Newark glass-blowing studio GlassRoots combines art and entrepreneurship for students

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“Forging lives through fire and glass”: it’s not just the phrase GlassRoots uses underneath their name on the organization’s website. The Newark-based glassblowing shop and education nonprofit puts the slogan to practice through its learning initiatives, providing an outlet for Newark youth to explore their creative side, develop career-molding skills, and become practicing entrepreneurs.

Located just off Halsey Street at 10 Bleeker Street, the nonprofit, which is funded by individual donors, foundation grants, and sales of glass products produced at the facility, has been serving the community for more than a decade now. The two-story facility features a flamework studio, a flat shop, and a glass melting shop.

But it’s not all about the glass, as was evident during a recent visit to their workshop.

“With all the pressures kids might have to deal with outside of this place…GlassRoots can be a fun, productive way for them to let loose a little bit,” said 25-year-old artist James Blake, reflecting on the influence Glassworks has had on the lives of his students, as he worked with three teenagers on their glass mosaics.

Blake said that when he graduated from Boston College with a degree in studio art five years ago, he had no idea at the time that he would later use those skills to transform kids’ lives.

Reflecting on his own experience as a student, Blake recalled not being the best at reading, writing, and arithmetic in the traditional sense. Instead, he found applications for all those skills in art, and hopes to pass that possibility onto the students. Blake believes kids don’t have to learn everything from a book. “It’s better to learn it by seeing it for yourself visually and doing it. You might make mistakes along the way, but that’s the challenge about it,” he explained.

GlassRoots’ focus as an institution is on providing a comprehensive “STEAM” curriculum: instructors use science, technology, engineering, arts, and math as the basis for teaching, and hope students who emerge from their program are college- and career ready, and gain skills that are transferrable to many life situations.

Glassroots was founded in 1999 by Pat Kettenring, an avid glass collector and former director of the Business and the Arts program at Rutgers-Newark Business School.

In 2001, Ketternring visited the Glass Museum of Tacoma, Washington. It was during that trip that she learned about a program that had been launched by people in the glass industry there. The program, called Hilltop Artists-in-Residence, provided homeless youth a path towards self-sufficiency through glassmaking and art.

GlassRoots provides instruction in the same vein to its student participants, but took the Hilltop program a step further by adding formal training in color, spatial concepts, learning skills, communication, and entrepreneurial know-how. As Executive Director Barbara Heisler explained, “We use the glass as a vehicle to teach other skills.”

One of those skills is focus. “When making a [glass] bead, it’s a very singular process. You’re sitting in front of a 2,200-degree flame. You have to be aware of what’s going on around you,” Heisler said. “In essence, you’re learning how to ‘pat your head and rub your tummy’ at the same time, because you’re making your hands do two very different things,” she added

The program also emphasizes teamwork. In the flatshop – the area where students make mosaic art out of glass – students often work in groups. “The flat shop is very collaborative…it’s not only [about] color and learning geometry. [There’s also] a lot of open communication… [and] problem solving,” Heisler said.

And in the hot shop located in the back of the studio, the teamwork takes on a new dynamic. “It’s almost intuitive,” said Heisler. “You have to anticipate someone’s needs.”

Back in the workshop session, the mosaics were coming together, and Jarod Carm, 16, was experiencing the satisfaction of making his first piece of mosaic art. “The people here are awesome. It’s not all work, work,” Carm said. “We get to express ourselves and make what we want,” he added.


Find GlassRoots on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Read about their programs and find glass products for sale at GlassRoots.org.

Photo credit: Andaiye Taylor

Brickipedia: Crime Statistics

*The background behind Newark trends and news

[KRAHYM stuh-TIS-tiks]

The FBI recently released its annual Uniform Crime Report for 2013. In it, Newark was ranked the city with the third-highest murder rate in the United States, behind only New Orleans and Detroit.

It is a damning and alarming statistic, and the rate of murders here in Newark should spur urgent action. Nothing we tell you about how to read crime statistics can change that. Nor should it.

But statistics like this should also make us ask more questions, and think critically about what the numbers actually tells us. People tend to give statistics a lot of authority because they assume stats tell an objective truth. But stats can cover up some significant details. Because of that, we should “interrogate” numbers until they give us the information we need.

Read on to learn six things you should keep in mind when you encounter crime statistics about Newark, or any other place.

 

#1: Statistics and trends don’t matter when it’s you or your loved one

When it comes to murder and other violent crime, by far the most significant thing statistics cover up is the total loss experienced by the affected person and their loved ones.

Mayor Ras Baraka recently spoke about the murder rate in Newark for 2014, which is expected to be lower than the murder rate reported in the just-released Uniform Crime Report for 2013. He was quoted on NJ.com as saying, “If you were one of the 84 victims of the violence [in 2014, as of December 1] that took place…the reduction in homicides doesn’t matter to you.” For them, the loss feels total.

#2: Understand what’s being counted

Let’s define “murder rate” as murders per 1,000 people. We know the FBI reported that Newark had the third-highest murder rate in the United States in 2013.

But when BrickCityLive.com downloaded the Uniform Crime Report statistics just for New Jersey, we found four municipalities that technically have a higher rate of murders than Newark just in the state: Chesilhurst, then Salem, then Essex Fells, then Trenton, then Newark. How is it possible for us to have the third-highest murder rate in the entire country…but the fifth-highest just in New Jersey? Isn’t that a contradiction?

Not really. The reason none of those four was reported is because the Uniform Crime Report only counted cities with a population of 100,000 people or more. Chesilhurst and Essex Fells each experienced one murder; the population of those towns is so small that this put their murders per 1,000 people above Newark’s.

But what about Trenton, our state capital? Their population of about 85,000 people isn’t huge — but it’s not so small either. Still, they don’t make the 100,000 population cut to be included in the ranking.

Let’s say that instead of counting cities with populations of 100,000 people or more, we counted cities with populations of 50,000 and up. If the FBI did that, Newark’s ranking would drop overnight.

But this wouldn’t change a single thing about 2013. At the end of the day, the reported ranking just doesn’t say much about the public safety environment in Newark that is actually useful.

 

#3: Statistics cover up complexity

Imagine a conversation between two Newarkers. One thinks Newark is experiencing an exciting comeback. The other is despairing because he thinks Newark is dangerous for himself and his family. One can’t fully relate to her acquaintance’s gloom. The other can’t believe his companion’s hopefulness. How can their perceptions of what’s happening in Newark be so different if they both live here?

Here’s how:

newark crime map and key

Source: NeighborhoodScout.com

You’re looking at a map of crime rates in Newark by “neighborhood”: the dark blue areas report less violent crime; the lighter blue areas report more — grey the most. Newark’s ranking in the FBI crime report describes the public safety situation in the city as a whole, but what people actually experience day-to-day is their block and their neighborhood. And in Newark, the neighborhood or block where you live can make a drastic difference to the reality of public safety for you.

There are neighborhoods in Newark that are about as safe as you’ll find in any city.

But because the rate of violent crime and murder is so high in Newark overall, statistically speaking, we “pay” for the safety some neighborhoods enjoy with unbearable violence in others. In those neighborhoods, violent crime is so concentrated that the crime statistics for Newark overall actually downplay the rate of violence there. Consider what this means for how discussions around police deployment, the availability of safe and effective neighborhood schools, and real estate and housing differ from neighborhood to neighborhood. Consider the sometimes immense difference in day-to-day experiences within geographically short distances.

 

#4: Statistics describe ideas

If you look at the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, you’ll find two columns for rape. Why? Because in early 2012, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new definition of “rape” that would be more comprehensive than the original definition, which was set in 1927. As a result of this change, rapes spiked from 2012 to 2013, when the change took effect. Ideas about what rape is changed what was counted. That then changed the rape statistics.

If you read about the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, you’ll see them described as “shooting deaths” and “killings,” but not as “murders.” A lot of people passionately disagree with this characterization, but the deaths of those two young men will not be among those counted in FBI crime statistics. Trial and grand juries’ ideas about what murder is also matter when we look at statistics.

This directly affected the 2013 FBI murder statistics for Newark. The FBI counted one more murder than the Newark Police Department did. Why? Because “FBI standards for homicides often differ from those applied by local authorities,” according to Dan Ivers of NJ.com.

 

#5: Causes of crime aren’t always local

For the sake of this example, let’s briefly move off of violent crime to consider arrests for illegal drug sales. Statistics about arrests for illegal drug sales will give us information about the extent of the “underground economy” in Newark. But they mask information about the other side of the sale: the customer. Not all illegal drugs sold in Newark by Newarkers are sold to Newarkers. The “demand side” – the people who do the buying – are an essential part of the equation. That means people who live in towns nearby contribute to the statistic without ever being cited in it.

Violence is an effect of many causes: some specific to the situations and people immediately involved, but many others that are further away from violent incidents in location and in time. Location-based crime statistics tell us something about the location of effects, but not much at all about the varied locations of the causes.

 

#6: Not all crimes are reported

This one is pretty self-explanatory. In fact, the name of the FBI report containing violent crime data is, “Offenses Known to Law Enforcement.” Agencies like the FBI can only rank cities and otherwise report crime data based on crimes they know about.

 

The next time you encounter any statistic, and especially a crime statistic, sit that statistic down for an interview, and ask it some tough questions. Our understanding (and misunderstanding) of what these numbers mean can affect our relationship to our neighbors and our neighborhoods. They can also affect the ways we try to solve some of our most urgent problems.

#Scene: Corners, cyphers, and community. A reflection on “Hug the Block”

#Scene: Snapshots of life in Brick City

Muhammed Ali and Irvine Turner. Irvine Turner and Avon. Avon and Somerset. Somerset and Muhammad Ali. Each corner of a single Newark city block decorated with balloons, artwork, and positive messages.

This was their doing – the participants of “Hug the Block.” Organized by Margie “Mia X” Johnson and billed as a “public art installation and gathering of love, light, and passion,” the block huggers sought to bring some unsolicited public levity and inspiration to the neighborhood, because they loved the community, and because they thought the community deserved it.

On Muhammed Ali, they wrote quotes on index cards: reminders to passersby to appreciate life, appreciate themselves, and appreciate others. On the sidewalks, they scrawled uplifting messages in bright-colored chalk.

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All images by Halashon Sianipar

The group moved from one corner to the next until they’d covered the entire block. The cadence was the same at all four stops: on each corner they held hands, physically hugging the block. Then they hugged each other. After that, the group transformed into a cypher of poetry, rhymes, singing, dancing, and chanting.

On the last corner – at Irvine Turner and Avon – onlookers stopped and listened. Some smiled. Some pulled out their camera phones. The event ended with smiles, handshakes and hugs.

They’d wanted to leave a little love, light, and passion in their wake. At least in that moment, it seemed their work for the day was done.

The next Hug The Block is scheduled for July 2015.

Reactions to the passing of Dr. Clement A. Price

I last saw Dr. Clement Price less than two weeks before his passing. He was on a panel at Rutgers University doing what he does best: elucidating and contextualizing what was going on in Newark by bringing his deep knowledge of the city’s history to bear on its present and possible future.

In this instance, Dr. Price was discussing the possible effects of The Star-Ledger moving their headquarters out of the city. Dr. Price told those assembled not to jump to conclusions about what the Ledger’s move would mean for Newark. We’d lost pillar journalistic institutions before and survived, he reminded us. Instead of speculating wildly about the effects of the move, we’d have to wait and see what it ultimately meant.

Dr. Price was himself a walking historical institution, but any analogies to his comments about the Ledger end there. We won’t need to “wait and see” to know that Dr. Price’s passing is a profound loss not only for his loved ones and those he touched within the classroom and his professional orbit, but for the city of Newark, and the way we understand the city’s past and its application to our present and future. Dr. Price was incredibly generous about transmitting his knowledge and insight – it was his life’s work – but he was nonetheless a font of knowledge and experience that will never be replicated.

Below, we cover the initial reaction – through the press, institutions, and social media – to Dr. Price’s passing.

#GiveNewark: An upstart publisher wants to collaborate with children to increase diversity in their books. And pay them to do it

“Did you know that 93% of kids books lack diversity, and that almost 50% of kids, maybe even your kids, can’t see themselves in books?”

Thus begins the Indiegogo campaign video for Positively Publishing, a children’s book publisher that will employ an innovative model to ensure books better reflect the children who read them, and will turn young co-creators into paid collaborators. The campaign will fund the printing of 2,000 copies of the first book, and additional startup costs enumerated on the campaign’s page. I spoke with Dawn McLaughlin, founder of Positively Publishing, about her company.


What is Positively Publishing?

We’re a multicultural book publisher, and we’re working to create books with kids.

The first book we’re working on right now — the illustrations are done, and it should be printed shortly. The books are going to feature the artwork of kids who aren’t typically represented in children’s literature.

 

How did you come up with the idea to collaborate with kids?

I believe kids have something valuable to create, and to contribute. I think they need to be seen and heard, and that’s important. I want kids to pick up a book and feel like they belong. They need to see themselves, their mothers, their fathers, and their neighbors.

I’ve tried to get published for about 20 years, and last summer I got so fed up with being told “no”. I had these stories written, and worked in Newark for many years, and saw for myself how kids got shortchanged by the lack of diversity in what they read.

What does the collaboration process with the kids look like?

Right now the stories are stories that I’ve created, and the children illustrate the stories.

Once we’ve completed the books using my stories, I want the kids to write the stories, and have professionals illustrate them. It’ll go back and forth.

 

Do you plan to work with the schools to find illustrators?

Yes. Through a pro bono partnership, I got help with the royalty contract through which the kids will get paid. We’re just finishing that up now. Once the contracts are complete, I can go into schools and other places and say exactly what we’re offering the kids.

 

Have you seen another children’s book publisher do what you’re doing in terms of the royalty model for student collaborators?

I’ve never seen this model before, but I’ve also never seen a publishing company that works with kids to create books. I definitely think we’re doing something new.

I’ve had the door closed in my face so many times and have been told “no” so much, so an important part of this business is helping kids see themselves in the books, and be able to make money from their own work. I thought wow, if they can get royalties, it can be an investment in their future. If an adult illustrator gets paid to do the job, why not the kids?

I worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters. I’ve also taught yoga in a lot of the schools in Newark through Lotus Yoga. From working with kids in Newark over the years, I’m amazed at these kids and what they accomplished in the situations they were in, how much compassion I saw them have for each other. I wish other people could see that — the potential that’s there. I think this will be one way to showcase that.


 Positively Publishing’s Indiegogo campaign ends December 9. The company can also be found on Facebook at facebook.com/positivelypublishingkids, and on Twitter @PosPublishing. Find more Newark-based crowdfunding campaigns at brickcitylive.com/givenewark.

Perks for contributors:

  • $5: Help support us and help close the diversity gap in children’s literature
  • $25: Receive signed copy of the book/free shipping USA
  • $50: Receive two signed copies of the book/free shipping USA, social media acknowledgement on Facebook and Twitter
  • $100: Receive two signed copies of the book, social media acknowledgement and your name in the acknowledgement section of the book

 

Newark in Verse: A city of poets, past and present. Take a tour of Newark’s poetry scene

Kalita Cox, a 30-year-old poet who goes by the stage name Se’lah, is holding court at the Coffee Cave, an artsy café on Halsey Street that has become a hub of sorts for Newark’s vibrant poetry scene. She’s tonight’s featured artist, and after blessing the stage with a mash-up prayer adapted for poets (“Give us this day my feature pay/and forgive us our misuse use of the English language/as we forgive those who give us a 6.4 in a slam. . . ‘’), she leans into the mike and launches into her first poem, a lyrical journey  that pays homage to Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Coretta Scott King and other women in African- American history.

I come from a broken history/A long line of a stolen legacy/Where my people’s greatness/Was hidden by hatred/And chained and shackled by bitter cold faces/But still I rise on. . .

Nor is Se’lah the only one to share her work. Members of the audience step up and perform as the host, Dave “Ghost” Rogers, whose show “Living Room Wednesdays” is held every week at The Coffee Cave, keeps things moving. There are love poems; a social justice poem by Ormar Lucas, a barber at Center Stage Cuts who writes of Newark as “a place where sunny days swiftly turn to blood baths’’; and a gripping poem by Sean Battle, an adjunct professor of English at Essex County Community College, who turned the trauma of being mugged on Halsey Street by a pack of “boys walking from Burger King who robbed me as if I were a choice off the menu’’ into verse:

  . . . one tug would’ve given them/three 20s out of my back pocket/But an iPhone and wallet with state ID/And debit cards were enough to flee/No younger than 13 this pack/had enough experience in decadence/To stain my bliss with darkness shaded between their skin and mine . . .

The audience nods in recognition when truths strike close to the bone, then hoots and hollers when one regular deviates from her usual fare and shares an erotic poem, deconstructing, detail by detail, the “pulsation and vibration dancing in my mouth.’’ This is, in a nutshell, “the scene,’’ and the format of choice is an open mic.

Open mics take place in coffee houses and church basements, parks and barber shops all over Brick City. And now, as poets from all over the country descend on Newark this week for the Dodge Poetry Festival, the largest poetry event in North America, local poets here hope the festival will shine a spotlight on what regulars already know: the poetry scene in Newark is thriving.

“Any night a week you can find a show,’’ said Rogers, 33, a manager of a fabric store in Passaic who has also hosted a cypher – or impromptu rap session – at the corner of Broad and Market Streets every Friday night for the last five summers.

The scene, he added, has grown noticeably in the last two years. ”It wasn’t like this before. You don’t just see three or four people.  You’ll see a crowd.’’

Added Se’lah: “There was a time when it was very cliquish. Now I feel like everything’s coming together. I attribute the unification of poets of our generation to just growing up.’’

 

Poetry in Newark

You can’t mention Newark and poetry in a sentence without invoking the name of the late Newark poet Amiri Baraka, who saw poetry as a way to give voice to the voiceless. Baraka was at the center of Newark poetry starting with the Black Arts movement in the 1960s and 70s and continuing through to his death earlier this year. In fact, his legacy is being honored at this year’s poetry festival, and was also honored at this year’s Open Doors City-Wide Arts Festival. (Baraka’s legacy is also embodied by his son, mayor Ras Baraka,  who is himself a longtime poet.)

“He’s all of our grandfathers,’’ said Se’lah, who organized last May’s first-ever Montclair Poetry Festival and has her own production company, Mylk ‘n Honee Publishing. ”All of us owe our pens to him. The fact that we can all say we’re from a city where a legend lived  [makes me] very proud to say I’m a Newark poet.’’

Poetry, Rogers said, is a way for people to “rebel’’ in a positive way in response to the hurt that comes from a society that seeks to keep people – especially black people – in a box.  “I think it’s the hurt,’’ he said, explaining the profusion of local poets. “It’s definitely expression.’’

That view was echoed by Tehsuan Glover, 34, a Newark native known by his stage name “Starski.’’ Glover, a poet himself, organized a poetry show at the Newark Symphony Hall earlier this month that featured readings by local poets drew 125 people.

“Newark has a great deal of beauty and Newark has a great deal of ugly, which at the very least is fodder for artists and poetry,’’ said Glover, who earns his living running a marketing and branding company known as Gentleman Culture.

 

Growth 
Glover, a graduate of Clifford J. Scott High School in East Orange, said he got serious about poetry after seeing the 1997 film Love Jones, a love story set in the world of Chicago’s African American creative class.  His interest lead him to Bogies’s, a nightclub in East Orange, and an important center for slam poetry throughout the 90s that helped nurture an older generation of local poets like Rob Hylton, Helena D. Lewis and Lamar Hill.

“Newark demands that you’re good,’’ said Glover, who counts the poet Lucille Clifton as an important influence. “Sympathy is not one of Newark’s character traits, particularly in terms of entertainment.’’

Rogers said he believes the current growth of the local poetry scene is being fueled by the feeling that Newark’s Downtown is changing as a result of developments like Teacher’s Village, the redevelopment of the Hahnes building to house a Whole Foods and new loft apartments, and the construction of the new Prudential office tower.

“A bunch of artists are saying, “’How can I position myself and my people to take advantage of this?’’’ he said.

 

Newark’s scene
Battle, 25, said it was precisely Newark’s reputation as a center for spoken word poetry that prompted him to come to Rutgers-Newark in 2011 as the place to do his graduate work in poetry. “Newark is to the Jersey scene as New York City or Harlem is to New York. If you want to make it as an artist, you have to make your name in Newark,’’ he said.

Battle said he counts Patricia Smith as an important influence, but he returns to Baraka’s poem, “Black Art,’’ a manifesto about black poetry often.

“It comes down to this: if you’re black and you’re writing poetry, you are black poetry because one way or another, your work will have a gaze that is in relation to the concerns of the black communities,’’ Battle said.

 

The Coffee Cave

By 10 p.m., “Living Room Wednesdays’’ is over. The lights are turned off and the customers are shooed out as employees wash the floors and lock up for the night.

Outside, Halsey Street is empty. The construction workers building the new Prudential Tower are long gone, the students and business people who come here to eat and shop a mere memory. Gregory Brown, a 26-year-old East Orange resident who had read the love poems he had written to his girlfriend Shanika Stevens, lingered on a bench to chat. “Poetry gives people a reason to exist and thrive and want to do more than what’s expected,’’ he said. “It lets you get things off your chest.’’

Brown said he has been writing poetry since he was eight years old. He has worked various jobs from teaching assistant to stage manager to security guard and is currently working as a volunteer as he prepares to go back to school.

Stevens, 42, whose performance this evening was an unmistakable reply to Brown’s, is sitting next to him. She, too, she said, is in an in-between stage, waiting to go back to school in a pharmacy technician program. She joked about the age difference between the two of them, but then turned serious. She hadn’t written anything since high school, she said, but Brown’s passion for poetry rubbed off on her. “He gave me a voice,’’ she said, adding yet another voice to the chorus of Brick City voices emerging from the Newark streets.

Dear adults, sit and listen awhile: the five-member Newark Youth Council represents their peers and presents their vision for Newark

The Newark Youth Council visits BET’s “106 and Park”. Pictured left to right: Kristin Towkaniuk, Aliyyah Torres, Jessiah Hall, Mahogany Laveu, Shakira McKnight. Photograph courtesy Linda Jumah

While mayor Ras Baraka and guests finished kicking off Newark Poetry Month at City Hall in early October, I was at the other end of Broad Street interviewing five dynamic and passionate Newark youngsters, who together constitute the Newark Youth Council.

They are Jessiah Hall, 17, who attends Seton Hall University; Mahogany Laveau, 17, a student at Newark Collegiate Academy; Shakira McKnight, 20, currently at Essex County College; and Kristin Towkaniuk and Aliyyah Torres, both 17, and both of Science Park High School.

We spoke about why they chose to apply for Newark Youth Mayor (the Youth Council was drawn from that applicant pool), and what they think the highest youth priorities are in Newark and how we should address them them.

The two college students in the group both attended Central High School. We discussed their reactions to the school’s portrayal during the mayoral election.

We discussed “disaster capitalism” and their thoughts on the current situation with Newark Public Schools and the One Newark plan.

They shared their feelings about the perception of Newark, from Conde Nast Traveler readers’ opinions to the notoriously ugly remarks about Newark that often appear in the comments section of NJ.com.

We also talked about their plans, including the citywide youth town hall they’ll be hosting on Tuesday, October 21, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Central High School.

In an essay named “What about the shootings?” that I published just after Brick City Live launched, a little over a year ago, I wrote that “we must elevate hopeful things” in our coverage of Newark, even while we acknowledge the toughest of problems our city has. These five intelligent and engaged young Newarkers are a perfect example of the hope I was referring to. Here are the highlights from our conversation.


Andaiye Taylor: Why did you all decide to apply for youth mayor? What did you hope to achieve?

Jessiah: As soon as they said “youth mayor” I said, “Man, that sounds like me right there.”

I went to Central High School, so I knew Ras. I was on his campaign team, so I was helping him out and everything. And one day I happened to be going back [and forth] with people that were with [Shavar] Jeffries – I actually got into a small debate – and I was defending Ras’ points of view, and things he did. And somebody said to me that, “Aw man, to be honest, if you were running for mayor, I’d actually vote for you.”

And that really stuck in my head. And now that I know I have potential and other people see me as that, I feel like I should now attack it and try for something like this.

 

Andaiye: Mahogany, from a youth perspective, if you had to name two or three top priorities the city needs to address for your age group specifically, what would they be?

Mahogany: The top two I would say would be violence and education.

 

Andaiye: Do you have any prescriptions for how the city can approach both of those?

Mahogany: I feel like for education, I think that they should have more resources, and teachers with experience, but a diversity of experience. For example, they can go to different schools for arts that are doing well with their curriculum, and try to get some advice from them so they can see what they can put in their [own] schools’ [art programs] to help the students out.

And also for the violence situation, mostly putting more police enforcement within the streets, and making sure they’re being consistent with it, not like when they do it sometimes and then slack off. I think there should be more enforcement so people know that we’re focusing on violence and we’re trying to stop it.

 

Andaiye: Shakira did you also attend high school in Newark?

Shakira: I did. I went to Central High.

 

Andaiye: During the election, Central High School’s track record was called into question. Can you tell me what your experience was like going to Central and being educated in Newark?

Shakira: Going to Central was beautiful. I felt like there was a [special] culture within the school. I don’t know why they would attack such a school, you know? It went through such a beautiful transformation from what it was to the way it is now when you look at it. I believe it was a beautiful school.

Going to school in Newark is not a problem. At all. I believe that, like [Mahogany] said, the teachers should have expertise in diverse subjects, and it should be a true relationship between the teacher and the student.

 

Andaiye: What was then-principal Baraka like?

Shakira: Principal Baraka. I didn’t go to Central my ninth grade year, but when I came tenth grade year, we were entering the new building. This was the new year of the new building. It was very rowdy in the beginning, and then towards my twelfth grade year – we were the first class to be there four years – there was a big celebration because the school did go through a transformation.

It was a calmer environment, there was a lot more going on within the school, and the principal was actually worried about the safety of the children in the school. He would walk us all the way down the street – two corners down – just to make sure all of the students were good in the school. So I don’t know why Central was attacked because it was a beautiful school and it went through a beautiful transformation with the principal.

Jessiah: She was there during the beginning, so her culture was somewhat different from mine, because when I was there like right before Ras was about to run in the election for mayor, our school was getting attacked because they wanted Central.

Central has a nice building. I got used to it, but when other people see it, it’s like, “Oh my god this is an amazing building.” That’s why it made it hard on my class, because the previous seniors had a certain HSPA (High School Proficiency Assessment) average, and we had to raise the test scores basically. So it made it extremely hard for us because they said, “If you don’t raise these scores, we’re going to take your school.”

 

Andaiye: Who’s “we”?

Jessiah: Cami Anderson. So like, that’s why it made the principal preach to us, “You gotta do this.” They made us do workshops. Saturdays we’d go back to school to work on HSPA practice and reviews.

 

Andaiye: Did you feel like that was a good use of your time as a student?

Jessiah: Well me personally, I would’ve passed the score with or without the help. But for certain people it was very useful.

 

Andaiye: Kristin, I’ve actually seen your name a lot just from writing about the Newark Students Union. Can you talk about why you got involved and what your experience has been?

Kristin: I got involved my sophomore year. Originally the thing that got me in it was the fact that it was really cool to do. The environment that the founders made around the Newark Students Union was a great thing. They made it something where, literally, the first meeting was packed with over 100 students.

Then once I got to know the issues, I was really concerned, and I realized that if we don’t stand up for ourselves, no one will. And we really have to just continue pushing for change, because without change, where would we be now?

 

Andaiye: What was it that made it seem cool, that got all those students to check it out in the first place?

Kristin: As a sophomore there’s a lot of different things going on. There’s pressure to get involved in organizations. Also, a big social media aspect was involved in it. There were flyers literally everywhere in the school.

 

Andaiye: You mentioned the issues. What were the biggest issues that attracted you to the organization?

Kristin: There were two big issues for me. First was definitely the $56 million budget cut. Right when the NSU began was right when we got the budget for the year. The schools were left with bad options, like [either] cutting extracurricular activities or cutting teachers, and either way, that leaves students in a really bad position.

Another big issue for me was always the privatization push. Now that I’ve been involved with the Newark Students Union for so long, it’s really clear that this is about money. There’s no doubt in my mind that nothing in the world isn’t about money.

So the fact that New Orleans has zero public schools open at the moment — that’s disaster capitalism. Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, once said the best thing to ever happen to New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. The fact that people died, and people’s houses were lost, and now there’s for-profit charter schools in the region — it’s sad. It makes me angry, and it should make me angry. And I think the biggest part of getting people involved is making them angry, because if you’re mad, you’re not gonna just sit back and let something happen, especially when it’s gonna happen to us some day.

 

Andaiye: Aliyyah let’s talk about tactics. How do approach the problems and get solutions? What actions do you take?

Aliyyah: We hand out flyers, try to get more students involved. A bunch of students in the city don’t know about what’s going on. They’re just oblivious, and they’re accepting the fact that Cami Anderson is trying to close their schools, but they don’t know why it’s happening, and they don’t know what they need to do to stop it.

So we just hype it up; we try to get them involved. Last year we had two walkouts.

 

Andaiye: What is the council working on at the moment?

Aliyyah: We’re working on a youth summit and a youth town hall meeting. For the youth town hall, we’re trying to get students to come so they can voice out what they need to voice out, because the adults are the main ones talking. The adults are the main ones creating the rules that they expect the kids to follow. The kids don’t really have a voice within the community, so I became a part of the youth council so I can voice those opinions, because I am a youth myself working for a better city.

Kristin: The youth town hall is about surveying the youth and finding out what we have to do. There’s a difference between organizing for someone and organizing with someone. We can’t assume that we know all the issues in Newark. We have to really get out there and get the most diverse crowd possible and find out all of the issues that are going on. And the youth town hall is really just a starting point.

And then for our term, the ending point would be – the goal – is to have a youth summit. I guess the main goal for us is to get as many people involved in the youth summit as possible. We also plan on having a film festival. We’re really trying to engage students on multiple levels.

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Newark youth council members out in the community. Photograph courtesy Linda Jumah.

Andaiye: How do you also engage adults and policymakers? How do take your recommendations and make something of them?

Shakira: We’re making them become resources. We want them to become major resources for youth. We want them to become more engaged with youth. We don’t want to say that they’re not engaged [now], but we want them more engaged as far as putting opportunities out there for youth.

I say this many times: we need mentoring programs for students who want to be firefighters, or youth that want to be policemen, hairdressers. Any type of profession that you can think of, we’re putting resources toward engaging those professionals.

Mahogany: And also for the youth town hall meetings, we’ll take suggestions from the youth in the crowd about what they want in the community. And like Shakira said, those adults are a part of our panel of resources. It’s not like we’re just discussing what we want the change, it’s [also] the actions for how we’re gonna get it to change.

When these panelists come, they will hear what the youth are saying, but they’re also jotting down, “What can I do? What can my job title – me as a person – do to help these kids?” I think that most of the time adults feel that for the youth, they’re not — I don’t think they take us that seriously if I’m gonna be honest. I feel that most of the adults feel like “[It’s nice] they’re doing the youth council thing,” but I feel like they think that it’s just a short term kind of thing. We want them to see it as a long-term project.

Jessiah: This is our first year establishing the youth council. We’re the people that are gonna set the rules and the outline for everybody else. With the youth town hall, it’s about getting ideas, because each event piggybacks off [of] the rest.

 

Andaiye: I’m curious about whether you pay attention to how Newark is portrayed and written about. What is your perspective on that?

Jessiah: Oh my god, you asked the perfect person.

I go to Seton Hall University. The first thing we are taught is not to go to Newark. I am so serious. I’m like – as soon as I went there we had a floor meeting, and they were saying, “There’s a lot of robberies going on.” And the funny thing is a robbery did happen, but that was in Orange. Yet the people that did it I guess were from Newark, and now it’s like, “Don’t make that right, go left. If you value your life, don’t go right.” I was like, “What?!”

Especially on the weekends, there’ll be parties on Thursdays and Fridays. I was with this bunch that wanted to go to this party, and this girl said to me, she was like, “The party’s going to be in Newark.” She honestly said. “I’m putting my life in your hands.”

I looked at her like, “Chill out.”

Mahogany: Also when we even went to 106 and Park to show the public what we’re about, there was a man that was outside who saw us coming out the van, and he saw that we were from Newark. When I first heard him talk about us I thought he was joking. But then afterwards, I thought he was kinda serious. He was like, “Oh ya’ll come from Newark. I gotta make sure we have security”.

Jessiah: Really. That’s what he said.

Mahogany: He was also talking about stereotypes that he heard and stuff like that. And women that he had dated from Newark and how they weren’t successful.

Most of the stuff that I hear from Newark is basically about the violence. And yeah, some parts of it is true – I’m going to be honest – but at the same time, we have a lot of other stuff that is really making the progress for Newark.

When he was talking, I was getting kinda angry because he kept on talking about Newark in a bad light. I’m like ok, you’re from New York, you’re right next to New Jersey, so you also have some crime that goes on in your community. It’s not like you’re perfect, because you’re not. In that moment I kind of felt like we as a youth council need to take the initiative. That we need to change Newark and change what everybody thinks Newark is.

Jessiah: Yeah. They said we’re the unfriendliest city.

Kristen: In the world apparently. I’ve definitely seen it firsthand. For the first walkout there was an article posted up on NJ.com. And people…it was the most disheartening thing I’ve ever read in my life I think.

 

Andaiye: The comments?

Kristen: The comments. Newark is a cesspool full of minorities who are scum. And that it’s just full of prostitutes, and all these negative things. And it really hurts because we try our best, and we’re really working to make Newark a better place, but we’re always gonna have to work against everything.

We have the potential to be great, as everyone in the city does. Collectively, we can do it, and it’s really about making it better not only for ourselves, but for future generations. Making Newark the international city that we know it can be.

We have so many resources in this city. We have the college campuses. There are high schools that are thriving. We have the port. We have to start using the resources that are around us.

Mahogany: Also to add to the resources, I feel like a lot of outsiders use our resources, so in a way they’re all saying stuff that they want to stay about Newark, but then you still come into the community.

Shakira: Yeah…

Kristin: Yeah…

Mahogany: I feel like people left during the time when people were going through a hardship, but now that Newark is coming up, they think it’s easy to come back again. But the people who stayed the entire time — they don’t get that recognition. They don’t get that acknowledgement. I feel that it should be spoken about, and I think that it’s not fair.


newark youth town hall

 

 

In entrepreneurial milestone, Jersey City candlemaker Wax Kandy earns shelf space at Newark-based bath and body shop

Pictured above: Wax Kandy for Pooka Pure & Simple. Photo credit: Nandi Christina

Jersey City native Kimberly Sumpter recently came in second place in Rising Tide Capital’s Start Something Challenge (disclosure: the author was a judge for the pitch competition). Just over two months later, she’s reached a milestone in the life of her business: her scented candles are now available at Pooka Pure & Simple on Halsey Street in Newark.

I asked Kimberly about her business and how she came to get her products on shelves.

 

Andaiye Taylor: What is Wax Kandy?

Kimberly Sumter: Wax Kandy is a line of scented and photo keepsake candles manufactured in Jersey City. I’ve been making the candles for five years, but have considered this a business just within the last year.

The line that’ll be in Pooka is the line of scented candles. They’re 100% soy based, so it’s an eco-friendly option for those that like burning candles. These also have aromatherapy properties.

 

ART: Why did you select this particular product to sell at Pooka Pure & Simple?

Kimberly Sumter: I selected that candle because of the types of products Pooka is selling, which include natural skin and body products. I wanted to make sure the line of candles I’m bringing to her store made sense for her brand.

 

ART: And how did your line come to be in Pooka? How did the deal happen?

KS: Actually its funny, because prior to Start Something, I sent Dawn a message on Facebook just to ask her if she planned on carrying candles in the store, and how I’d go about getting my candles carried there [if so]. I was aware that the person she had in the store at the time was no longer manufacturing candles.

She responded back very quickly and told me that she was interested, and said to send a wholesale package. When she said that to me I was a bit afraid, because I actually didn’t have wholesale packages.

But that was around when the Start Something Challenge happened. When I came home the night that I [placed in] the contest, she’d actually sent another message saying she’d love to get my candles in the store, and that she wanted to talk to me.

A week or two later we sat down and met, and I just loved her. I was ready to give a big pitch, but in the end that wasn’t necessary. She embraced me and basically wanted the products on the spot, and she even gave me business advice, which I thought was really awesome. I went home and started creating candles for the scents she liked, created new packaging, and now they’re on the shelves.

 

ART: When did Pooka officially start selling your candles?

KS: Dawn put them on the shelves last week. I was in contact with her this past Friday to see how everything was going. She said, “I think these are going to be really good.” They’ve been selling.

 

ART: Where does this rank for you in terms of your business objectives? Do you consider this a major milestone?

This is definitely a milestone for many reasons, the first being that Dawn is somebody I really look up to in this industry. I knew about her company. I knew she was one of the people I wanted to approach to have a retail location for Wax Kandy. The timing was just perfect when it all came together.

This was the biggest milestone because I’ve heard her on Michael Baisden and seen her on the cover of Black Enterprise, and on national and local television. Her dream was so similar to mine: at home, in the kitchen, having a love and a need for a product and creating it. She was kind of like my friend in my head, and she never even knew that.

 

ART: What’s your next move?

KS: Right now I’m being very selective and trying to choose the right retail partners, because realistically I’m still at a starting point. I can’t afford my own storefront at this point.

[Ultimately] I’m looking to have a business in Jersey City, where I was born and raised, because being in my community is very important to me. So for the next year, having great retail partners is the goal. That’ll help me see how I’m doing and help me figure out where I should go with this next.


Wax Kandy scented candles are available for sale at Pooka Pure & Simple, 87 Halsey St, Newark, NJ

Contact Kimberly and Wax Kandy:

 

Newark high school students selected for London trip. Now, organizer looks to rally Newarkers to get the group across the pond

This summer, Newark native and travel consultant Madeline Boughton announced that she’d be launching an application for six Newark high school students to travel to London for an “immersive learning excursion”, a campaign she hopes will turn the students into global citizens and lifelong travelers. As part of her Newark-based Traveling Mad consultancy, Boughton extols the benefits of international travel to youth in and around Newark.

Boughton has now selected the six high school students and kicked off the fundraising phase of her initiative. On Tuesday, she hosted a benefit reception at Newark’s Studio58 in honor of the six students. But Boughton says the vast majority of the $25,000 needed to fund the trip will come from donations from Newarkers themselves, who she hopes to marshal through her recently launched Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.

The six selected students are Amanda Dominguez and Karla Perez Estrella from Barringer STEAM, Adrian Morquecho and Joshua Skillern from Technology High School, Brianna Wilson from Shabazz High School, and Tamaj Nicholson from North 13th Street Tech. As a group, the students boast a litany of honors and recognition for academics and extracurricular activities. Among them is a National Honor Society member, Rutgers Future Scholar, NJIT Upward Bound student, a poet, an avid skateboarder and BMX biker, and a number of student government leaders and student-athletes.

In the campaign video, which features the selected students themselves, Boughton says, “When I was in high school, I wish I was given an opportunity such as this, but no one spoke to me about studying abroad,” and later adds that while she is “not the first Newarker who has traveled abroad,” the goal of the trip is to make sure more young Newarkers can do the same.

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Madeline Boughton poses with four of the six Newark high school students selected for the London trip.

Dean and Director of Operations at England’s Wroxton College, where the students will be staying for the first leg of their trip, voiced over a section of the video, saying, “I’m delighted [Boughton] created this trip to give such a great opportunity to high school students from Newark. I very much look forward to having Madeline and her group here at Wroxton.”

Boughton has partnered with the Mayor’s Office of International Relations and Diaspora Affairs (MOIRDA), the Believe in Newark Foundation, Newark Social, and EMQ Networks on the project. Deputy mayor of MOIRDA Ugo Nwaokoro said the trip “is in line with Mayor Ras J. Baraka’s vision of exposing Newark youth to other cultures and countries.”

A list of the activities included in the trip is below. The crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for the trip closes on December 1.

Total cost for 8 people, 1 week: $25,000

  • Airfare & baggage fees, EWR to LHR: $8,200
  • Hotel fees for 1 week: $6,843
  • Educational & tourist activities: $1,752
  • Transportation: $2,800
  • Meals: $2,400
  • Travel Insurance $500
  • Emergency and miscellaneous $1,000