As employees settle in, prospects for Prudential Tower to become a center of gravity in its new neighborhood

With this summer’s completion of the new Prudential Tower downtown Newark, West Park Street is again drivable, the sidewalk across from Military Park is newly unobstructed by construction barriers, and 1,900 employees find themselves clocking into spanking new digs every morning.

For employees, the 20-story Prudential Tower is simply a new office. But there’s a little more to the tower than meets the eye in terms of its larger impact on the neighborhood says Richard Hummers, a Prudential executive who oversaw the project during the entirety its four-year arc from conception to completion. (The $444 million project received a nearly $211 million tax credit based on its estimated benefit as a job creation and retention engine in the area.)

“For us, building the new tower wasn’t just about solving a real estate and capacity problem,” Hummers said earlier this week, while sitting in a conference room at nearby Prudential Plaza alongside his colleague, Lata Reddy, vice president of corporate responsibility and president of the Prudential Foundation. Prudential Plaza remains the company’s headquarters, and is located two blocks south of its gleaming, translucent new cousin.


The “Shoppes on Broad” will feature street-level retail and restaurants.

Hummers said the project team also considered how the building site could fundamentally alter its surroundings. “We chose a site that could transform” its broader neighborhood in Newark, he said. Built on a long-blighted stretch of Broad Street, the new tower is positioned to do just that.

First, said Hummers, together with Prudential Plaza and a third Prudential building on Washington Street, the new tower creates something of a campus for its 6,000 Newark employees, but without being walled off from the rest of downtown. Hummers said “constant interaction” among Prudential employees in all three buildings creates more pedestrian traffic. That not only benefits businesses that are currently and soon-to-be located downtown, but also adds vibrancy to the neighborhood, he said.

The towers also add continuity along Broad Street. Together with the newly renovated Military Park and the in-progress renovation of the Hahnes building, both of which Prudential helped finance, the building addresses a significant gap in activated spaces along downtown Newark’s primary artery.

The project’s planners also added some architectural and design elements that consider the pedestrian experience. Prudential Tower features a parking deck that runs from Broad to Halsey Streets along New Street. Parking garages often make for imposing structures, but “the walk from Rutgers to Military Park shouldn’t feel like you’re passing through a dark cavern,” said Hummers. The solution: vertical green space lines the garage wall facing New Street by way of planters filled with greenery. “We wanted to make these spaces feel inviting,” Hummers explained.

Prudential Tower planters

Planters line the parking garage exterior along New Street. Across the street, the Hahne’s building under construction.

The same goal animated the developers’ decision to install a “green wall” standing 55 feet high on the opposite side of the garage. The varying shades of the plants that comprise the wall, which architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates designed, form a mural inspired by the lower righthand section of Prudential’s “Rock of Gibralter” logo.

Unlike the Hahne’s building, which will be mixed-use, Prudential’s new building is strictly an office tower, intended for its employees and for company-sponsored events. And it is those employees, said Reddy, who will be the primary vectors of the company’s interaction with its broader neighborhood.

Some of those interactions will be organized by Prudential, as with a recent youth-geared community service outing to Military Park.

But on a day-to-day basis, both Reddy and Hummers said, they’ll involve employees’ engagement with area social life and businesses, and vice versa.

green wall prudential

Prudential Tower’s “green wall” mural draws from the company’s “Rock of Gibraltar” logo.

To help facilitate this, Prudential invited owners and managers from neighborhood restaurants, including Burger Walla, Nico, Dinosaur Barbecue, Duke’s Southern Table, Green Chicpea and BURG, the new burger and beer restaurant soon to launch in Military Park, to a “Community Partners Reception” and tasting on the building’s rooftop in early August. And while the tower’s construction caused a significant tightening of foot traffic along the north Halsey Street corridor, businesses are already seeing a surge in customers now that Prudential employees have moved in. All told, the building can accommodate up to 3,000 employees.

The “Shoppes on Broad” surrounding the towers will also be key locations of broader community interaction with the development. The shops will essentially extend the project onto the street level, and offer pedestrians retail and food options including a Blaze Pizza franchise and a reported Nike Factory store.

Taken together, these elements represent an “affirmative and intentional” push by the company to embed and integrate itself into its new neighborhood.

Prudential is planning a grand opening for the new towers on September 29th. Prudential Tower is located at 655 Broad Street in Newark.

‘Evolution Open Mic’ takes poetry nights a step beyond

Every Thursday night, Newark burger joint Burger Walla open its doors to Evolve NJ, and the sweet potato tots stop being the only thing drawing Newark residents to this Halsey street spot. That’s because Thursday nights are when Sean Battle, an adjunct professor of English at Essex County College, turns Burger Walla into a space for Evolution Open Mic.

Evolution Open Mic is a multi-layered event, and with the help of his associates — artist and art facilitator Kween Moore, and community advisor Queen Assata — attendees are treated to poetry, musical performances, interactive games and discussions centered on the Newark community and beyond.

“We want people to have a good time at whatever event we host, but we also want it to be of substance. We want people to leave with something that uplifts and enlightens their consciousness,” said Battle.

“Edutainment” is what Battle calls it – a meeting of education and entertainment. “The tagline of Evolve NJ is ‘accountability through artistry,’ so we hope to hold people accountable for their actions in an artistic space, and we hope it carries on to other facets of their lives,” continued Battle.

Take last Thursday for instance. A little after 6 p.m., soft reggae began wafting through the speakers, and the tangy scent of incense replaced the smell of caramelized onions. Participants and guests started flowing in, some just finishing their workdays.

As the room filled up, Battle took the floor and announced that the featured poet of the night would be none other than Newark’s Breya “Blackberry Molassez” Knight. Heads nodded and people exchanged knowing looks. Knight is a Newark poetry scene favorite, and was recently a performer at a tribute show to the late Amiri Baraka.

The theme for the night was “From Tragedy to Triumph” and all the poems followed this lead. Poets reflected on everything from Newark’s resilience as a city to personal triumphs they’ve had to overcome. During a portion of the show that Battle calls “The Nightmare of the Week,” guests debated their love and hate relationship with Newark. Some residents complained about the lack of fresh produce, while others lauded Newark’s authenticity and endurance.

“[Evolution Open Mic] is something our people need. We need something to come to every week where we can release what’s on our mind, relax, enjoy and hear positive vibes,” said Knight.

Battle said that he and his cohort realize that without the broader community there is no art, and that in order to enjoy an art scene, they must first cultivate it. Unlike other open mic shows, everyone who attends Evolution Open Mic winds up a participant in one way or another.

Poets and attendees alike are even urged to contribute to what Battle calls the “canvas of resource,” which is a plain canvas that is set at the end of the room specifically for free range artistic expression. The collation of canvases from past Evolution Open Mic shows will comprise an exhibition during Newark’s annual Open Doors festival in October.

“Life is art. It’s such an influential tool. Art is adding more beauty to the city, and I’m trying my best to do that with my poetry. And so is Sean and Evolve NJ,” concluded Knight.

Evolution Open Mic takes place Thursday nights starting 6 p.m. at Burger Walla, 47 Halsey St. $5 cover plus optional donations. Follow #EVOLVENJ Edutainment on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Isabel Livingston: The ‘savvy’ behind Closet Savvy Consignment in Newark’s Teacher’s Village

Newark native Isabel Livingston is bringing high-end, designer fashion to Newark in the form of her store, Closet Savvy Consignment.

The shop, which is located in Newark’s Teachers Village, offers a carefully selected inventory of designer items, including brands like Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton. Livingston and her daughter, college student Asata Evans, founded the store in 2012 as an online retail business.

“When my daughter was a junior in high school, it became time to consider college. Tuition and costs became very real numbers, and we realized how unprepared we were. So we decided to go into business,” said Livingston.

cs ig

A scene from Closet Savvy Consignment’s Instagram feed

With the goal to bring an extra $10,000 dollars into her home, Livingston purged her designer-laden closet and began Closet Savvy on a self-hosted website. She embarked on the occasional pop-up shop setup when the opportunity presented itself.

Over $10,000 and 10,000 Instagram followers later, Livingston saw the potential in converting the business into a brick-and-mortar store, and eventually launched the cozy and chic boutique in the new development on the south end of Halsey Street.

Livingston said social media created a built-in audience that has benefited the shop since opening day. “Having the time to have built up that social media following made all the difference,” Livingston said. “Without 10,000 people being able to see my stuff everyday and just opening my door to the world, this could have been a completely different situation for me.”

To be sure, in addition to now being a physical store, Closet Savvy is still a thriving social movement. Livingston’s followers talk about everything from the store’s latest designer products to natural hair trends to pop culture. The social platform has also powered Livingston’s buying reach, with Closet Savvy offering customers the opportunity to purchase products directly from the store’s page for an added shipping fee.


While the social media activity adds dimension to her brand for followers well outside of the city, Livingston says the store itself provides a carefully considered experience for the nearby shoppers who venture in. Walking into the store, it’s clear to see what Livingston is referring to. With a Chanel-embossed drink tray, monogrammed Louis Vuitton trunks stacked against the wall, and Beyoncé blaring from the speakers, Closet Savvy is a dream experience for shoppers in her demographic.

“When you shop with a woman, you’re really on an intimate level. You get to see how she really feels about herself,” Livingston mused. (Closet Savvy also offers a selection of men’s apparel.)

“Women come in here as total strangers, and by the time they leave, we’ve bonded. They leave here promising to come back, and you can’t get that online. People come here, and it really is an authentic experience.”

Closet Savvy is located at 35 Maiden Lane, just off Halsey Street in downtown Newark. The shop is open from Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Shop online here, and visit their thriving Instagram community @ClosetSavvyConsignment.

Images courtesy Closet Saavy Consignment.


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.