Selling a vision for the city along with space, real estate agent Melvin Sykes asks, ‘Why not Newark?’

3 ways to get involved with Newark’s 350th anniversary celebration

Newark is turning 350 next year — that makes the city more than 100 years older than the United States of America itself. The city’s 350th anniversary celebration, officially named Newark Celebration 350, is in the works, and planning committees for the celebration have already begun to convene.

We’ll be reporting and updating as much as possible about the event, but the planners have also provided ways to stay close to the process, and for community members to even get involved themselves. To that end, here are three ways to get involved with next year’s Newark Celebration 350.

Attend one of five upcoming planning and information sessions with organizers

newark350Celebration Chair Junius Williams, Celebration Executive Director John Johnson, and NJPAC President John Schreiber will be convening a series of five meetings in each of the five wards to give community members and potential partners a chance to offer ideas for events, partnerships, and other opportunities related to Newark Celebration 350. Community leaders and elected officials for each ward will also be present at each session.

The sessions will be held as follows:

  • East Ward: Tuesday, September 29, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., Ironbound Early Learning Center (1 New York Avenue)
  • West Ward: Thursday, October 1, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., U.V.S.O. Teen Center (40 Richelieu Terrace)
  • Central Ward: Monday, October 5, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., Abyssinian Baptist Church (224 West Kinney Street)
  • South Ward: Tuesday, October 6, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., Donald K. Tucker Center (27 Elizabeth Avenue)
  • North Ward: Wednesday, October 7, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., Third Presbyterian Church (395 Ridge Street)


Submit a proposal for an event or public discussion

The programming committee has released a call for event and public discussion proposals for the celebration. Events and public discussions can run the gamut of types and target audiences, but are asked to achieve one or more of the following objectives:

  • Focus the attention of the city and nation on the rich history of Newark, NJ, as a way to engage people of all ages who live, work and play in the city in its continued rebirth and revitalization.
  • Inculcate pride in identity through celebration of Newark’s history in each ward and neighborhood of Newark.
  • Focus and direct the energy of Newark’s residents in continued rebirth and regeneration.
  • Use the historical evolution of neighborhoods in the context of immigration both old and new, to demonstrate how Newark has become one city with many voices.
  • Study and document periods of conflict, and derive lessons for growth and reconciliation to enable future generations to avoid the mistakes of the past.
  • Identify and celebrate the great musical, artistic, and intellectual contributions Newark has bestowed upon its people in town, throughout the nation, and around the world.
  • Enable the history of Newark to serve as a beacon of hope and a blueprint for change for cities similarly situated all over the nation.

See here to view the RFP and submit a proposal for an event.

See here to view the RFP and submit a proposal for a public discussion.

Follow Newark Celebration 350 on social media

NC350 recently set up its social media accounts, and will be sharing updates to the public through those channels. Follow along on Facebook at, and on Twitter and Instagram @Newark350. will also be publishing related events to our calendar. To find them, visit

Stay tuned to for continuing coverage of Newark’s 350th anniversary celebration.

Featured image: Rutgers University and downtown Newark, copyright Arthur Paxton, via Used under Creative Commons license.

Latest exhibition at The Gateway Project put the ‘art’ in culinary arts

This past Thursday, creative entrepreneur and branding consultant Abbi Yeboah treated attendees to an artistic display of food from local restaurants and culinary artists. Amongst the ongoing art exhibition at Newark’s Gateway Center, Yeboah curated her own food-oriented art show as the chefs turned what would normally be a conventional meal to a full-on art display.

Culinary Arts at The Gateway Project

Attendees and restauranteurs mingle at The Gateway Project, September 17, 2015.

“I wanted to do a mini art exhibition with the food, and then after looking at the art, people can eat the art. It’s just my fun twist on having an art show,” said Yeboah.

In order to achieve this, Yeboah instructed the featured chefs to let go of any inhibitions in order to create a drool-worthy art spread with their food.

“I asked the chefs to get really crazy and very creative. I told them to pick any theme that they wanted and to go all the way with it,” said Yeboah.

This resulted in nautical themed fruit platters and cupcake shaped meatballs, a testament to the dexterity of food and the creative minds of Yeboah’s selection of chefs. With cuisines of varying specialties and chefs with different backgrounds, attendees were treated a bevy of food options to admire and ultimately eat. As guests sampled the art, they were serenaded by the musical stylings of Jazz artist, Anthony Pocetti and singer, Lucine Yeghiazarryan.

Instead of focusing on hugely popular food franchises, Yeboah sourced some of Newark’s hidden culinary gems. From a mobile café with a kink for specialty coffee, to a confectionary company with an aim to put a healthy spin on your favorite sweets, the selection was a homegrown representation of the city’s dynamic culinary offerings.

“I wanted people in Newark to realize that there were some talented chefs in their area. Newark is growing with so many new tastes and cultures, and I wanted people to sample that,” said Yeboah.

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As applications roll in, what would a successful Newark Venture Partners prove about the city’s attractiveness for startups?

Above: A Tech Cocktail mixer and pitch night in Washington, D.C. Might Newark Venture Partners become a center of gravity for Newark tech? Photo credit: Tech Cocktail

Earlier this summer, key stakeholders held a high-profile press conference to announce Newark Venture Partners (NVP), a $50 million social impact venture fund to be launched in Newark at One Washington Place, a few floors down from the headquarters of Audible, one of NVP’s marquee supporters.

Although fanfare quieted sharply in the days after July’s press conference, the announcement managed to generate lots of meaningful – if much quieter – activity and interest throughout the summer said Newark Venture Partners’ Director of Accelerator Operations, Dimitris Kouvaros.

“So far everything has been a go,” said Kouvaros. “We have a 25,000 square foot space that’s been built out. That’s going to be opening sometime in October,” adding that he was “super excited” to move the first cohort of startup firms into the space.

He added that applications have been rolling in steadily since the announcement — a trend Kouvaros expects to accelerate now that the bulk of summer is behind us.

“We’ve gotten well over 100 applicants with minimal marketing,” he said. “A lot of the folks have been New Jersey-based, but there’s also interest from New York and Boston, and there were even a couple [applicants] from San Francisco and the West Coast. I’m glad that Newark is attracting a good mix of everyone who sees the value in this opportunity.”

The startups that have applied have been mixed in terms of focus, and have included location-based hardware, social media platforms, and advertising technology companies, to name a few. The fund encourages a diversity of early-stage companies to apply, so long as they are technology-based and have a social impact component, Kouvaros said. Because of the broad base of sectors represented in the group of stakeholders partnering on the fund, there will be plenty of potential areas of collaboration with NVP’s partners for its resident entrepreneurs to take advantage of.

But perhaps what’s most exciting for Newark’s broader interests is what NVP might prove about the draw of Newark’s infrastructure for new business in general, and startups in particular.

It’s become common for cities and metropolitan areas to plan “tech corridors” and “tech hubs” — investments in space, education, and incentives for attracting and incubating technology companies as a way of both stimulating business and attracting and retaining talent. In this endeavor, Newark has something the vast majority of other cities don’t: a real competitive advantage in terms of endemic technical infrastructure.

“Don Katz said it on CNBC — we have the fastest internet in the world,” said Kouvaros.

That’s because of the surplus of unused fiber infrastructure located in Newark. That infrastructural wealth resulted from a collision of variables, most notably our location at the crossroads of the Northeast region, and a high concentration of utility companies located here that built an excess of fiber optic infrastructure to support their operations. It’s an advantage decades in the making — one that other cities simply can’t copy.

And Newark’s attractiveness for startup companies doesn’t end there. “We also have transportation proximity to a major media center, office rent prices are so much cheaper than New York, and it’s a college town,” Kouvaros said. “There’s so much to offer here.”

In addition to the pending announcement about which companies will comprise the first class of startups to join NVP, Kouvaros said the broader community can also look forward to engagement opportunities with the venture fund. He said he and his team will develop those ideas organically as the space opens up and firms start to fill it.

“I can see free events for the tech community and the broader community, and also General Assembly-style beginning and intermediate skills classes,” Kouvaros said, referring to the technology education company. “We’ll have to think more about exactly what we do once the space opens up. But yes, that is definitely in my pipeline to do.”

Director of “Dark Girls” documentary will explore sexuality in the black church in film to debut soon in Newark

Director Channsin Berry isn’t one to shy away from controversial subject matters. With his critically acclaimed documentary Dark Girls, Berry nudged open the floodgates to a conversation about colorism in black communities.

Dark Girls spurred furious social media discussions, a bevy of think pieces, and put an issue that has long roiled black communities at the forefront of many people’s consciousness.

Channisin Berry

Channisin Berry

Four years after Dark Girls‘ debut, the Newark native is asking another set of questions, this time about the black church, that will almost certainly trigger another set of intense discussions. But Berry hopes that these conversations do more than bring these issues to the forefront. He hopes that alongside awareness comes healing.

“In my films, I like to talk about things that black people don’t want to talk about. Things that they go hush-hush about. I believe that those are the things we need to discuss to heal as a people.”

In Berry’s upcoming documentary, the director focuses his lens on sexuality in the black church. For Berry, the term “sexuality” encompasses more than sexual orientation and the church’s relationship to the LGBT community and issues. Berry also explores the church’s long-standing patriarchal system and the double standards that follow. The Church House: Sexuality in The Black Church is the fruit of that exploration.

“The reason I decided I wanted to do this documentary is because I had heard so many stories about what was going on in the black church, and I got tired of it,” said Berry. “I wanted to know where the black church stood on sexuality and sex.”

One of the stories Berry referenced was the infamous one of Reverend Eddie Long, the senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, who was accused of sleeping with underage members of his congregation.

“I have children of my own, and if I can’t trust that they are safe in the church, then what can I trust?” lamented Berry. “We need to talk about sex. When we act like sex is not a natural part of our lives, that’s when bad things happen.”

The Newark native, who was raised in the black church himself, recognizes the church’s integral role in the lives of many black people and families, but with this film, Berry urges church leaders and the church establishment to reevaluate the way they discuss sex and sexuality in their congregations.

“The black church is so many things to so many different families: it is a place of refuge, a place of service, and a place of peace. But we need to have open and honest conversations about what’s going on in the church,” said Berry.

“That’s what I tried to do with this documentary. For example, I had to ask: why do women make up a majority of the church’s population, but they are often never invited up to the pulpit? I wanted to understand what it meant to be a black woman in a black church,” he continued.

Vesta Godwin, director of the St. James Social Service Corporation, said she knew the film would not be without controversy. “A film such as The Church House may ruffle quite a few feathers in the religious community,” she said. “Sexuality in the church has long been a taboo subject, which Mr. Berry is making a bold statement about by bringing many of the truths to light. It is will definitely spark conversations amongst those who see it, and those who have heard about it.”

In collaboration with the St. James Social Service Corporation, Berry has organized the Newark premiere of the documentary at the Paul Robeson Campus Center at Rutgers-Newark in the coming week. As the 57-year-old gears up for his hometown debut, his lofty hopes for a breakthrough in the black church are at the forefront of his mind and message.

“What I want people to walk away from with this movie is to notice that there is an issue in the black church, and hopefully that will spawn conversation and, in turn, action can be taken,” Berry said. “I want us to find a way that we can heal the relationships in the black church and heal ourselves in the process.”

The Church House will screen at the Paul Robeson Campus Center on September 28 at 6:30 p.m. For tickets visit EventBrite or call 973-624-4007.


The Greater Newark Conservancy offers access to fresh produce, essential skills, and community

With supermarkets few and far between, access to fruits, vegetables and other naturally sourced food items are limited for Newark residents.

The Greater Newark Conservancy isn’t a supermarket by any stretch, but it is finding a way to help close the fresh produce gap in the city, while also engaging residents in environmentally conscious education and community farming programs.

“Community gardening and growing fresh food isn’t a new subject, it’s something that has been going on for a long time in Newark and in other parts of the country,” said Robin Dougherty, executive director of the Conservancy.

But with an influx of fast food availability, some residents found it easier to eschew homegrown food for greasier fare. That is, until a new consciousness encouraged some to seek out much healthier alternatives.

“I think many things happened at one time to revive the community gardening movement,” said Dougherty, who credits food contamination issues that plagued the country in the 90’s, economic instability and, more locally, former Newark mayor Cory Booker as some of the reasons for the resurgence of interest in produce grown in the community.

HarrietTubmanGardenCelebration2015 033

Harriet Tubman Garden Celebration, 2015

“Mayor Booker supported a lot of community gardening initiatives. He wanted people to make good use of the land in the city because it belonged to the community,” Dougherty explained.

The conservancy’s Plot-It-Fresh program does just that. With farms scattered all over the city, most notably the Court Street Urban Farm behind the Krueger Scott Mansion, the conservancy took some of the city’s open land and turned it into community farms where resident’s can rent a plot of the land for a yearly fee of $10. The fee also covers access to gardening and farming education to help residents make the most of their new plots.

“It’s a very positive use of the land because it brings the community together, and it gives people who don’t necessarily live next door to each other the opportunity to get to know each other,” said Dougherty.

The community gardens also give the residents a chance to be involved in the beautification of their own city. According to Dougherty, this sense of ownership and responsibility is one that has yielded fruitful results in the fight to make Newark a little cleaner.

“For example, bringing a community garden into a neighborhood often means that dumping stops in that area. There are many ways you can use community gardens to help neighborhoods,” Dougherty explained.

“Gardening is more than planting food, it’s also exercise. So we’re promoting good health not just by encouraging clean eating, but also by the process of producing your own food,” she continued.

Alongside clean eating and physical activity, the Conservancy works with the city’s youth and at-risk adults by involving them in programs like Clean and Green and the Newark Youth Leadership Program. Both programs employ Newark residents on an internship or employment basis and expose them to landscaping skills, horticultural activities, and other educational programming.

“Although the space is a community garden,” said Dougherty, “it is also a space to gather people together for all kinds of intergenerational activity.”

Images courtesy Greater Newark Conservancy


Blaze Pizza to open in downtown “Shoppes on Broad Street” this November

Like Starbucks and Niketown before it, California-based Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza, to be located in the “Shoppes on Broad Street” retail spaces, has announced its imminent opening by papering its storefront with a logo-filled covering.

Newark will join three other New Jersey locations – Paramus, Willowbrook, and Clark – as host to the fast-concept, artisanal pizza joint. The location, which is directly across the street from Military Park at 691 Broad Street, will open in November and feature seating for 80 people.

The Blaze Pizza location at 691 Broad Street.

The Blaze Pizza location at 691 Broad Street.

The concept is based on custom-built, made-to-order artisanal pizza pies that are “fast-fired” in three minutes. Fresh-made salads and s’more pie – the lone dessert Blaze Pizza offers – round out the menu. Customers can choose from eight pre-figured signature pizzas, or create their own from a list of more than three dozen ingredients, including gluten-free and vegan options. Pizza dough is made on-site in a daylong fermentation process.

Blaze locations feature an open-kitchen format, and its open-flame ovens are the centerpieces of its restaurants. The Newark location will feature what Blaze reps call “unique, modern touches,” including a custom, oversized wall graphic.

Blaze joins two other “artisanal”-style pizza restaurants downtown: The Monk Room, located on Green Street, and Mercato Tomato Pie, located on Market Street, both of which launched in 2014.

Home news: Find out why we launched a free Brick City Live mobile news app. Then go download it!

About a year and a half ago – in the winter of 2014 – I conducted a round of in-person interviews with Newarkers to get some ideas for how I’d continue developing

By that point I’d been running the site for about six months. I’d built it in accordance with my best guesses about what people wanted to see from the site, and how they’d interact with it. Now it was time to get out of my own head and validate my assumptions against what real people said they wanted.

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In addition to finding out what types of stories people wanted to see, I also wanted to find out how Brick City’s content could actually fit into people’s lives. What would their first encounter look like, and how could we extend that into an ongoing relationship? Would they view it primarily on desktop or mobile, and how should we think about story presentation accordingly? Would they access the site by visiting our homepage, or instead watch out for links on Facebook, Twitter, and email? At what time of day did they expect to see new stories?

All in all, how would we fit into people’s already saturated media diets?

I had informed theories about all of these questions based on general data about digital news consumption habits, but I wanted to get a better beat on what Newarkers had to say — perhaps I’d hear something in a human conversation that the data wouldn’t readily tell me.

So I did the interviews — a few dozen of them when all was said and done. I have a product management background, and knew that I’d get the most useful answers if I used a little stealth. I didn’t ask interviewees outright how they would interact with the site. Instead, I asked them to take me through a typical day in their lives in half-hour increments, and would figure out at which points Brick City Live might break into that routine.

The biggest epiphany on this question came when I sat down with Newarker Jamaal Cobbs at Dinosaur Barbecue two Februaries ago. Jamaal studiously complied when I asked him to walk through the day-in-the-life exercise with me. In the course of that walk-through I found out about his morning routine, how he breaks up his workday, and what he does for fun. And after he’d taken me through his entire day, I was left with one very disappointing insight.

There was nowhere in his daily schedule for my beloved website to break in.

Jamaal doesn’t really do social media. There are a limited number of websites in his rotation. He’s not really an email newsletter guy. As interested as Jamaal was in the topics we were covering – Jamaal and Brick City Live were like peas and carrots in this way – the chances of Brick City Live actually making its way into his daily routine were incredibly slim.

This couldn’t be. I asked Jamaal to wrack his brain: any possible avenue for us to break in? There had to be something.

He considered it. And the answer was…push notifications.

If I could find a way to have a story show up on his cell phone home screen, he told me, I’d get read. He’d subscribed to news alerts from other news sites, and it was how they get his attention.

Before that conversation, I’d poo-poo’d the idea of launching a mobile news app for There were plenty of other things to do, and the site was already mobile-responsive (meaning it shows up just fine when accessed from a mobile web browser). But Jamaal’s comment made me realize that there were some benefits to readers that a mobile app would be uniquely able to provide. Push notifications were one of them. News and updates customized to the users’ location were another. And it turned out that some people just prefer apps.

I filed the feedback away, and after a year and a half of scaling more essential aspects of the site, I’m excited to announce that the beta version Brick City On-the-Go, our free news app, is live for both Android and iOS devices. This is our first foray into a brand new platform delivering our content, so downloads and feedback are the best ways for us to identify desired features and any problems, and make the app ever more useful to you. (To do that, email We hope you’ll give it a try!

I don’t talk to readers often — it’s something I’m looking to remedy as we head into the new year. But I’d like to thank all of you who have given us a shot over the last two years. Your attention means so much to me and our writers.


Andaiye Taylor

Founder & Editor,

Smart city: With new system, Newark cuts business licensing time by 90 percent in beta test

Earlier this week, Portugal native and pastry chef Anthony Da Silva enjoyed the ribbon cutting for Cinnamon Sugar Bakery, his new downtown café on Market Street, adjacent to the old Paramount Theater.

For the typical owner launching a small businesses in Newark, the rush of launching a new venture is very often checked by the frustrating process of waiting for business license approvals to wend their way through a labyrinthian, paper-based process. That legacy process involves applying and being approved for up to three dozen different business licenses, including fire, police, health code enforcement, and neighborhood services. It isn’t atypical for license applications and approvals to take a year to complete.

But it wasn’t so for Da Silva. For him, the process, soup to nuts, took just 31 days.

It’s all due to the newly automated system for business licensing applications and processing that will soon roll out to all businesses launching in Newark – and for those that need to renew their licenses. Da Silva was the system’s very first beta tester. City officials hope to make the whopping 90 percent reduction in typical license processing time the new norm by December 1st, when it plans to roll the system out to all businesses.

“Mayor Baraka, in his communication with other mayors from other cities, learned more about the automation of the business licensing process and wanted to bring it to Newark,” said Otis Rolley, President and CEO of the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation (CEDC), discussing the impetus for the project in a telephone interview.

The city’s Office of Technology chipped in to create a custom digital system that could do just that, building it from an open source code base. The move is of a piece with the administration’s goal of converting Newark into a “smart city” – one that leverages digital technologies to automate key city functions, in hopes of enhancing the quality of service in town without having to scale staff in order to do it.

Although Baraka was motivated in part by the city’s innovation imperative, the new system was also a partly reactive – a response to a common refrain officials have heard from frustrated small business owners about the legacy licensing process.

“We were hearing complaints from small businesses, midsize businesses and restauranteurs about the [current] process,” Rolley said. “We can’t talk about the importance of economic development, [yet] not do anything about those things that are preventing businesses from opening up,” he continued.

The new system will incorporate all city agencies involved in the licensing process. This excludes liquor licensing, which is managed by the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), a state-level agency.

The city hopes the new process will facilitate economic development activity currently in the pipeline, and make Newark feel more hospitable to businesses once they arrive. Once they “work out the kinks,” Rolley said, they also hope to proactively market to prospective new businesses by touting the ease of starting up. In order to work out those kinks, the administration will open up the system to more businesses on September 21st, before scaling it citywide.

“I want to [use this to] shout from the rooftops that Newark is open for business,” said Rolley.

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