Perspectives: What is the role of community events in quelling violence?

This Friday and Saturday, from 6 p.m. to 6 p.m., Bergen Street and Clinton Avenue were the epicenter of 24 hours of Peace, a community event that included a set by legendary rapper Rakim and a bevy of other hip-hop artists, wellness activities, art, children’s activities, and speakers.

We asked event attendees and organizers how they think initiatives like 24 Hours of Peace fit into the city’s overall violence mitigation strategy: are concerts, rallies, and other community/cultural events a useful longterm tactic within a more comprehensive approach to quelling violence? Read below to see what they had to say, and tell us what you think in either the comments or the form beneath the story.

Joseph Burrows, 54, Newark, NJ

“It should keep down violence for this day and make people happy, but I think it’s something that we have to take day by day. We need to communicate with the community and make people understand that you don’t have to fight each other. We can rejoice and be victorious in time. This is all for the youth. They need to see this. They need to know that it’s not always about violence or about shooting.”

Anthony Campos, Chief of Police, Newark

quote_anthony campos“If you’re actually fearful of coming out of your home, if you don’t come outside, if you don’t sit on your stoop, if you don’t know your neighbor, then how will you know when something’s not right, or when something bad is occurring, or when someone who’s not supposed to be there is entering your neighbor’s home?

“The only way for you to know that is for you to be part of the community. Events like this facilitate that. If you notice, you have a large crowd here, and usually when I respond to a crowd like this, it’s usually a very bad thing. But here you are. You have this crowd and there’s no tension. You hear the children laughing.

“So what that’s going to do? Hopefully in the long run this tells people, hey, this is your city. Let’s not fall prey to perception. Let’s not fall prey to fear. Let’s come out and enjoy our city, and if there is any bad element, they will
tend to leave. Because if you look at it historically, the first thing that normally happens is the good people vacate an area and the bad people come in. So if people are out interacting, no one is going to do any harm. I know it sounds so simple, but it just doesn’t happen.

“It’s our hope that this is going to encourage people to come out and to enjoy the community, enjoy the night, enjoy the activities that are provided. And what has to happen is this can’t be the exception to the rule, meaning this can’t be the only time it’s done. It has to be an ongoing thing, so this becomes the new culture and this becomes the new norm. That’s how you build the community up block by block.”

Brenda Gibson, Newark NJ

“It proves that we can all get along. The kids are the future, and for them to see that we can all get along, they will be able to have the expectation that they can get along with their peers also. I think that’s a great message to give them.”

Jovonna Hinnant, 30, Newark, NJ

“I don’t think it’s going to make a permanent impact on the city, because once this event is over with, there’s no telling what can happen the next day. After this is over with, everything is going to go back to normal.

“I was born and raised in Newark, and I’ve always known it to be a violent city. The only way that I think we can help the city is through the younger generation. Their parents need to be in their children’s lives more often. Parents don’t raise some of these kids. The streets raise them.”

Amiri Baraka, Jr., Chief of Staff, City of Newark

quote_amiri baraka jr“We have to start from somewhere. We’ve been doing this for five years. The problem is that, unfortunately, a lot of our young people are disconnected from what the reality is. For them, violence is popular, and we’re trying to make it unpopular, so we just have to start a movement and any movement is protracted; we didn’t become America overnight.

“So it’s a process, and we’re willing to be committed to the process. By giving people information, empowering people, giving them jobs, giving them education and an outlet to express themselves, that’s how you reduce violence in the community. When Ras ran, he said, ‘When I become mayor, we become mayor.’ That’s empowering people, giving them a sense of hope so they can speak up. Hip-hop is a fabric of oppressed people’s culture; hip-hop is a voice for young people. The age group that’s engaging in the violence, they adore hip-hop, they love hip-hop, but unfortunately, they love the wrong parts of hip-hop. We’re just trying to get them over to the good side.”

Shikhana Muhammad, Newark NJ

“Events like this expose our children to the culture of music. It also gives them an opportunity to see us bonding as a people, in a loving way versus us always being angry at one another. I think it’s a beautiful cultural expression for our children to see the community as a family coming together.”

Yvonne Becheam, 45, Newark, NJ

“For me, I think it’s up to the parents to tell their children what the event is about, first and foremost. You shouldn’t just bring them here like it’s a big block party. I spoke to my son and I told him, ‘This is 24 Hours of Peace, that means no violence, no fighting, no arguing, it should all be peaceful.’ I think it helps if the parents tell the children what it’s all about. I’ve been here for three years, and I’ve been to the last three 24 hours of Peace, and I have not seen any violence. It’s peaceful in my neighborhood. I haven’t seen any violence in my neighborhood, but there are still people getting shot around us.”

Tawanda Peebles, 22, Newark, NJ

quote_tawanda peebles“I think it helps for one day. It’s nice for one day not to have a shooting, but that’s pretty much it. The violence comes in waves, so the city’s going to have do a lot more than this to make peace a permanent thing.”

Reverend Louise Scott-Rountree, Newark NJ

“I think it’s helping because if we send positive messages to the young people, then they will do positive things. We need to stop sowing negativity into their minds, saying it’s okay with all of the music that they’re listening to that’s condoning some of the worst activity that’s going on. As our mayor says, our children are now communicating through violence because they are listening to it all the time. And our elders are condoning it, saying there’s nothing wrong with it, because as he says, they want to be down.”

Tracy Munford, 55, Newark, NJ

“It raises the visibility of why working together is so important. It’s about teamwork: it’s the kids, adults, and elderly people coming together to have a peaceful moment and just appreciate peace. From there, we can work as a community to create more sustainable programs to encourage peace. As a city, we need to look at health and mental health as an important part of our lives. We also need to look at how we employ people. Violence is usually a result of poverty, so if we can attack poverty and get everyone on the same page, then we can eradicate violence.”

Michael Dixon, 46, Newark, NJ

quote_michael-dixon“I’m a teacher in Newark, and the books we’re giving away were donated by the American Federation of Teachers to the teacher’s union in Newark, so I come out to make sure that the books get into the right hands. I think that anything that brings people together on a positive note sometimes brings that negative element that would be elsewhere to this kind of event. They have one of the greatest rappers, Rakim, performing. So if someone who likes Rakim is doing dirt somewhere across town, they won’t be doing dirt there because they are here.

“These types of events are making an impact. It’s a slow process, but the more they do them, the better it will become. The reality is that this situation will continue to perpetuate itself until the community says, “enough is enough.” And when that time comes and the community truly stands up, we’re going to see a whole different Newark.”

Darlene Gordon, 40, Old Bridge, New Jersey

“Seeing people out here and knowing that there’s some kind of support in the community is very helpful. Sometimes people get caught up in what we see on the news, and they don’t understand that there are these resources in the community, and people aren’t finding out about them unless they come into the hospitals.

“In the long run, I believe [this event] will help facilitate community interaction. We work in the psychiatric ER at Beth Israel Hospital, and we just want to let people know about the services we provide. We don’t only work with adults, we work with children also, and a lot of people don’t know that. They don’t know that these services are available to them.”

Hakim Green, hip-hop artist and one half of the duo Channel Live, activist, host of 24 hours of Peace

quote_hakim green“Violence is always going to exist; we’re never going to stop violence. But what we can do is that we can build discipline within ourselves to control our environment so violence doesn’t affect us to that degree. We can figure out ways to not react in violence and to understand that violence is cyclical, it’s energy, and the more you project it, the more it exists.

“But just like violence is a natural part of life, so is peace. And we have to do a better job at balancing the two in our lives. That’s what 24 Hours of Peace is really about. It’s about giving people real tools so they can better manage peace in their lives. 24 Hours of Peace is a concert, but it’s also a character development program. It includes critical thinking, conflict resolution, physical fitness, and entrepreneurial skills. We’re all about giving young people real skills to deal with their environment.”

Dr. Janis Johnson Dias, Associate Professor of Sociology at John Jay College and President of The Grassroots Community Foundation

“I think that trying to keep violence at bay is a daunting task, and I think that 24 Hours of Peace and The Wellness Pavilion being [here] is part of a preventative strategy that treats violence as a public health issue. It says that we constantly have to be vigilant about how we are addressing acute violence, like gun violence in the community.

“Here today, we’re having people check their blood pressure at the beginning, and after engaging in some stress reduction exercises, check it again. When they see the drastic change, they can actually take those practices home with them, and those practices can shared and applied to managing deeply stressful situations. These situations include poverty, crime, and noise. So I think events like this help. It helps to engage in prevention instead of singularly addressing the acute crime.”

Deserie Westry, 48, Newark, NJ

quotes_deserie-westry“I don’t think it’s really effective. I mean, whatever violence is going to take place is going to take place regardless of what you do out here. We need more cops out in the city patrolling, and we need people to come out and not be afraid to report the things that go on.”

Isaiah Little, 26, Newark, NJ

“I think everything is incremental, especially with larger issues, but I think even just being here for 24 hours is stopping a lot of activity for 24 hours. You come through Clinton Ave between Osborne and Bergen any other day, it’s not going to be as many people, but there’s going to be a lot of activity and it’s not the activity that we want. So I think that even if it’s just for 24 hours, that’s pretty major for a street. It might save one life, and that’s major. I mean, we’re also passing out books, we’re exposing children to art, so I think that those things are not as tangible, but just as important in the fight to stop crime.”

Kern Bruce, 32, Newark, NJ

“I think culture drives everything. Culture is a thing that motivates people. Events like this cultivate beauty. They bring people together and bring them around creativity, music, and art, and things like that serve to inspire. And that’s what’s needed in places like this. People need to feel inspired. People need to feel like they’re loved.”

Katie Blackwell, 80, Irvington, NJ

quotes_katie-blackwell“I think events like this can be effective. A lot of times, we’re in our homes and a lot of us don’t know what’s going on out in the streets. We hear it from the news. But when you can see love in action — this is what I call love in action — that makes a big difference. Community members need to see love. Love from the top. Love from the mayor, the governor. And when children see this, they begin to understand that we can get along and love each other. That is what brings a community together.”

Denise Cole, 56, Newark, NJ

“Events like this help educate the young ones and help change the language about how violence exists in our community. It unites the community and brings us together, and it’s through these gatherings that we can get true information out to residents, and community members can stop being miseducated about the circumstances in our community.”

Nyle Fort, 25, Newark, NJ

quotes_nyle-fort“Events like this affect culture. It proves that culture still matters. Yes, we have systemic and institutional issues, but we can do things about them. This is a response from the community, and it’s a really beautiful thing. These gatherings show that not everyone is violent; it’s a small group of people who are committing violent acts. So I think it’s a beautiful thing to see the community coming together and responding not only to the violence that’s happening in the communities, but the narrative that says that we don’t care about the violence in our community and we don’t care about each other. This is an explicit way of saying that we care: we care about our community, our lives, and our bodies.”

Marylin Zuniga, 25, Newark, NJ

“Along with knowledge and political education comes empowerment. So when we empower our communities through knowledge, that’s when people take action.”

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Featured image: Ashley Okwuosa

Open Doors Citywide Arts Festival will hit Newark this Fall

The city will come alive with art this October, with a vast variety of visual, performing and literary art cropping up throughout Newark during the “Open Doors Citywide Arts Festival,” hosted by the Newark Arts Council from October 15 to October 18.

“Open Doors” will take place throughout the Newark community across 40 venues, each celebrating “Newark’s unique and diverse contributions to the arts and to American culture,” according to the council.

The festival will include work in diverse mediums, in forms such as art installations, new media, poetry and screenings. The art has been curated by the Newark Arts Council from submissions from local artists. Thursday evening will kick off the festival with a “traditional art reception.”

The council is still looking for volunteers and sponsors of the festival. Individuals, groups, organizations and businesses interested in participating in the festival should contact Joyce Anne Judd at joyceanne@newarkarts.org.

For more information about the festival or the Newark Arts council, visit www.newarkarts.org, or call the council’s office at 973-643-1625, and stay tuned for an events schedule.

The Newark Arts Council is located at 17 Academy Street in Newark, and it is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.


Featured image courtesy of the Newark Arts Council 

Scene: Co-Creating in Newark at Co-Lab Open Mic

Work by Newark artists line the exposed brick walls of Seed Gallery, located on the third floor of a Market Street walk-up downtown Newark.

But Seed doesn’t just showcase the work of Newark’s visual artists. At 8 p.m. every Tuesday night, Newark-area singers, instrumentalists, spoken word artists and rappers trudge up the gallery’s steep and narrow stairs, some with instruments in tow, to participate in Co-Lab, an event that is parts open mic, art show, and concert.

seed gallery tableau

Above: A sampling of Co-Lab’s weekly flyers

Seed Gallery founder Gizem Bacaz describes the weekly event as “a fusion of different vibes, all created by chance.” Since the gallery’s inception in 2007, Bacaz and her team have used the space to encourage local artists of all genres to showcase their work. Co-Lab is a weekly manifestation of Seed’s mission.

“Seed is not your cookie-cutter art gallery,” said 33 year-old Bacaz before last week’s open mic. “It’s more involved, and there’s more life to it.”

In addition to their gallery setting, the key appeal of the Co-Lab open mics is that audience members and performers can’t predict how the evening will take shape. Instead, both parties co-create the show as it goes along.

This particular night, dim lights and the seductive sounds of R&B set the tone for the evening as performers take the stage. The mix was eclectic: soulful musings about natural hair in one performance; stories culled from the streets of Newark and reenacted on stage in rap form in another.

“What happens at Co-Lab is the turning of your life into art. That’s really what it’s all about,” said Bacaz.

Co-Lab is intended as a safe space where the line between art and life is blurred and where artists find themselves dissecting history, politics and society in the name of performance. According to Bacaz, this differentiates Co-Lab from any other open mic on the scene.

“Co-Lab isn’t just an open mic, it’s a full fledged experience,” Bacaz concluded.

Relax and refresh at Military Park this weekend at the first Urban Stress Less Festival

City life can be stressful, but the Newark Collective is offering a day out for women and families to unwind, reduce stress and improve their health. The first Urban Stress Less Fest will be held this Saturday, August 29 at Military Park from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“The Urban Stress Less Festival is a celebration of life designed to bring awareness to women about the causes of urban stress, and how it affects our health and well being,”  said Camille Ferguson, Newark resident and founder of the Newark Collective, who is completing her PhD in the study of urban stress at Rutgers University in Newark. The Newark Collective is an informal collection of women scholar community activists.

Programs at the festival include a vision board workshop, fitness demonstrations by the Newark Yoga Movement and Move it Nation, activities for kids such as the Montclair Art Museum Art Truck, music and more.

Those who can’t make the Urban Stress Less Fest can still get their share of relaxation in the park this weekend. “Sweet Peace Yoga” with certified yoga instructor Fayemi Shakur will be held on Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the Children’s Garden. “Gentle Yoga on Sundays” will be held the following day at 1:30 p.m. with Leslie Banger.

In the meantime, the Urban Stress Festival is recommending a “Five Star Approach” for mitigating the effect of stress.

  • Being mindful.
  • Paying attention to our mental,emotional and physical health and being.
  • Maintaining healthy relationships with family, friends and others.
  • Paying attention to our resource stability, such as occupation, finances and credit.
  • Achieving a work-life balance.

Military Park is located at 920 Broad Street in Newark, and it offers daily activities , classes, free Wi-Fi, and entertainment facilities. For more information on park activities, visit the park’s website.

Featured image courtesy of Newark Yoga Movement. 

R. J. Hoppe continues 40-year-old legacy of custom wood furniture making in Newark headquarters

On North 5th Street near Park Avenue, there sit a slew of multifamily homes, mobile fruit and vegetable trucks stocked with jeweled green avocados, and a warehouse, nondescript except for the yellow “R. J. Hoppe, Inc.” lettering adorning the squat building’s flat, brown awning.

But what the building lacks in outward appeal, the carefully crafted, high-end wares and deep history inside more than make up for. R. J. Hoppe is a 40-year-old woodwork and furniture making company here in Newark, and its 12,500-square-foot warehouse is where Rolf Hoppe, the company’s president and only son of its now-retired founder, can be found on a weekday afternoon, perhaps working on a coffee table that he will ship to a customer in Nantucket the following week.

Hoppe is a graduate of New York’s Pratt Institute, one of the world’s foremost higher education institutions for design and architecture. But his woodworking education started at his father’s company, where his “entry-level” work entailed sweeping floors in the warehouse when they set up shop at their current location in 1975 (the company was incorporated in 1968). Sixteen years later, Hoppe assumed his current position as the company’s president.

Rolf Hoppe 5

“I’ve been working summers and winters since I was ye big, sweeping floors, picking up nails, rolling up extension cords, the whole thing. That’s kind of how I grew to know architectural woodwork,” said Hoppe.

At a time when consumers are quick to go the Ikea route, companies like Hoppe’s, which employs the use of mixed metals and exotic wood veneers, can have a difficult time connecting with the average furniture shopper.

“There are few architectural woodworking contractors out there that do what we do. A lot of them have already gone under,” Hoppe said. “I don’t know what the future holds for the business. There are spots here and there in terms of work, but from what I can tell, this area has been hit hard,” he continued.

Rolf Hoppe's Father

Rolf Hoppe poses with his father.

As Hoppe thumbed through images of past work, it became clear why the herd of bespoke furniture outfits like his has thinned out. Hoppe’s portfolio boasts high-end commercial and residential projects that can set a customer back a couple thousand dollars.

From systems furniture for companies like Goldman Sachs, to residential projects for international celebrities, R. J. Hoppe’s work definitely suits customers of a particular taste and budget. Customized display cases, built-in bookshelves, and outdoor metal installations are among the types of projects the company takes on for its customers, which have included schools, banks, and retail stores, in addition to residential work.

“What really sets us apart is a particular attention to detail,” Hoppe said. “I think that the only reason we aren’t getting the work we should be getting is because we’re being underbid by contractors and people who will do a cheaper job — but not as good a job as us.”

Hoppe credits his dedication to craftsmanship to his roots. His father relocated to New Jersey from Germany after the Second World War, and quickly began work as a cabinetmaker in Newark.

“My father was about 15 when the war ended, and at that time you only had two choices – go to school or learn a trade,” said Hoppe. “He knew he had a gift for working with wood, so he explored it. And when there were still no jobs in Germany, he moved here.” Forty years after the founding of R .J. Hoppe, the warehouse still houses work created by Hoppe’s father.

Hoppe said that although the company’s core values around hand crafting, sharp attention to detail, and workmanship remain the same, he is infusing his own modern-day acumen into the family business, with hopes of staying ahead of the continuously changing industry. While his core customer territory radiates 50 miles from his Newark furniture shop, Hoppe said he hopes in particular to partner with local architects and designers in Newark to help source more local jobs, and to add texture to more of the city’s interiors with some of his company’s homegrown, custom-made style and craftsmanship.


R. J. Hoppe is located at 340 N. 5th Street in Newark, and can be reached online at rjhoppeinc.com, and by telephone at (973) 485-5665.

Newark Print Shop accepting new resident artists for six-month program

Three professional artists will have the unique opportunity to explore printmaking as a resident artist at the Newark Print Shop during their six month “Keyholder Residency” program.

Resident artists will have half a year of unlimited access to the print shop’s facilities to “explore and engage with fine art printmaking processes in order to expand their artistic practice,” according to the shop.

Accepted applicants will be required to monitor the studio for one 5-hour shift per week, and assist during the shop’s “Open Studio Print Club” on Wednesdays. The residency is for work only, as the Newark Print Shop does not offer living residencies at this time.

The application should include an artist statement and resume, project proposals of what the artist wishes to complete during the residency period, up to 10 digital images of recent work, and two references with contact information. Resident artists do not need to be professional printmakers, as long as they want to experiment with the medium.

The application can be found online here, and should be sent to newarkprintshop@gmail.com with the subject line “KEYHOLDER RESIDENCY.” Applications are due August 31 by 5 p.m. Interested participants should include their weekly availability during the residency period with their application.

There is a $25 application fee that can be paid online. The fee is redeemable for a one-day studio pass even if applicants aren’t accepted into the residency program.

The Newark Print shop is located at 304 University Avenue, Floor 2, in Newark. It is open on Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. for Open Studio Print Club, and Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Current resident artists include Luke Walter, Sharon Lindenfeld and Angela Pilgrim.

Featured images courtesy of the Newark Print Shop. 

Five ways Newark Public Schools alumni can help rebuild our neighborhood schools (whether you still live in Newark or not)

Fellow Newark Public Schools alumni, if you truly believe that Black Lives Matter, it is time to give the black and brown lives in your hometown’s neighborhood schools some of your attention.

This is not a stand against any other kind of school, for every public entity serving the children of Newark needs to be uplifted and supported. As a social justice advocate and organizer, my work is driven by the belief that all children deserve the right to a high quality education.

However, our neighborhood schools – the schools that most of us 25 and older graduated from – are the least supported and the most in need of it. The schools that educated us and played a major role in who we are today, the schools we were able to walk to as children, are now being closed, neglected, traded in, destabilized, under-resourced and generalized as failure factories.

11214347_10100823713044588_4601211052766760596_n

Kaleena Berryman, center, poses with students.

But they are not failure factories. They are the schools that produced you and me. They are the schools that, if I may keep it real, must be seen as failures for other “school options” to grow. They are the schools whose very real socio-economic challenges are left for footnotes and afterthoughts, just like the cultural history of the children who are taught in them. And they are the schools that too many of us have turned our backs on.

The city of Newark struggles with many problems that create the conditions that schools must address before they can even begin to educate our children. The barriers can be overcome and all children can have the chance to excel, but it takes a holistic, whole child approach; an understanding of the issues and solutions; and a great deal of support and strategically placed resources to make it happen.

Most importantly, the children in that school must believe that they matter, and that with their Newark Public Schools education, they can achieve great things. The schools must empower them and their families with the knowledge and skills required to compete in this world. With the creation of public magnet schools and then public charter schools, it became easier for those with money and influence to turn their attention and resources away from neighborhood schools. Charters and magnets provide better results in a quicker amount of time. These schools are in different ways selective, and parents apply into them. It is an unspoken belief that attending them (charters and magnets) is a privilege. And that by contrast, attending a neighborhood school is simply, not.

That must change. And in my opinion, a key factor in changing how our children see their schools, their city, and themselves, is allowing them the opportunity to see themselves in us. The talented, enriched, educated and experienced alumni of the great city of Newark must come back in full force and take control. We must give a damn. We must raise our schools’ social capital. If we fail to do this, we will find that the city we know and love has very little that we can recognize.

A city is only as strong as the children its public schools produce. And the children of Newark will be deemed as in need of “saving” by outsiders, because those who are truly responsible for them have failed to do their job. I am in no way asking you to save Newark Public Schools. But I am challenging you with the task of leaving your mark on some part of it. Here are just a few options to get you started. I call them “five bricks,” and I encourage you to take one.

1. Stop looking down on your city
The mass mainstream media has done a phenomenal job of making it seems as though Newark’s streets only produce drug dealers, poverty and crime. Knowing the numbers and seeing the news reports of low-performing schools and murdered young people makes it easy for all of us to want to flee Newark, and not see any good here.

But if you think about it, that’s not the only part of Newark you know. When you were a student in Newark, as much as you may have loved your school, it was likely at that time labeled “failing” (the state took over the Newark Public Schools in 1995). Those who look down on Newark now once looked down on you too.

But back then, and still now, there are amazing programs, excellent teachers and opportunities, beautiful art and inspiring people here. And back then, just like now, the schools lacked the support and time of the adult village surrounding them. There are still great neighborhood schools, and families are still choosing them. And that “failure” label is based almost solely on standardized tests that were never intended for us to pass anyway.

I have the pleasure of teaching Newark students from various schools, and regardless of what their individual test scores may say, they are amazing. It hurts that many of them have not reached their fullest potential because their schools lack critical opportunities. To change that, we must address the disparity and call it what it is – injustice.

2. Learn the issues and lend your voice:

Many of our neighborhood schools are forced to make miracles happen with less, especially those in neighborhoods where school support is weak and poverty is highest. School budgets have been cut and resources diminished. Instability in school leadership and teaching staff runs rampant, with some schools changing principals multiple times over the course of five years.

Meanwhile, at 2 Cedar Street, the cost of consultants is in the millions. And the teachers without placement pool — teachers who have been dismissed from their school but not placed in another — are costing tens of millions of dollars a year.

None of this results in a better or even standard education for the children of Newark. And the schools that are showing growth are those who have leadership strong enough to do the kinds of things the community has been advocating for. They have a clear community focus, and are making changes based on concrete best practices, not catchy state-imposed slogans that lack substance.

You can make a difference by learning the issues and lending your voice. Our people perish for a lack of knowledge, and things are hardly what they seem. Follow education advocates on Facebook, read the newspaper, and seek the information. Attend workshops and meetings, such as those held by the Abbott Leadership Institute (ALI). Lend your presence and social media newsfeed to organizations such as PULSE (Parents United for Local School Education), the Parent Power Movement, Newark Students Union, and NJCU (New Jersey Communities United). For some historical context, read books such as Unfinished Agenda by ALI director, and my mentor in education advocacy, Junius Williams. School closings, community schools, standardized testing, local control, and school privatization are just some places to start. Get informed.

3. Adopt a school or a classroom

The neighborhood schools that you once attended (if not yet closed) would do far better if supported by alumni. Simply choose a school or a teacher who you have a connection with, and decide to adopt that school or classroom.

Start by giving your time. Your presence alone in that school will greatly impact children, for they need to see the faces of people who look like them and come from their city. They need to see you doing well, as you instill in them the importance of giving back. Volunteer, present workshops for students, bring in guest speakers, assist with fundraisers, and write a letter to the school district about issues that need to be addressed.

Support the parent body. Have a skill set? Lend it to the school! Strategic planning, business, fundraising, public relations – these are the kinds of expertise neighborhood schools do not have access to because of budgetary constraints that charter schools invest a great amount of money in.

So much of “choice” is perception. The schools in Newark that are treated the worst are those the “powers that be” believe no one really cares about. If each of us took the time and invested in one school or classroom, imagine the impact it would have.

4. Attend (and speak at) a Newark Public Schools advisory board meeting

More than a year ago, Cami Anderson, the former superintendent of Newark Public Schools, stopped attending school board meetings. Why? Because she could. She did not like the tone of some of the public meeting regulars and the parents, who challenged her decisions. So she just stopped showing up. (She is now no longer the Superintendent).

People in power should not feel comfortable enough to do that in Newark. We, the alumni, have to start attending these meetings and offering our support. Pick two meetings a year, and if you can, sign up to speak. Speaking at a public meeting as an alumni means a great deal, it means that you are there as a person who is concerned about your community. It makes those in power think that the school has more than just a few “angry” parents fighting for them. And they should.

5. Mentor a young person/start a scholarship

If you don’t have a great deal of time or don’t wish to get involved at the school level, you can take an approach that reaches students directly. Mentor a young person or volunteer at a program that serves students. You can become a part of a program such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Essex County, Leaders for Life, Girls Live Love Laugh, or one of the other great organizations running at one of Newark’s Center of Hope sites. You can also volunteer for an organization such as the Youth Media Symposium (YMS), or in one of the college success centers in the city of Newark the YMS students run.

Mentoring and volunteering allows you to help students one-on-one, and to offer advice and guidance over time. For students entering college, starting a scholarship would be a great way to invest in their future. You set the guideline — and make sure they aren’t all academic. So many of our students are unable to finish school because of small balances. (I once witnessed a very promising student lose their place in school for $900.00). Scholarships created just for Newark students would be a powerful way to show the world that we have our children’s backs. That we believe in their potential. Not only do their lives matter, but their potential for success matters too. 

No one else is going to fight for our city, or our schools. Newark should not be the place where folks with bright ideas set up shop and get rich, without getting their hands dirty. It is going to take those of us who have reached a certain level of awareness to take a stand.

Just imagine, where we would all be if social justice warriors of yesterday did not deem our lives worth fighting for, and even dying for? The social justice issues that make the news are not the only ones that we need to care about, alumni. If we take ownership of our own communities, we won’t be so dependent on others to do it. Our schools cannot survive without us. So please, take part in rebuilding our neighborhood schools. Help root for them. The others have a cheering section that is out of this world, and that is cool. But let’s give the neighborhood schools some power, some light. Help dispel the belief that they are not worthy of existing.

Featured image: Abbott Leadership Institute’s Facebook page


kaleena-berryman-pic1Kaleena K. Berryman is an education advocate, youth mentor, community organizer and writer. Born and raised in the city of Newark, Kaleena graduated with honors from Arts High School, as a Television Communications major. After being awarded a Presidential Scholarship to William Paterson University, Kaleena earned a Bachelor’s degree in Communication in 2004, with a minor in African American & Caribbean Studies. In January 2011, she earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Rutgers University-Newark.

Currently, she is the Program Coordinator for the Abbott Leadership Institute at Rutgers University-Newark. ALI’s mission is to teach education advocacy and family engagement skills to parents, educators, community leaders and students in Newark, NJ. She also serves as the advocacy coach for the institute’s Youth Media Symposium, and is President for the Organization of Black Faculty and Staff at Rutgers-Newark.

In 2013, Kaleena co-founded Newark Circle of Sisters, a 1,000-member-and-growing organization of women in the city of Newark who provide service scholarships to Newark women at all stages in their advanced education pursuits. After the birth of her son in 2012, Kaleena took up the cause of prematurity awareness, and launched her blog, www.praying4mypreemie.com, where she helps to empower parents of preemies with support, information and encouragement.

Sample organic food grown by local urban farmers at Harvest to Table Fest this week

Organic food lovers will have a chance to taste locally grown produce, chat with urban farmers and enjoy the goods at Harvest Table, a daytime healthy cafe in Newark, from August 24 to August 28. 

Harvest Table owner Carissa Borraggine has partnered with Tobias A. Fox, the founder of Newark Science and Sustainability Inc. to bring patrons to the restaurant to sample organic food, and learn why buying from local farmers will help both their personal health and community pride. 

The event is called “Harvest to Table Fest” and Newark SAS hopes it will boost the trend of buying local by putting a spotlight on local growers. 

“It is our goal to create a local green economy and organizing events like this is definitely leading us in that direction,” Fox said. 

“This event is important because many local residents don’t even realize that they have access to fresh, organic produce right in their own neighborhood,” Borraggine said. “These growers are doing wonderful things for the community, and we want to support them.”

Harvest Table is located at 127 Halsey Street in downtown Newark and is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The cafe normally offers a collection of healthy sandwiches, salads, coffee and smoothies. 

For more information you can contact Fox at 646-399-0337 or email glocal@sasglocal.com.

Featured image courtesy of Newark Science and Sustainability Inc. 

Learn how to start an online Etsy craft store with Rutgers entrepreneurship course

Designers, jewelry makers, and craftsmen of all kinds who are looking to sell their handmade goods have an opportunity to learn how to tackle the online market. A new Rutgers Business School class will help local craft makers establish their own Etsy.com store, market their products globally, and earn extra income.

The Rutgers University Newark Business School’s Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development is partnering with Etsy.com to train creative entrepreneurs and help them grow their independent business. Etsy.com is an e-commerce site that globally connects independent artists and designers with shoppers looking to purchase unique handmade goods.

The course will cover a range of topics such as setting up the online shop, time management, branding, pricing, shipping, and photography. Students will also be able to list up to 20 items for sale on Etsy.com for free.

Applicants must have at least one handmade craft item ready to sell and an idea for a related line of products for their online store. They must have never made any sales on Etsy.com, reside in New Jersey, have a credit card and checking account, and regular access to an internet connection.

There are only 15 spaces open in the class, and interested participants must apply online by August 31 here. Selected participants must commit to attending two hour evening sessions on Tuesdays from September 15 to October 6, and a five hour session on Saturday, October 10.

The course will be taught by Becky Garcia, an artist who sells her own craft items online at Etsy and will coach students on how to achieve the same success.

The Rutgers University Newark Business School CUUED is located at 1 Washington Park in Newark.

Featured image via Creative Commons 

Rakim to headline Newark’s ’24 Hours of Peace’ event this month

The City of Newark is organizing a 24-hour demonstration and call-to-action against violence for the fifth consecutive year during the “24 Hours of Peace” rally hosted by Mayor Ras J. Baraka.

The 24-hour “ceasefire” event is scheduled to include many activities and performances meant to unite residents. The event will be held on Clinton Avenue in the South Ward, between Bergen Street and Osborne Terrace, from August 28 at 6 p.m., to August 29 at 6 p.m. The location of the rally is the site where five people were killed in an escalating gang dispute in August 2014.

The main event during 24 Hours of Peace will be a hip-hop concert featuring legendary hip-hop artist Rakim. African dancers, jazz musicians and R&B singers will also be on hand.

In addition to music performances, activities will also include various speakers and town hall discussions, a bike ride, a movie night, a community breakfast, kids activities, and wellness activities including hip-hop yoga and Zumba.

Featured image courtesy Wikimedia Commons