Brick City Makers: Todd Nakamura builds bridge to Google from Newark

Brick City Makers is a weekly look at people building businesses in Newark at coworking spaces, in incubators, and on their own. Above: Todd Nakamura, second from left, and other participants at GDG North Jersey's Google I/O Extended event at Montclair State University, June 2014. Source:

If you ever check out the third-floor walkup space at Seed Gallery where the month-old pop-up coworking space, Converge, has taken up residence on Thursdays, chances are you’ll see Todd Nakamura working and interacting with other entrepreneurs.

Nakamura, 36, graduated from Rutgers in the class of 2000, after studying mechanical engineering. But instead of taking a job in that field, he landed at NovaSoft Information Technology, which trained its employes to become web consultants.

“I just jumped into it,” said Nakamura. “I loved it from the beginning and I haven’t looked back.”

Eventually, Nakamura joined different meetup groups, and met other people with the same passions he had. It was one of those groups that led him to Converge. The Boonton Township native first learned of Converge space through the Brick City Tech Meetup, which was promoting the grand opening of Converge back in May. He cites the “family"-like atmosphere at Converge as one of the many reasons he tries to make regular visits to the area.  

“Since the first time I came here, I was just completely sold on it,” said Nakamura. “Every time I come here I meet amazing people who are bringing new ideas, talking about different events, and everyone is really helping each other out.”

Some of those new people have gone on to join Nakamura’s new GDG North Jersey. GDG stands for "Google Developer Group", which is a global Google program which, in the words of Nakamura, “gathers developers who want to push innovation forward,” using Google technology. Responsibilities of a GDG branch include organizing discussions about technology, participating in various Google conferences, and even providing Google with feedback after testing technologies not yet available to the public.  

GDG North Jersey is New Jersey’s newest chapter of GDG, and the only active chapter in the state currently listed on Google’s site.  Nakamura founded it on June 5th of this year, after beginning the thorough application process just five days earlier.

“It was a fairly lengthy process,” said Nakamura, “they wanted to make sure you’re really into it and are going to be proactive.”

It’s safe to say Google made the right choice in approving Nakamura’s application, as the group has certainly been “proactive.” Just three days after GDG North Jersey’s creation, Nakamura and his 40 members were already steadfast in bringing a sanctioned Google I/O Extended event to New Jersey. The event was a satellite extension of the Google I/O conference held annually in San Francisco. The I/O conference focuses on displaying advancements in Google’s software and technology.

Nakamura’s persistence eventually paid off, as just two and a half weeks later, he was able to host the Google I/O Extended event at Montclair State University on June 25th. “I was very happy with how it turned out,” said Nakamura, with a look of pride and accomplishment. “The whole community rallied around the event.”

Despite being created just over a month ago, GDG North Jersey now consists of nearly 200 members. Nakamura claims the group has received good traction mostly because “new technology is universally appealing.” That is why anyone can join GDG North Jersey. “Just sign up,” said Nakamura. “We’re inclusive of anybody, and we’re not selective.”

Even in light of the early success of GDG North Jersey, Nakamura doesn’t intend to slow things down. He and 52 of his members have already made plans to attend one of the local stops of Google’s Cloud Platform Developer Roadshow at the so-called "Googleplex", the nickname for the company's offices, located in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. “It’s a chance to not only learn, but also network with the actual Google engineers,” said Nakamura, who also plans to take GDG North Jersey on the road and conduct “mini I/O conferences” in different areas.

One of those conferences might even end up taking place at Converge, where GDG North Jersey is currently trying coordinate a joint event with other meet-up organizations like Brick City Tech and Rutgers Business School's Scarlet Startups meetup. “I just love this place,” said Nakamura. “It’s definitely worthwhile coming to Converge, and if I do host an event, here I would hope to bring 40 to 50 members of GDG.”

In addition to GDG North Jersey, Nakamura is also the founder of NJ Cloud Architects, operates his own site called One Cloud Architects, and is an assistant organizer with Launch NJ. “It’s just all about the community,” said Nakamura about Converge. “The response from them is inspiring, and I draw energy from that, and I hope to give just as much energy back to those people."

Newark Tales: The bakers of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

The ladies at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel are baking again – which means only one thing: the annual feast is just around the corner.

Catherine Pannullo, a retired school cafeteria cook and a member of the parish for all of her 80 years, was in her glory last Wednesday afternoon, putting a batch of chocolate chip cookies into the oven in eager anticipation of the 124th annual Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel which runs from July 16 through 20 at the Oliver Street church in Newark’s Ironbound.

The street festival that is part of the celebration will run from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on each of those days.

It’s a tradition Catherine knows well: for the last 20 years, she and her friend, Fran Campbell, 77, the secretary at the nearby Oliver Street Elementary School, have been in charge of making the goodies – from the biscotti to the perfectly textured meat balls – that are cooked from scratch and then sold during the street festival.

Every day, for the two weeks prior to the feast, they can be found here in the kitchen of the church rectory, 259 Oliver St., enjoying each other’s company as they roll out the dough and make sure the meat balls don’t get overcooked on the rectory’s six-burner stove.  

Fortunately, the kitchen is cool, thanks to the air conditioning, and there’s help. Don, Fran’s husband and ace bargain hunter, is the designated shopper and gravy (sauce) maker. And this year, they also have a self-described apprentice, Lizett Acosta, 42, and Lizett’s 8-year-old daughter, Izabela, who is rewarded for her efforts with cookie dough.

Last Wednesday, as the evidence of a hard day’s work could be seen the overflowing trays of scrumptious-looking anise cookies cooling on the tables and waiting to be glazed and sprinkled, Catherine and Fran ticked off just some of the ingredients on Don’s massive shopping list: 45 dozen eggs,  80 pounds of chopped meat for the meatballs, 28 pounds of almond paste for the pignoli cookies and God knows how much sugar and flour for everything from the pepperoni-filled pretzels to the aforementioned chocolate chip cookies. (By the way: last Wednesday's round of baking consumed 60 pounds of flour.)

By then, it was almost 5 o’clock, and they had been working since 9 a.m.  Everyone was looking forward to ending the day with the 7 p.m. novena in honor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.

Next week, during feast week, the hours will be even longer. “Forget about it – next week we’ll be here til it closes,’’ Catherine said.

When all’s said and done, quitting time will be one o’clock in the morning.


New biz on the block: Acclaimed ‘Pooka’ bath and body brand opens on Halsey

The north end of Halsey Street just added another retail business to its growing roster of shops for every taste and need.

Meet Pooka Pure and Simple. The bath and body shop, launched and run full-time by entrepreneur and former graphic designer Dawn Fitch (and with help from her three partners: Donna Lynn, Tricia Akinwande, and April Mathis) sells handmade body products, including oils, body sprays, soaps, and scrubs.

The pleasingly fragrant, well-appointed store at 87 Halsey Street looks like something out of a Pier1 catalog, with baskets and stands displaying the shop’s custom fragrances.

Fitch herself is a friendly and gregarious owner, a useful trait since in addition to selling products, Pooka will also offer events and activities, including “Lunch Xpress Workshops”, where patrons can make their own scrubs and other products.

“I really want this to be an interactive experience,” she said, adding that she’ll create a kitchen setup in the shop’s window, where they’ll make scrubs and other daily specials from fresh ingredients. Interns from Rutgers University will engage with customers by handing out samples on Halsey Street.

Fitch plans for so much interactivity, in fact, that some of her customer engagement will take place well outside of the store. Pooka used to be located in Orange, at a retail space Fitch described as “beautiful, but there was way too little foot traffic.” When a realtor suggested she move to Newark, she hesitated. That is, until she visited Halsey Street and saw the new Prudential tower rising out of the ground. “I thought, maybe we do need to come to Newark,” she said with a chuckle.

But she was determined not to be satisfied with the built-in increase in foot traffic the move would bring. “I thought, ‘In order to maximize what we’re doing, we can’t wait. We’ve got to get in those buildings: into Prudential, into Blue Cross,'” she explained, describing some of the larger office buildings in the area. Fitch foresees offering workshops inside the companies, and will also be offering a “Gifts to Go” service targeted to professionals.

And for those customers who want to come to her, Fitch has been thoughtful about catering to the needs of the Halsey Street shopper: she’ll be offering curbside pickup services so customers don’t have to worry about parking. (Additionally, like other Halsey Street businesses, Pooka shoppers can also get free parking at nearby Edison parking lots.)

Penetrating nearby companies won’t be an unfamiliar task: Fitch actually grew her business in large part by taking her Pooka products to expos and companies, including Horizon Blue Cross downtown Newark.

She got her start 14 years ago in her kitchen, after a health scare motivated her to live a healthier lifestyle. A self-proclaimed “bath and body junky”, Fitch applied the same discerning eye to her bath product labels that she’d already started using with her food, and soon began creating bath products with natural ingredients after seeing what companies used in more common products. She used her graphic design skills to design a label for the products. The name “Pooka” derived from “Pookalitas”, a pet name from her mother.

Soon, her apartment became overrun with products, and her creations became so popular among her friends that they encouraged her to try selling them at the African American Festival at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel. Fitch figured she could kill two birds with one stone: “appease my friends, and sell enough stuff to buy shoes,” she said. But when she sold out of Pooka products, Fitch realized that she had a business.

“I like to say we started chasing the business,” she said. “It found me, and then it started running. I was the one who had to catch up.” Fitch was able to get her products into Whole Foods, but continued to bootstrap her business by vending all over the country. Her business acumen and social media savvy landed her and Pooka on the cover of Black Enterprise in 2012.

Now she’s bringing both her popular brand and thoughtful approach to business down to Halsey Street where, even with the temporary frustrations brought about by Prudential construction, there is a sense of activist business ownership and community. Fitch said she’s excited to be a part of it.

“It’s like a family down here,” she said. “I’m already at the point where I’m walking down the street and waving left and right.”

As if to prove her point, her business neighbor from Lenny’s Nutrition Center stopped in to give the shop a look a few minutes later. “Very nice,” he said with an impressed nod of approval.

Hark! On an early summer night, Shakespeare in a Newark park


Stroll past the people playing table tennis and dodge children chasing each other on scooters, and a Newark parkgoer could witness yet another novel sight in the city's newly renovated Military Park.

It was the Next Stage Ensemble, acting William Shakespeare's comedy "A Midsummer Night's Dream", and their captive audience, lounging in park-issued chairs, their own lounge chairs, and on blankets.




The Next Stage Ensemble, a program of the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, put on an hourlong version of the much longer play on the park's north lawn. While Shakespeare in the park is a time-honored summer tradition in New York City, Newarkers and other visitors got to experience the English bard's play on a near-perfect summer evening without crossing the Hudson.

The diverse audience was actively engaged with the play, frequently laughing as the story built to its crescendo. And the nine-person acting company was itself the picture of energy and adaptability: they contended with the sounds of the city, managed their own frequent costume changes, and changed out the set themselves, all while bringing the audience into the play's plot.




"We knew this was an outdoor space in Newark, but we didn't quite know the exact location," said one of the actors during an audience question and answer session after the play. "We were like, 'Alright, here we go. It's gonna be a challenge,'" he said.

But even more notable than the challenge of staging a play in an outdoor city environment was the availability of a fun, free, family-friendly cultural experience in a lovely public space here in town. "I've been studying Shakespeare since I was a young kid," said Jah Jah Shakur, a professor at Essex County College, "so to see that in downtown Newrk, here in Military Park, was fascinating."




After the play was over, patrons of a nearby bar were themselves fascinated to hear what they'd just missed. "I love it," said one patron, "Newark needs a lot more stuff like this. You don't always want to go to Manhattan to get some culture," she said.

"I'd love to see something like this in Weequahic Park," she continued.

Military Park features daily programming that includes, games, fitness, and poetry.  For a full schedule of Military Park activities, visit the calendar on the park's website.



Not just a ‘supporting role’: Let’s place real value on fathers


On June 15th, our country will celebrate Father’s Day, as we have every third Sunday in June since the holiday was proclaimed in 1910.

But times have changed since the turn of the 20th century, especially when it comes to the structure of families in America. Given the sharp rise in fatherless homes, it may be time to reconsider the relevance of the holiday, and the importance of not only recognizing, but also actually promoting the active, loving and supportive involvement of fathers in their children’s lives.

Whether through the media and popular culture, or as a result of direct experience, the value we place on the role of the father in today’s society has diminished, and there is an unconscious yet commonly held assumption that fathers today are in some way less essential than mothers.

For instance, few would question the fact that, according to the National Retail Federation, consumers were expected to spend a total of 9.8 billion on Father’s Day in 2012—a third less than the 14.6 billion spent on Mother’s Day, which comes second in spending only to Christmas.  

But in our consumerist culture, this disparity in spending is indicative of a difference in the father’s role within the home. And the fact that we fail to question it shows just how accepted the peripheral role of the father has become.

This cultural presumption is even more pronounced in African American and minority communities. According to a 2008 article in Newsweek, “the engaged black father is an elusive character in popular culture.” This absence has become the status quo—both the lack of a healthy representation of black fathers, and the predominance of negative stereotypes propagated by programs like the Maury Show, remain unquestioned.

That is not to say that these representations have no basis in reality. The stark truth is that 63% of African American children live away from their fathers, almost twice that of the general population. If we do the math, neither black children nor the general population are faring very well when it comes to access to two-parent households.

But that is only half of the story. The idea that a father’s role is in any way unessential is entirely disproven by the research. In fact, statistics clearly and consistently show that the price for a father’s absence is tragically high. For example, 85% of youth in prison, 71% of high school drop outs, and 90% of homeless and runaway children come from fatherless homes. 

And that is not all: 85% of children with behavioral disorders, 63% of teen suicides, 80% of rapists with anger problems, and 71% of pregnant teenagers grew up without a father figure. 

Even those fathers that are present in their children’s lives must contend with a strong cultural emphasis on providing financial rather than physical, emotional or spiritual support. Consider our country’s harsh child support laws, which focus entirely on financial mandates and offer very little to encourage a father’s active presence in his child’s life.

Research shows that this heavy financial focus can actually deter fathers who, due to lack of employment or job skills, are unable to fulfill the role of “breadwinner.” If “the provider” is the definition of a good father, and one cannot live up to that standard, a sense of discouragement and helplessness often follows.

Fortunately, we have already seen a subtle shift in attitudes about fatherhood.  According to a 2010 New York Times article, the struggle for fathers to balance work and home life has become more and more pronounced over the years, indicating a greater emphasis on physical involvement with their children. 

But that is not enough — there is an incredible stress that many fathers feel as they attempt to navigate the regulators who are not embracing a middle-road strategy. Whereas across the pond, fathers are allowed weeks if not months of paternity leave, most here in America either use already limited vacation and sick days, or are unable to spend any time at home after the birth of their child.

Given the statistics on outcomes for children from fatherless homes, we can now confidently advocate for the fact that the role of the father is crucial to a child’s well being and future success.  

In order for a shift to occur, we must first recognize and then begin to question our assumptions regarding fatherhood. So much has changed in the century since the origination of Father’s Day — it is time that we revisit our cultural expectations about fatherhood and come together as a society to actively nurture and advocate for the profound relationship between father and child.

To have your own op-ed considered for publication on, email

The Traveler’s Newark: North Carolina-based acoustic artist Alex Christie plays Taste Venue [video]

They built it. Will you come? Planners of reimagined Military Park planted lots of flowers. Now they want to plant people.

Pictured above: The “Wars of America” statue at Military Park on the eve of the park’s “soft opening”. The statue is by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who also created Mount Rushmore. Photo by Andaiye Taylor

As of this morning, the fences around historic Military Park were whisked away on a flatbed truck, and the “soft” opening of the refurbished park, so named because of its use as a pre-Revolutionary to Civil War-era military training ground, is officially underway. The official ribbon cutting will take place on June 13th.

Newark residents, nearby office workers, and visitors will be treated to a redesigned park that offers well-manicured lawns, newly planted trees, colorful flowers, and a subtly reconfigured layout. But according to George Roberts, director of programming and events for the park’s developer and operator, the Military Park Partnership (MPP), the most exciting new feature of the park won’t be the flora. It’ll be you.

pathway canon

Designers changed the layout in subtle but meaningful ways to create a more people-friendly park. Above, more space for portable chairs, made possible by repositioning trees from the middle of the walkway closer to the street. Photo by Andaiye Taylor

“We’re excited about the redesign,” said Roberts, as he gave me a walking tour of the park on the eve of its soft launch. “But where we really excel is with programming. We’re even more excited about that.” Free public activities will begin this coming Monday, May 19th.

Peopling the park is the top priority for MPP, as they look to make it a locus of year-round daily activity. Its operators envision an active, engaging public space with activities occuring end-to-end.

What can visitors expect? The northmost lawn will host an eight-week outdoor movie series that will begin in July, and also be the site of live music performances. The verbally inclined can sign up for poetry open mics, as well. The first one is scheduled for May 21st. And those who crave locally sourced produce can take heart: the park will host farmers’ markets.

There will be fitness programming, including Zumba, workouts with Newark newcomer Mad Cool Fitness, yoga with Newark Yoga Movement, tai chi with Kazi, and collaborations with the nearby YMCA. Visitors can also hone their ping pong skills, and face off with other enthusiasts in a ping pong tournament to be hosted by MPP on May 23rd.

ping pong

Workers assemble ping pong tables on the north lawn of Military Park on the eve of its soft launch. Photo by Andaiye Taylor

The Newark Chess Club, a mentoring non-profit that teaches chess to Newark youth ages 10 to 13, will be on hand for chess instruction, and visitors can look forward to chess and board game tournaments in the park.

And same as midtown Manhattan’s Bryant Park which, like the redesigned Military Park, was conceived and developed by Biederman Development Ventures, the park will offer an outdoor reading room. The MPP purchased books from used book sales.

There will be plenty of opportunties for kids to connect with the park, as well. They include arts and crafts sessions and “Imagination Playground”, which will enable kids to create their own play environments using large, portable cubes.

“There are lots of programs around here that serve kids,” Roberts explained, citing programs that draw nearly 50,000 children a year to nearby NJPAC alone as one example. Newark Public Library and Newark Museum are both within walking distance of the park, and the proximity can be a great marketing opportunity to get out the word to parents about kid-friendly activities in the park.

The emphasis on using diverse programming and partnerships with community organizations and small businesses to activate the park puts Military Park on “a short list of parks around the world,” according to Roberts, whose mission is to be a truly accessible and user-friendly public space.

The park looks to attract both residents and nearby workers (there are a number of office towers in the immediate circumference around the park). MPP is also working with the New Jersey Historical Society and the Greater Newark Visitor’s Bureau, both conveniently located directly across the street from the park, to offer history tours – the first one is May 23rd – and other park-based experiences.

The park will also play host to BURG: Jersey Burgers & Taps, a new restaurant from chef Chris Siversen that will offer burgers, salads, local craft beer, wine and other fare seven days a week, starting later this summer. The hope is that the restaurant will both draw a consistent happy hour crowd out to the park, and help sustain a weekend crowd.


Workers continue construction on the site of the first-ever restaurant in Military Park. The space will be inhabited by BURG: Jersey Burgers & Taps. Photo by Andaiye Taylor

In fact, the park could add a new, more vibrant dimension to the whole of downtown Newark. Notwithstanding its burgeoning, but still small, residential population, the handful of business that remain open and their customers, and weekend commuters, weekend foot traffic downtown is still notoriously low.

Roberts said that parks generally draw a significant share of their traffic from people who live, work, or otherwise happen to be present within a half-mile radius. As a result, drawing out residents from Eleven80, the high-rise apartment just across the street from the park, and other nearby residents would be key to establishing it as a weekend draw, since they’re already within that key radius on weekends.


Eleven80, a residential high-rise, and the National Newark Building, a commercial highrise, are across the street from Military Park. The park is looking to draw Newarkers from all over the city, but nearby residents and workers can be a reliable source of nearby repeat visitors. Photo by Andaiye Taylor

The MPP is a public-private partnership created by Prudential, the City of Newark, and the MCJ Amelior Foundation, which was founded by Newark native and philanthropist Ray Chambers. While the city assisted with capital improvements in the park, it won’t fund programming and other ongoing operations.

Its redevelopment has been a bit of an odyssey. After original approval in 2004, the park lost funding in 2009. Today’s soft launch is the result of the project’s 2011 reprisal.

Military Park will operate year-round, though it anticipates that activity will slow down in the winter. Its keepers will make seasonal changes to the park’s accoutrements, such as sparkling lights during the holiday season. MPP will employ groundskeepers and 24/7 security to maintain the park for visitors.

The park’s visitors can also expect wi-fi – “a strong, sustained wi-fi connection”, Roberts emphasized – in the coming months. It will also eventually host vendors, similar to the vendors that dot the perimeter of Bryant Park during their holiday marketplace.

More details about the park are available on its website (

Newark-area entrepreneurs to ‘Converge’ on new pop-up coworking space downtown

Pictured above: Entrepreneurs work on business ideas at Lean Startup Newark, which took place last fall at SEED Gallery

Starting May 29 and continuing each Thursday this summer, entrepreneurs in and around Newark will be able to work on their businesses and collaborate with like minds at a new pop-up coworking space at SEED Gallery downtown Newark. The space, to be called "Converge", will be open from 9am to 10pm Thursdays, and is free for entrepreneurs. It will be able to accomodate up to 30 people.

Coworking spaces like The Alley, The Fueled Collective, We Work Labs, and Projective Space have been taking off in New York and other cities around the country for a number of years now. The goal of the spaces is not only to provide entrepreneurs with a physical place to build their companies, but also to allow them to meet each other, trade on each other's energy, share knowledge, and possibly partner on projects.

The pop-up coworking space at SEED Gallery can be seen as a pilot run to test whether there is enough demand to sustain a more permanent space downtown. SEED Gallery was the site of Lean Startup Newark, a three-day startup workshop that attracted a couple dozen aspiring entrepreneurs from throughout the region. A permanent coworking space to launch in historic Lincoln Park is also in the works. Named =Space, it will be tricked out with wiring and renovations in time to receive the entrepreneurs who will set up shop there. 

In addition to the space itself, Converge will offer free wi-fi, coffee, and events throughout the summer. The space is an initiative of Build in Brick City, which is itself an initiative of Brick City Development Corporation (BCDC), and is being underwritten by both BCDC and Capital One. A launch party celebrating the launch of the space will be held May 29 from 6pm to 8pm.

More information about the space can be found at its website,

Walkabout: Scenes of life and culture from the Ironbound

Pictured above: A woman grins outside Peter Francisco Park, near Penn Station.


The Ironbound is a locus of Portuguese culture in Newark. This photo series explores scenes from daily life in the culture, including many photographs of the religious iconography that can be found there. All photos by Caroline Ballard.


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The Ironbound Station Plaza at the entrance to the Ironbound District in Newark.


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Phil the fishman holds up fresh octopus – or polvo – in the local fishmarket.


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Pasteis de Natas fill the display case at Alvaro's Bakery. The custard-filled pastry is a national delicacy in Portugal.


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Ligia Borges works behind the counter at Alvaro's bakery in the Ironbound District.


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St. Stephens Church was built in 1874 for a German-speaking congregation. Now it services English and Portuguese parishioners.


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Religious pendants like these are found in many storefronts in the Ironbound District. Catholic iconography is prevalent in Portuguese culture.
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A figurine of the pope stands next to a lion mascot of the Portuguese soccer team Sporting. Catholicism and Soccer are deeply rooted in Portuguese identity. 

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Azulejo tiles adorn the Teixeira Bakery's walls in the Ironbound. The traditional blue-glazed tiles can be found on churches, palaces, and government buildings, in Portugal.

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Our Lady of Fatima, the community's Roman Catholic parish.


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Entrance to the community's Roman Catholic parish, Our Lady of Fatima.



Fish for sale at an Ironbound market.


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A garbage truck shuttles down Ferry Street as a bird swoops in to photobomb the foreground.

Anatomy of a great day in Newark: The Unusual Suspects

The invitation called for Newark-area men and spectators to show up to the Essex County Hall of Records this past Saturday at 10am for what was billed to be an historic photograph. Jerry Gant had created a public art show in the storefronts of Gallery Aferro and other RBH-owned properties on Market Street. Linda Street had directed the art exhibit. Now, Gant wanted to press the theme of his exhibit, titled The Unusual Suspects, even further.

a gathering of unusual suspects

So he asked black men to assemble on the steps of the hall, and called on Akintola Hanif, founder of Newark-based Hycide Magazine, to shoot the photograph. It would recall Art Kane’s A Great Day in Harlem, the seminal photograph taken on Harlem steps in 1958, and mimmicked countless times all over the country.


On Saturday morning, men of all ages and shades started massing at southeast corner of Market Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard. The men included visual and performing artists, businessmen, politicians, educators, and schoolchildren. I noticed a man who I’d seen walking around downtown Newark – from Penn Station to City Hall – since I was in high school, just passing through the crowd. A half hour later, I looked up and was happy to see him among the men in the photograph. I found out in a conversation with him later that his name is Gary.



Back on the corner, I interviewed about two dozen of the men about why they chose to show up, and what they wanted people to take away from the photograph. They gave a lot of the same answers: they showed up because of loyalty to Jerry Gant. Some said they foresaw that some day, people would back at the photograph and see notable face after notable face among those assembled. Still others said they wanted people to see the diversity in the faces of black men.


As the time approached 11 PM, the group of participants and spectators crossed the street and started gathering on the steps to take the photograph. Gant and Hanif started composing the group on the steps, first as a square block, and then in a “V” shape. A lot of us spectators spent our time halfway in the streets, taking photographs of the scene and dodging cars as they whizzed across Market Street.

great day tableau border

The photo shoot itself took about a half hour, with several stragglers hopping into the carefully composed photograph just in time to make some of the final shots.  About 40 minutes in, a squad car showed up and alerted the organizers that the men needed to move: they hadn’t asked permission to take photographs on the steps. About five minutes later, the police officer came out again and reemphasized the need to shut things down, just as Hanif was wrapping up the shoot.


There were a few mild protests among the men, but I also heard a lot of reasoning: the call to take pictures hadn’t been made. The cop had given them a warning. Some noted the irony that a photo that had been posed for this reason ended because law enforcement forced it.


But mostly, the men just took some additional photos in small groups at the end, and headed down the block to Aferro Gallery for a closing reception of orange juice, orange slices, grapes, and pastries.

great day participants


Corrections: This location of record for this photo shoot was the Essex County Hall of Records, not the Essex County Courthouse, as previously noted. The exhibit is titled “The Unusual Suspects”, not the “Usual Suspects”