Guard d’Avant music festival draws hundreds of Newark’s ‘lifestyle’ crowd to Military Park

This past Tuesday, as the sun set over Military Park, a diverse tableau of families, groups of friends large and small, area professionals, and music lovers massed on the park’s north lawn to take in the final installment of the Guard d’Avant music festival.

Beneath a banner emblazoned with the series’ mission, to “protect and serve the stellar and progressive” cultures in Newark, a succession of eclectic artists took the stage, including Seattle-based alternative hip-hop group Shabazz Palaces; experimental Atlanta-based rapper Rome Fortune; and R&B singer/songwriter and Newark native Peter Winstead, Jr.

Every Tuesday for the past five weeks, Winstead, Jr., who in addition to being a featured act also created and produced the festival under the banner of his branding and marketing company, The Honors Program, treated festival goers to an eclectic lineup of performers from the area and beyond. They included MoRuf, Dam Funk, Oshun, Rush Midnight, and an assortment of other acclaimed musicians and DJs.

This Tuesday concluded the second year of the festival’s summertime run. The community’s overwhelming response to the festival is a sure sign that Winstead, Jr. is among the entrepreneurs and creatives who are successfully tapping an existing market for well-produced lifestyle events right here in town.

dilettante fest

Photo Credit: Andaiye Taylor

“Peter’s vision to get people to enjoy not only this park, but also to introduce them to a new level of conscious music, is critically important, because Newark has a diverse amount of talent, and creating this sort of space is necessary for the growth of our city,” said Alturrick Kenney, who in addition to being a festival mainstay, is also manager of port operations for Newark Works. Kenney’s wife and one-year-old daughter also attended several festival dates.

Festival goers said there were several layers to the series’ appeal. Some were fans of the featured musicians and genres; others were taken in by its eclectic vibe; and still more reveled at the opportunity to enjoy and participate in Newark’s burgeoning contemporary arts scene. Parents and their children made the festival a family affair; and artists and entrepreneurs from the area turned out in significant numbers, gathering to exchange ideas and enjoy each other’s company.

“A couple years ago, events like this weren’t happening [in Newark]. We would go to New York, Jersey City, Montclair and places like that. So this is good. It’s great to have something for Newark,” said real estate agent Melvin Sykes, who has represented numerous commercial tenants downtown. Sykes brought a picnic basket full of fried fish, wheat bread, and assorted shaken-on-the-spot mixed cocktails for friends and nearby audience members to enjoy.

melvin sykes

Photo Credit: Andaiye Taylor

A glance around the park made it clear that many other attendees were letting their hair down and making the event their own. “A lot of Newark residents have never been to NJPAC, they’ve never been to Prudential, but here, it’s completely free and it brings a different atmosphere,” said Amani Abdul-Majeed, a production assistant at Newark’s All Stars Project. “It offers residents and outsiders [alike] a genuine taste of Newark,” she continued.

Military Park Partnership vice president Ben Donsky concurred. “Guard D’ Avant has built its success from last year and draws more people each week. This program is our most successful at bringing in a mix of Newark residents, downtown workers, and visitors from elsewhere in New Jersey and New York,” he said. “It brings hundreds of people each week to the park, and it’s the park’s most popular summer program.”

Although the event drew an estimated 350 attendees on its final date, success for Winstead, Jr. wasn’t just about attracting a crowd. He also set out to achieve something more elusive: creating an authentic cultural space.

“Guard D’ Avant is another place where progressives can come and just have a home and be safe. We [already] have Afropunk, which is doing amazing work, so we just want to have some other avenue and platform for like-minded people to come and express themselves and have a good time,” he said.

By finding ways to create sustainable spaces for contemporary art and music to flourish in the city, Winstead, Jr. is hoping to change what he sees as an outdated narrative of Newark into a more nuanced one that depicts it as a home for creative and commercial growth.

Peter Winstead, Jr.

Photo Credit: Abstract

“It’s so important for us to have a space where we can do things like this, and where we can just create. It makes the city more desirable, as well. Newark is a beautiful place as-is, but we’re trying to fight the [negative] narrative that’s out there.” For Winstead, Jr., that change isn’t merely about marketing, but also entails creating the space and context for the culture to blossom organically.

Judging by the smiling faces dotting Military Park at Guard d’Avant’s curtain call, it seems Winstead, Jr. is onto something.

Featured image: Abstract

Mr. Adams Steakhouse unveils riverfront experience with new patio extension

First a new rooftop bar. Now a riverfront patio. With the unveiling of rodizio steakhouse and sports bar Mr. Adams‘ new river-facing patio, a Newark establishment is once again offering some experiential variety to area patrons.

The patio is the latest in a series of upgrades that Mr. Adams, formerly Rio21, has undergone since around the time of its name and ownership change in late 2013. Before those improvements, the establishment comprised its current dining room, its current side bar, and not much else. Management has since converted what were once offices and rentable conference areas into a large, square bar complete with ten flat-screen televisions, booth seating with personal beer taps, and an open space on the south end of the restaurant where a DJ occasionally sets up and spins.

Now enter the riverfront patio. The new outdoor dining and bar area went head-to-head with a basement nightclub for consideration as the establishment’s next big undertaking. Looking to take advantage of the warm months, Mr. Adams’ principals chose the patio, said manager Andrew Ferreira. The bottom-level nightclub is slated to launch next summer.

The patio itself offers a panoramic view of the Passaic River, a full bar with six beers on tap, two flat screen televisions against the bar’s back wall, which is made of unfinished pine, and a bar menu for dining. Four chandeliers made of Coors Light, Bud Light, Corona, Super Bock, Stella Artois, and Sam Adams Summer Ale beer bottles grace the patio covering. (The chandeliers arrived the day of the patio’s July 16th opening on order from Etsy, said Ferreira, and employees had quite a time “emptying” some of the bottles so they could assemble the chandeliers ahead of the unveiling.)

mr. adams beer chandaliers

Visitors should keep in mind that the patio sits on an undeveloped stretch of the Passaic River, and the vistas in the middle distance feature some of New Jersey’s most characteristic industrial topography. The bar itself doesn’t directly abut the river: it is Mr. Adams’ lower parking lot that actually connects the base of the patio area with the Passaic waterfront.

Still, the patio’s considerable height over that lot offers a clear shot of a river that varies from lightly streaming to mildly rolling. The view is unobstructed by tall buildings, making for a decent look at airplane landings and, if one’s visit is well-enough timed, a lovely evening sky as the sun sets opposite the east-facing river view. All in all, the extension adds welcome variety of scenery and atmospherics to the dining and drinking options here in town.

mr. adams tableau

Bartender Jasmine said the patio has seen nice-sized crowds for the 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekday happy hour as awareness of the extension has grown, and added that the new area, which can accommodate 80 people in its dining area and eight comfortably seated at the bar, was packed for the Ronda Rousey UFC rout in the wee hours of this past Sunday morning.

Ferreira said the patio will be open at least through September, and that management is considering adding a glass enclosure and heat lamps in order to extend patio availability deeper into the fall months.

Mr. Adams is located at 1034 McCarter Highway. Follow Mr. Adams on Facebook and Instagram.

Pro tips

  • To enter the patio, park in the north lot (just past the steakhouse on approach from the northbound side of McCarter Highway/Route 21) and walk to the stairway in the direction of the Passaic River, opposite the road.
  • Device battery power low? There are in-floor outlets between the first and second tables, and underneath the fourth, counting back from the bar on the river side of the dining area.
  • On tap as of this publishing: Bud Light, Stella Artois, Goose Summer Ale, Landshark, Shock Top Lemon Shandy, and Hoegaarden.

$50M social impact venture fund will launch in Newark this fall

Newark Venture Partners (NVP), the first early-stage social impact venture fund in the New York metropolitan area, will be formally announced this afternoon at the Newark headquarters of digital audiobooks company, the city’s fastest-growing private sector employer. The fund will start accepting startups this coming fall.

A bi-partisan group of stakeholders, including mayor Ras Baraka, U.S. Senator and former Newark mayor Cory Booker, State Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, and business luminaries including Audible CEO Don Katz, NVP founder Tom Wisniewski, and philanthropist Ray Chambers are all scheduled to attend.

The $50 million fund will provide innovative technology start-ups with capital, mentoring, services, and workspace in a 25,000-square-foot space featuring ultra-high-speed bandwidth. That workspace is now under construction at One Washington Park, the home of and Rutgers Business School.

Social impact companies are those that marshal their founders’ entrepreneurial energy and acumen to solve societal challenges, including public safety, education challenges, employment, and the dissemination of public services. Stakeholders also hope NVP will create downstream employment opportunities for area residents, and that it might pull Rutgers graduates into its orbit, reversing a trend of college graduate “brain drain” from Newark.

Also to be announced is Newark’s new high-speed public wi-fi network, which leverages the city’s unique access to “dark fiber,” or unused fiberoptic cables. Downtown Newark and other neighborhoods will be able to access that network.

The goal of both initiatives is to establish Newark as a technology and innovation hub, and to position the city and New Jersey as choice locations for early-stage technology companies — particularly ones that will help propel economic development and point their resources toward the types of challenges that cities like Newark need solved.

Prospective startups should visit Newark Venture Partners’ website to express their intent to apply.


10 years in, Lincoln Park Music Festival still looks to inject its artistic vibe into home neighborhood

Pressing forward after historic LGBTQ marriage victory, Essex County LGBT RAIN launches GoFundMe campaign to provide safe spaces

While the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage in all 50 states last week was a historic victory for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) community and their allies, those who have been fighting for full equity for this community still have many hills left to climb.

One issue that acutely affects LGBTQ youth in particular is homelessness. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, LGBTQ youth are twice as likely as the general youth population to become homeless, due in significant part to familial rejection some LGBTQ youth experience when they come out to their families. These homeless youth experience an elevated risk of sexual violence, mental health problems, and suicide, among other potential crises.

The Essex County LGBT RAIN Foundation is trying to combat this issue by opening their doors to LGBTQ individuals who are being turned away by their families. RAIN recently launched a GoFundMe campaign to fund a safe space for LGBTQ people in need of support.

The organization, founded by Elaine Helms, provides emergency shelter services while promoting “self-sufficiency and independence in order to enhance [their] residents’ ability to function within their communities,” according to their GoFundMe page. In addition to basic needs like food and shelter, RAIN plans to offer other support services that promote self-sustainability, healthy relationships, sustained employment, and stable housing.

While the program focuses on homelessness, it welcomes any of the LGBTQ community’s members who need support in order to become “successful individuals that contribute to society in a way that makes them feel whole.”

The organization also seeks to assist LGBTQ students who are at a higher risk of dropping out of school due to bullying, physical and verbal harassment, lack of a support system, and lack of recourse and protection by school staff.

The fundraising campaign is seeking donations to establish the organization’s assistance program; they say a $10 donation can feed a resident for nearly a week. According to the organization’s GoFundMe page, one hundred percent of donations will be allocated toward paying one full year’s mortgage – or $27,600 – to house the residents.

Those interested in contributing to the GoFundMe campaign may do so at RAIN asks those who cannot donate to spread the word on social media by sharing the link, or contacting the organization to volunteer at essexlgbthousing.orgFeatured image via Essex County LGBTQ RAIN’s Facebook page.

Sweet Peace (in Military Park!): fayemi shakur discusses why you should consider taking up yoga

Yoga isn’t just a physical practice: it promises mental and spiritual benefits that can pay dividends in its devotees’ every day lives. Below fayemi shakur, who teaches a free yoga class on Saturdays in Military Park here in Newark, discusses what drew her to yoga, and why you should consider trying it too.

What about yoga drew you into the practice?

I started practicing yoga about seven years ago. I took my first class at a gym I went to with my sister. I was pleasantly surprised: it wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be. The sense of peace I felt after class was evident from day one. But, it wasn’t until I met my teacher, Jennifer Kohl from Lotus Yoga, that I really began to deepen my practice.

At her former studio, she often gave dharma talks and chanted in Sanskrit. My spirit was really drawn to that. That’s something I didn’t get in yoga classes that were geared more towards fitness. Independently, I read and studied the I-Ching – a form of Chinese divination and philosophy – for years, which continues to be a part of my practice.

I was attracted to learning about yoga philosophy as a way of life. I didn’t practice any particular religion, and I needed a disciplined spiritual practice I could relate to that was universal and holistic. It grounded me and continually gives me balance and personal goals to work towards incorporating into my life. The thing that really got me open was learning about the yamas, the niyamas, and the five causes of suffering.

There are lots of yoga styles – which do you practice, and why?

fayemi shakur 2I’m open to all styles and paths of yoga. There are many yoga systems and paths across the globe of course, so I haven’t tried them all yet. Some paths go beyond a hatha yoga practice consisting of asana and meditation. For instance, karma yoga practices include volunteer work, and it is a path of service. Nada yoga is the yoga of deep inner listening. It’s the yoga of sound, which includes meditation, listening to good music, and turning off the television and other distractions. Other physical yoga styles are Kundalini, Kemetic, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Vinyasa, Restorative and Bikram, or hot yoga — all considered Hatha yoga.

As it’s said in yoga, “Many paths, one truth.” I haven’t tried one yet that I didn’t like, although vinyasa is my favorite style. Vinyasa is so beautiful. The poses are sequenced in such a way that one pose flows to the next. It’s like poetry to me. All yoga is beautiful.

What motivated you to share your yoga experience with others through teaching?

I’m a 500 hour certified yoga teacher, and I’ve been teaching for almost three years. I’m at the very beginning of this journey. I was encouraged by Jennifer Kohl and fellow yogi Danielle Mastrogiovanni to enroll in Lotus Yoga’s teacher training. They kept telling me they thought I could be a great yoga teacher, and I was sincerely puzzled by that. Like why? Honestly, when I started practicing I was just trying to find a way to eliminate stress and anxiety. I never would have thought I would be teaching yoga today. I’m grateful they encouraged me to do it.

Teaching community classes was a required part of my teacher trainings, so I couldn’t shy away from it. I completed two trainings where I studied yoga sutras, The Gita, Sanskrit, anatomy, alignment, and so much more. The trainings lasted for months at a time, and they were hard. Some of the concepts were so intense, it was difficult to come back afterwards and engage in the real world.

My perceptions started changing. Our Sanskrit teacher, Manorama, told us that yoga was an ego bashing process and I found that to be true. I learned that yoga is not for pacifists. I read something that said what Americans need most is more humility, and that arrogance will forever keep us separate from each other and from the Divine. Arrogance and spiritual ecstasy can’t go together. So we constantly have to balance these things. I learned a lot about anger and how yoga could be used as a tool to foster healing, strength and improved focus.

I decided to start teaching as a part of my karma yoga practice with the hope that others could apply yoga to their lives in their own way. It only works if you do it. I started to learn what I needed to embrace from within and how to be still so I could hear. I’m still learning. A good teacher can sharpen your practice by jarring you out of complacency and self-satisfaction so that new possibilities appear.

What can newcomers expect from a session with you at Military Park?

I’ve been teaching a Saturday morning class at Military Park for about a year since the park re-opened. I always want newcomers to feel at ease in their bodies and abilities, even if it is their first time. It’s an open level class, but I teach mostly beginners.

It’s not a religion. I teach in a way that complements students’ religious beliefs. I think it’s important to de-mystify what yoga is and teach it in a way that’s relatable. We’re also living at a time when we are seeing and experiencing a lot of change, violence and stress all around. I want to share my practice and how I use it to confront and deal with those things while practicing a sense of calmness and balance.

It’s important to see people of color engaged in yoga. Yoga is for everybody and all shapes and sizes. I think when people see me doing it they realize it’s something they can do too. I’m not a heavy promoter when it comes to yoga. Most teachers aren’t. Only if someone asks. It should come naturally.

We begin class with a dharma talk and silent meditation. We have a goal to work up to 20 minutes of mediation every day but for now we are at five minutes. It takes time and effort to learn how to meditate and engage the breath work required in yoga. The class serves as a group practice, and I provide some simple guided instructions. Sometimes I share the wisdom of the yoga sutras, some days I might share an inspiring poem by Maya Angelou or Nayyirah Waheed. Any wisdom I share really doesn’t come from me. It’s an ancient wisdom or universal truth.

I love music and incorporate it into the class as well. Sometimes I teach a restorative class, sometimes vinyasa, or if the students say they want power yoga, I’ll give them that. The restorative classes seem to be the favorite among the students, which essentially is a centering of the breath and the body, aligning the physical and the mental by practicing stillness and gentle movement. There is something special about being in the grass, under the sun, practicing in nature that feels so good. The remodeled park is truly a beautiful space. The class I teach in the park is open to all and parents can bring their children. The little ones love yoga too. It’s a special kind of sweet peace.

Yoga’s health and wellbeing benefits are highly touted by people in the know. What are those benefits?

Yoga helps alleviate stress and anxiety, but it also can provide greater clarity and awareness mentally and spiritually. The benefits of meditation and its effect on the brain are incredible. Yoga and meditation should also go together. The asana – the poses – are what help prepare the mind for meditation, because the body is both stimulated and relaxed in way that activates the analytical and intuitive abilities.

These benefits improve mental clarity and help us make better decisions. Physically yoga helps increase strength, balance, focus, and flexibility. Practicing yoga can also alleviate pain and discomfort, aid digestion, improve the nervous system, circulation, posture, cardiovascular health, and provide relief for asthma. Every yoga pose has a health benefit which I discuss in class.

I love to think of the poses too as metaphors for other things. For instance, feeling the feet rooted into the ground and the sense of balance and awareness that it inspires. Holding your eyes on a focal point, knowing that you must or you will lose your balance. Maintaining a pose and keeping perfectly still when you feel like you just can’t hold it any longer. Some days you will fail to practice – we all do – but you try again and get better at it. Everyone comes to yoga for different reasons, but the spiritual component of yoga as a way of life is just as important as the physical benefits.

Lastly, what type of work do you do outside of yoga?

I work at Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art in downtown Newark a few days a week as a consultant and marketing manager. I’ve been at Aljira for about three years. Essentially, I’m a cultural worker.

My job there entails strategic marketing and communications, public relations, content management and development for the Aljira blog and social media, sharing news about what’s going on in the arts and supporting Aljira’s exhibitions and programs.

I’m also an independent writer. Writing is my first love; organizing is my second. My work has been published in The New York Times, The International Review of African American Art, Nueva Luz photographic journal,, UPTOWN, and HYCIDE Magazine. I initially started writing political and cultural news stories in 1999. These days I write more about art, which gives me a new way to explore various topics. Short story writing or curating exhibitions and programs may be the next thing I try. Who knows? But, ArtLife Media is my consulting company through which I make money and provide a range of services.

I believe in supporting and valuing the arts, cultural institutions and programs in our communities, and most work I do is a part of my social and creative practice which includes community service. In the past year, I also taught yoga at N.J. Regional Day School for special needs and autistic youth. I just do what I love and I appreciate having that freedom. Still, I’m very discerning and mindful of what I say yes to.

fayemi shakur’s “Sweet Peace” family yoga and meditation class is held every Saturday from 10:30am to 11:30am in Military Park. The class is free and mats are provided. On inclement weather days, the class will be held at The New Jersey Historical Society at 52 Park Place just across from the park. To check out more free classes and activities, visit

4 ideas Newark can borrow from the tech startup world recently held its first Ingenuity Talk this June at Alva Tavern. The Brick City Bucks Ingenuity series invites Newarkers to offer innovative ideas to our readers over lunch. Rashawn Davis, the city’s youngest-ever city council candidate, discussed habits Newark can borrow from the tech startups to move the city forward. In his editorial below, Davis fleshes out those ideas.

Simply put, technology has changed our world. It has changed the way we communicate, the way we interact, dream, and hope.

The successes of the tech industry is not accidental; the principles and tactics practiced by the most successful companies in tech help make consistent innovation and success possible. As an organizer and advocate, it’s easy to see the natural intersections of tech with important sectors like public service, and more specifically city government. As cities like Newark strive to match the success of the tech industry in measurements of job growth, crime, and development, there are indeed habits and methods that we should adopt from the tech industry. Four in fact.

1. Use data & transparency to measure and prove our success

We need to start being honest about what works and what doesn’t. In our cash-strapped city, we have to get serious about data and analytics. As a municipal government, our city needs to get to a place where we can quantitatively prove that we are using dollars efficiently and meaningfully.

During our 2014 race for Newark City Council, residents were often concerned about why resources were being put to one effort, and not the other. We have to make sure that we have those answers for residents. Moreover, we need to make sure that data and information is transparent and available to all. This will go along way to make sure our city services are accountable, efficient, and responsive to the concerns of residents.

2. Get serious about developing municipal talent

The tech industry is constantly innovating itself because year after year, it is attracting the best talent by investing in young people who express interest and talent in tech.

The world of public service should be no different. Here in Newark, we need to be more intentional about grooming future civic leaders. Cities like Newark are facing more challenges than ever, and we have to make sure we meet those challenges by attracting, recruiting, and supporting the best of the best. This means setting and maintaining high achievement standards for those working in City Hall, and beginning to cultivate young people to grow and meet those standards.

Newark should start a pipeline and apprenticeship program that not only teaches civics to our young people, but in the process also identifies those who are promising public servants, and gives them the resources and support to grow their promise. In turn, those same young people we taught, believed in, and supported will one day work at City Hall, committed to making our city better. We need to train our civic leaders the same way we train our doctors, lawyers, and even ball-players. Yes, it’s that important.

3. Develop smart partnerships

One of the great strengths of the tech industry is that companies often know what they do not know. If they lack the human resources or expertise to execute an initiative successfully, tech companies often use partnerships to leverage skills and assets of other companies.

Municipal governments like Newark must be more serious about embracing public-private partnerships. If we are being honest, we’ll admit that there are some things our city government does really well, and other things that it does terribly. We need to get to a place where we can recognize our deficiencies, figure what organizations and groups in our city do that particular thing well, and then work with them to benefit the entire city.

I would love to see an Office of Strategic Partnerships in Newark – an office designed to research and gather all the great assets in our city, and to see how we can work with those assets and partners to build a better Newark.

4. Create a culture of innovation around city government

Tech is sexy. A huge part of the industry’s success is that people are clamoring to see what will appear next. We are often less concerned with the actual technology, and more concerned with the presentation of that technology and social meaning of it.

In our city, municipal government has become archaic, distant, and inaccessible for many people. We have to make sure that we once again make City Hall a place of excitement and hope, a true civic square. This doesn’t mean changing laws or critical processes of government, but it means changing the presentation of our city government. For everything from the physical design of City Hall to how we make major announcements, 920 Broad Street must again become our civic center. It must become a place where people are excited to come, inspired to be in, and still feeling moved well after leaving.

While that may sound idealistic, it is truly a call on us to get creative about how we present city services and the government of our ever-changing city. My hope is that one day Newark creates an Office of Innovation that assesses the practices of City Halls, and offers ways to innovate them in an effort to once again make our City Hall a civic square.

Of course, the tech-world is not all perfect, and frankly there are several practices and tactics I believe they can learn from us. But if we are to make Newark into the greatest city that it can be, then we must constantly looking for ways to improve. These four practices from the tech-industry are a few that I think can go a long way to help Newark move forward.

Rashawn Davis is Newark’s youngest ever city-council candidate. Learn more at Read our #AfterTheRun series for reporting on Davis and his work.

Q&A with Isaiah Little: Imagining a better block on Bergen Street

Better Block Newark is inviting community volunteers to help complete its first public spaces project at Bergen Street and Lyons Avenue. The project entails imagining by doing: bringing the community together to build temporary public spaces called “parklets” that might become models for more permanent ones or, as the founders of Better Block state on their website, a “demonstration tool…so that communities can actively engage in the buildout process and provide feedback in real time.”

I spoke with Isaiah Little, project manager in Newark’s Office of Information Technology, founder of GalleryRetail, and Brigade Captain of Code for Newark, about how the community can use this project to create a living vision for a better block in their neighborhood.

What is a parklet?

It’s a park that you create out of a parking space. Parking spaces make up about a 9-by-20-foot space. For a parklet, you remove the car and put in a mini public space instead. It can be made out of concrete and similar materials, or it can be made out of palettes. We’re going to do palettes for Better Block at Bergen Street. We’re essentially giving the community more shared space, more public space, more green space.


What’s the setup going to look like on Bergen Street?

We’re going to have three parklets. One is going to be children’s themed for activities like playing with legos, and I know the Newark Mommies group is going to meet there for a portion of the day. Then there’s a relaxation parklet with comfortable chairs and pillows. And then the mini tech park will have wifi so people can do work. The idea overall is to bring some of that Military Park vibe to Bergen Street.

How long will these last?

They’re going to be temporary. Our goal is to show the potential, and as we think more about development, we can encourage the community and decision-makers to revisit these types of ideas to make better use of the street and public spaces. But these will be disassembled by the end of the weekend.


What has community involvement looked like so far, and how can the community lobby for more permanent versions of these parklets?

We’ve had at least two official, large general community meetings. So the community has had the opportunity to chime in with what they’d like to see.

They’ve also been part of our build days and painting days, so they’ve been able to provide feedback and ideas of what they’d like to see then as well. Now, we want to show what the street could look like if we gave it that love. In addition to the parklets we’re going to have bike groups come out – kind of show what the experience of bike lanes would bring to Bergen Street south. There’s also going to be a bistro-style eating opportunity. So the community can decide what pieces they like.


Would you say this is almost like a lean startup approach to development and beautification?

I would agree – especially the part about getting out there and doing it. This is similar to lean [startup] where you get out there and do it, see how the community responds to the idea, and then adjust. We can conceive it in real life, and then innovate and evolve the original idea.

Code for Newark will be there taking surveys to gauge which ideas were the favorites and what people would like to see more permanently. We’ll be taking that information back to planning, housing and economic development, and information technology for deliberation.

Better Block Bergen takes place Saturday, June 6 from 12pm to 6pm at Bergen Street and Lyons Avenue. All are welcome to attend and volunteer. Email for further inquiries about this project.

The Better Block Newark @ Bergen Street project will run from Lyons to Lehigh Avenues

Faces of NJPAC’s Women’s Association Luncheon

The diverse women in the ranks and leadership of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) Women’s Association connect communities around the state with arts and culture opportunities at NJPAC. The organization is holding their annual Spring Luncheon and Auction today.

I spoke with several of the association’s members about their objectives, insights they’ve gleaned from their careers, and the importance of organizations like the Women’s Association in the lives of the women who lend their time to them, and to the communities they liaise with.

Ruth Lipper

ruth lipper headshotRuth Lipper is this year’s Women’s Association Luncheon honoree. She’s a longtime trustee of the association, and has dedicated a significant amount of time in the past 15 years serving on other Newark-area boards and associations. “I’m originally from Detroit, and Detroit and Newark have a lot in common,” said Lipper of her attraction to the area.

That affinity first brought her to the Women’s Association at NJPAC, where she once served as president, in 2000, and then to the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, where she served on the board for the past seven years. Lipper said she was attracted to what both institutions were doing to help the city reestablish its identity as a cultural center, while also reaching out to the communities around them. “You can’t do something in a vacuum,” Lipper said. “The successful initiatives are the ones that are well thought out in terms of their mission and constituencies, and how they impact the organizations, populations, and issues that are in their periphery,” she added.

Lipper thinks networks like the Women’s Association are valuable because they bring together a cross-section of women who might help each other achieve their personal, professional, and philanthropic goals. “It’s not just the people you know, it’s the people they know,” Lipper said, adding that these extended networks are powerful for getting big initiatives done.

Chiara Morrison

Chiara Morrison HeadshotChiara Morrison’s professional mission is characterized by compassion, clarity, and intent.

By day, Morrison is Manager of Promotions an Community Engagement at NJPAC. There, her job is all about partnering with community organizations to bring the arts to the community’s doorstep. “I knew that we needed to develop a fine arts audience, and bring what they were doing off of the stage and into accessible spaces,” she said. Her goal: to develop and cultivate “diverse socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic, and genre audiences,” specifically around jazz and classical dance.

When she’s not at NJPAC, it’s an ethos Morrison brings to her independent work. Morrison is founder and CEO of Creative Minds, a firm that develops brand and experience marketing and partnerships for local artists and entrepreneurs. “I work with organizations and visual and performance artists to align their creativity with outlets for experience marketing,” she said. Most recently, she produced an event for the Hetrick-Martin Institute, bringing R&B star Monifah and her partner Terez to Newark to support the LGBTQ organization’s annual fundraiser.

One of the keys to her success has been an ability to effectively leverage mentors and professional organizations. The key to doing that, Morrison said, is having clarity about one’s objectives, understanding what one has to offer, and follow-through. “When it comes to mentors, you need to go to someone and tell them exactly what you need them to do. That’s how you empower them to help you,” she said. She also emphasized that tapping mentors and networks is about working “in a partnership way” to achieve one’s objectives — offering them something in return.

Her action plan for young women looking to make the most of their networks? “Figure out who  you are and what you want out of your network, develop and elevator pitch, and figure out what sweet spots will benefit both you and your network in the long term. And then keep in touch.”

Tami LaMorn

tami lamorn headshotTami LaMorn is a woman owner in the male-dominated bar and restaurant industry, and her work isn’t just about running Taste Venue – the largest bar and lounge in the state’s biggest city – it’s also about fighting misperceptions to do it.

But in her world, pushing back against perceptions about what a woman can and cannot achieve also fosters focus and drives excellence.

“You need to know your business inside and out,” LaMorn said. “And you need to go a step above your male counterparts in terms understanding the industry, and knowing how your own concept is going to work within it.”

In dealmaking, LaMorn said the key to her success is being surefooted, forceful, aggressive — but flexible. “When I go into a meeting about a partnership, I make sure I begin the dialog and lead the conversation,” she said. LaMorn encourages young women just starting out to be confident about what they already know. “Be steadfast. Be willing to adjust, but don’t waver from your vision,” she advised.

Organizations like the Women’s Association are an important part of LaMorn’s formula for success. “It’s a beautiful thing being around like-minded women,” LaMorn said, adding: “It helps to know other women who are successful, and to be around those women. You can get a lot of knowledge in a women’s organization, and that’s why I’ve joined these organizations. I’m know I’m not alone.”

Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno

kim guadagnoLieutenant Governor and New Jersey Secretary of State Kim Guadagno values arts and culture institutions for their contributions to New Jerseyans’ quality of life.

But she also values them as economic engines that mean dollars and cents for the state of New Jersey.

It’s something she knows well given that administering arts, cultural, and historical programming is part of her role as Secretary of State. She’s seen the effect that cultural institutions like NJPAC have had not just as entities unto themselves, but also as centers of gravity that pull other businesses into their orbit. “Annually, State arts funding employs an estimated 17,000 workers, supports 37,000 cultural events and attracts 5 million visitors, who spend another $125” statewide, she said in an email.

And given its location, infrastructure, and institutions, Newark can enjoy a piece of that pie. In fact, Newark is already a significant draw for travelers looking to visit the New York metropolitan area on a budget, and the city has an opportunity to draw off some of those visitors to spread a little more money in the city’s local economy. It’s something the Newark Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has tried to stoke by lining hotels and airports worldwide with materials that tout attractions right here in town.

Because culture-as-business falls under her purview, Guadagno often sees opportunities among the culturati that many others might not. “Members of organization like the NJPAC Women’s Association may also be business owners looking for programs to support their businesses,” she said, and those types of conversation can key her into what the broader business community might gain from thoughtful leveraging of our cultural institutions.

This is the realm where personal connections can yield the insights that eventually have a big impact on statewide policies. Guadagno said the cross-section of people she meets in associations like this offers her a significant educational opportunity, with people representing sectors “ranging from agriculture to manufacturing to STEM” helping her to make sense of the state’s patchwork of overlapping sectors, and the types of initiatives that might benefit them.

Follow NJPAC’s Women’s Association on their website at and on Facebook at

End of the beginning: Rashawn Davis finds his footing after Newark’s municipal race

It’s an early spring Saturday afternoon in Newark, and I’m bumping along Springfield Avenue in the backseat of a red Buick. Rashawn Davis, 22, is seated in front of me in the passenger seat discussing the details of his next event with his campaign manager, Chad Montague. He’ll be visiting St. Ann’s Soup Kitchen in Newark’s West Ward to read at a literacy program and serve food to the kitchen’s Saturday morning clientele.

For Davis, this Saturday afternoon is the coda to a week spent working at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on community policing issues by day, and talking to the likes of me at night (I interviewed Davis for this story four days prior to our soup kitchen excursion).


Image credit: Andaiye Taylor

At St. Ann’s, Davis is greeted warmly by the soup kitchen’s staff. He heads into a long, thin reading room where children have gathered around a table, and reads Babar Comes to America to a young girl. When he’s finished there, he crosses the facility and heads into the kitchen, where he dons a baseball cap and matching apron, and receives a rundown of the day’s menu from kitchen staff. Asked to make some remarks to the people he’ll soon serve, he assents readily and walks out to the middle of the floor to say a few words.

His basic message to the soup kitchen attendees: that he’ll be working on their behalf in the political off-season, far away from the klieg lights and media hype that contribute to the circus-like feel of campaign season here in Newark. This, in a nutshell, is the blueprint for Davis’ life after his first political run.

Unto the breach

Newark might be one of the oldest cities in the country, but look at its current demographics, and at the people who are most affected by the city’s most pressing problems, and the watchword is undoubtedly “youth.”

Newark indexes slightly higher for pre-adult youth than the state of New Jersey, and the city boasts a senior population of only 8.6 percent, versus the state’s 13.5 percent. Young people are the subject of the city’s raging debate about education, and the hardest hit by unemployment. They’re both the most frequent victims and perpetrators of violent crime.

Yet Newark’s political leadership is characterized by legacy, incumbency and, well, age. It’s a particular concern for Davis, who worries that the experiences, worldview, and talents of the millennial generation are essential for moving the city forward, but missing from the city’s local government leadership. The needs of that generation, and of the city on the whole, can’t be sufficiently addressed because of youth underrepresentation, Davis says.

So in 2013, while the Newark native was still a college undergraduate at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and buoyed in part by his core group of friends – all enterprising young black men from cities around the country – Davis decided to “be the change” and run for office in his hometown.

Failing forward

Davis entered the campaign with the intent to do as well as he could, but on the merits, it was highly unlikely that he’d pull out a win. In the beginning in particular, attention to his campaign was slow-going, and money was scarce. He was also up against Newark voters’  tendency to vote for incumbents and other known entities in local elections (a tendency they share with the average American voter). Davis was decidedly neither.

Davis made it clear to me that losing wasn’t fun (“for a week or so after the election I didn’t talk to many people, and I was a little disenchanted with the system,” he said, mostly due to vandalism and other assorted ugliness his campaign weathered as voting day drew closer). But Davis also knew that losing the race was merely the end of the beginning of his plan to be a change agent in Newark. “We still had a ton of opportunity ahead of us, even if we didn’t win,” he observed.

In the technology startup world, this is called “failing forward.” The concept: statistically, an entrepreneur’s first venture is unlikely to succeed. But launching a new venture, and all the activities that go along with it – defining a vision, creating an execution plan, hiring the right (or the wrong) team members, getting investors to contribute funds – these make for such dynamic learning experiences that founders often find themselves in high demand for new opportunities, even if the business they founded didn’t succeed. They fail forward.

Davis’ first run conferred similar benefits. Hearing from Newarkers helped him understand what he would need to accomplish to make his pitch to Newarkers resonate better. Trying to get an audience for his message with a lean team and even leaner funds made the importance of serious fundraising and smart staffing apparent. And the attacks Davis said his campaign experienced after his first big press mentions – on PolicyMic and MTV – awakened him to the ugly realities of Newark politicking during campaign season.

Back to the day-to-day


Image credit: Brian Rock

In this way, Davis’ first run helped bring shape and clarity to the work he does now. Working backwards from the types of arguments he would like to have made to Newarkers about his record during his first council race, Davis has been able to marry issues he sincerely cares about with a plan to accomplish milestones that the community can easily understand and appreciate.

In the most concrete way, that work has involved the creation of a Civilian Police Review Board under the aegis of the ACLU. While systemic – and often deadly – abuse of communities of color by police has recently become a marquee issue in national conversations, Davis’ work precedes this attention, instead coming on the heels of the Justice Department’s announcement last July of a federal monitor to keep watch over the Newark Police Department.

Davis is being intentional about how he spends his post-campaign time in other ways. One of his initiatives is to bring young professionals and creatives together to collaborate on projects in Newark, and to simply be aware that they’re a resource for one another here in town. To that end, he recently hosted an “Innovator’s Happy Hour” at Newark’s new Skylab rooftop bar. “I knew what it was like to wonder if you had a community here,” he said of his motivation for organizing the event.

Davis is also continuing to hone his ideas for how to elevate civic life in the West Ward, and in the city at large. One of his favorite ideas? “‘City Hall to Go’,” he said. “You take a van of City Hall employees to a different corner in a neighborhood each week, park it there, and let people come and get their questions answered there. It’s like a City Hall substation,” Davis explained of the idea he first learned of at the “innovation lab” at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

And in general, Davis is in favor of a muscular approach to the city council office. “The demand on council people is so much more” than what they are required to do by statute, Davis said. “Council members need to have visionary insight,” in order to do their part to improve the city, he added. From figuring out how to reform the blighted Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery site on South Orange Avenue, to maximizing commercial opportunities along the Orange Street corridor, Davis says an “expansive mindset” is required for council members to help unlock Newark’s potential.

In the next few months, Davis says he expects to continue dedicating considerable time to the Civilian Police Review Board, an initiative given new dimension by the current national climate. More tactically, Davis plans to start interviewing for communications, funding, and intern staff.

And perhaps he’ll accomplish a thing or two he can’t anticipate at the moment. “This in-between time is new,” he said.

Featured image credit: Brian Rock

#AfterTheRun is our yearlong series examining the life and work of Rashawn Davis after his city council run.

Read the next article in this series, Settling into the campaign post-season, Rashawn Davis doubles down on issues and builds bridges.