in July. The event, titled Guard d'Avant, will begin at 5pm each day it runs, and will feature performances, a DJ, and a video and art installation by art publication Hycide Magazine.
- July 2 – Performers: The GTW, Chimes; DJ: Uniiq3
- July 9 – Performers: Starchild, Suzi Analogue; DJ: Ezrak H
- July 16 – Performers: Moshadee, Matt Wade; DJ: Open Crates
- July 23 – Performers: Jennah Bell, Maurice Chestnut, Norvis Jr.; DJ: Anthony Bones
- July 30 – Performers: Kazzie Pop, Peter Hadar, TECLA; DJ: April Hunt
Newark's Ironbound neighborhood is well known for its Portugeuse and Brazilian cuisine and culture. Every four years, the enclave explodes with World Cup fever. Check back often to witness how Ironbound residents and visitors are enjoying the World Cup.
Parents of Hawthorne Avenue School students are declaring a victory after Superintendent Cami Anderson announced in a letter Friday that it will remain a traditional public school "due to family demand".
The parents, under the leadership of the school's Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA), have lead a pitched battle to reverse the district's decision to close the school since the announcement was made late last year. Students in grades kindergarten through 3rd will remain enrolled with no further action required, and students in grades 4 through 7 can also remain at the school by amending the school selections that were required under the One Newark plan. Families who want to place their students in new schools will still be able to do so.
Here is the Hawthorne Avenue School PTSA's press release in full. Anderson's letter is also included below:
On Friday, June 12th, with less than one hour left in the school day, Hawthorne Avenue School received a letter that the Hawthorne community had been waiting for since the school’s closing was first announced on December 18th, 2013. The letter was from State Superintended Cami Anderson’s office and it was marked for immediate distribution to Hawthorne parents.
“Dear Hawthorne Avenue Families” it begins. And then in bolded letters it goes on to state, “Due to family demand, Hawthorne Avenue will serve middle school grades for the 2014-2015 school year.” The letter concludes with instructions for parents on how to register their children to remain at Hawthorne under the One Newark plan.
Parents who have previously registered their children elsewhere will receive a phone call next week that will allow them to register their children at Hawthorne. Parents who have held their registrations in protest of the previously announced changes to Hawthorne will be automatically reregistered at the school.
This concludes an almost seven-month battle for the Hawthorne Avenue community to keep their top-performing K-8 elementary school open under the leadership of Principal H. Grady James. Since taking over the helm four years ago, James has lead the school to becoming the top-performing traditional public elementary school in Newark. It is the only school in the NPS portfolio to meet its New Jersey state AYP targets for the past three years.
In addition, as documented in the most recent New Jersey Department of Education School Report Cards, Hawthorne ranks #3 in the state for student growth and #7 for academic achievement among NJDOE peer schools. “I could never understand it”, says PTSA president Grace Sergio. “How could Cami close her highest performing school? It just didn’t make any sense.”
While keeping Hawthorne Avenue as a traditional neighborhood public school and retaining Principal James are promising first steps, further commitments need to be quickly addressed by the school district. Over the past four years, district budget cuts have eliminated eight staff positions including its math and literacy coaches, music teacher, librarian, technology coordinator, and guidance counselor. In addition, the 106-year-old school is badly in need of repair, and was recently ranked among the Top 20 worst Newark school buildings, according to the Education Law Center.
In a newly released PTSA bulletin, Sergio makes it clear to parents that their fight is not yet over. “While we are pleased by this announcement, two important questions must be still be answered. One: Will staffing levels be restored to the school? Two: Will the school be renovated and brought up to 21st century standards?"
"The answers to these questions are critical," she continued. "We are very close to having a school that we can all take great pride in having our children attend, but we are not there yet and need your support.”
Here is Anderson's letter: