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.


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

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.

newark youth council 2

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 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.

group selfie

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



Note to reporters: your Newark clichés are officially played out

There is plenty to report about Newark that is positive and exciting and hopeful. I know because I’ve been personally doing it for four years and counting.

But Newark is also confronted with some of the toughest and most intractable problems a city can face. This has long been a fact of life in our town. Journalists who seek to tell stories about a downtrodden Newark can bring lots of true facts and scores of real and relevant examples to bear on this type of project.

And this is what makes it that much more irritating when reporters pile on by writing off-kilter stories based on their narrow assumptions, or that leverage haphazard reporting. In piece after piece I’ve read about Newark over the years, the same old worn out clichés abound.

As a native and current resident, this habit is at turns amusing, annoying, and maddening. In fact, my frustration with many reporters’ uninformed and dismissive treatment of Newark is one of the primary reasons I founded this site.

The latest illustration of this tendency comes courtesy of a Bloomberg BusinessWeek article about Newark entitled “Baraka Faces Newark’s Challenges in Post-Booker Era.” Embedded in the story is a photograph that depicts the north side of Market Street between Mulberry Street and Broad Street downtown.

market street_bloomberg

The caption: “Downtown, dollar stores and small businesses dominate commercial corridors. Along Market Street vacant storefronts and ‘for lease’ signs are commonplace.” (Emphasis added.)  The photograph and caption are embedded adjacent to a section of the story entitled “Impoverished Community.”

Well it turns out that if the reporter had simply made a quarter turn to the left to get the shot, we would have seen a very different view of that drag of Market Street:

market street development

What’s pictured above are the fruits of a surge in Market Street development that is unfolding directly across the street from the published photograph. In the photo above are the popular restaurant Dinosaur Barbecue; The Columbian, a 22-unit luxury loft apartment building that once sported a lengthy waiting list; The Madison, a second, 48-unit luxury loft apartment building that recently enjoyed its ribbon-cutting; a brand new Chipotle; and the soon-to-open Krauszer’s convenience store, Novelty Burger, Redd’s beer garden (which will be a bilevel, 7,000 square foot space), and brick oven pizza restaurant Mercato Tomato Pie.

It is the construction and “coming soon” signs dotting the block – not “for lease” signs and dollar stores – that have the momentum and are the story on that drag of Market Street. I’ll venture that even a mildly discerning eye could see that.

Reporters: I know it’s not your job to promote Newark. But this city is complicated, fascinating, and textured, and we deserve reporting that doesn’t sand that down.



Dear Ras Baraka: An open letter from a Baraka voter

by Halashon Sianipar

Dear Ras Baraka,

Congratulations on getting elected. I voted for you and I don't regret it — yet. I have high hopes for Newark with you as mayor.

Your administration has made a point of encouraging residents’ input and participation, and that has motivated me to respond with this open letter. I’ve had the opportunity to meet you several times, but have never introduced myself. (I’ve heard you're an introvert. I am too.) After those encounters where I've said nothing, I thought writing this letter would be a more fruitful approach.

I was pretty engrossed with this election; this was the most I’ve ever followed a political race. For years, I was apathetic when it came to politics, but as I've gotten older I've grown to understand how it affects so many aspects of my life: job, health, bills, housing, education – everything. I’ve been trying to pay attention, especially on the local level. For this race, I read all the policy papers and attended a few of the mayoral debates. I also followed it closely in the press. But the more I paid attention, the less I felt like I knew the candidates.

Voting is hard. Honestly, I wasn’t 100% sure who I was voting for until I stepped into the booth and pressed that button. Ultimately, my choice came down to presentation, and I was particularly drawn to your message of collectivism. On one occasion I heard you say, “Leadership is born of time, not ambition.” That really stuck with me.

Based on your post-election moves, I believe you're trying to back up your words of inclusion and collaboration with action. I was impressed with your comprehensive all-volunteer transition team. I even got to interact with a few of them at the community forum in my ward. At mine, we were grouped at tables, answered a set of questions individually, and then discussed our answers as a group. Each table then nominated a speaker to share our conclusions with the room. I can tell you're an educator.

During the campaign, I saw education as your strong suit. I’m convinced the community consensus on Cami Anderson is that she is an ineffective leader. No matter how good her intentions are (and I realize that is debatable as well), she’s failed to be open, transparent, or understanding. Your sustained opposition to One Newark drew me into your camp.

But in spite of my feelings about Anderson, I thought it was fair of Shavar Jeffries to meet with her. There is a sizeable population of Newarkers – several of my friends are among them – that support charter schools, and I didn’t think you sufficiently addressed them. What is your stance? Are you against charter schools? Are you for closing them? What are your thoughts on co-location?

You said we could strengthen our opposition to One Newark by presenting an alternative that included community input. On the 60th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, you endorsed the Newark Promise education plan. Once I read it, I found myself agreeing with everything in it. I love the idea of neighborhood schools being “community hubs” where one can walk in with an issue, at any stage of life, at anytime of day, and explore solutions. That’s beautiful. The plan includes nutritional services, job training, childcare, health care, recreation, social services — the list goes on. Instead of a goal of “100 excellent schools”, Newark Promise aims for “excellent neighborhood schools for all.”

But in spite of my satisfaction with what was in the plan, I thought a proper discussion of charter schools was missing once again – the plan only said that they would be “assessed”. And there weren’t any specifics about how the plan would be funded. Perhaps that level of detail is for another paper, but it would have made the plan feel more tangible.

I also wasn’t as impressed with your crime prevention strategies. I applaud you for working to address violence as a public health issue, and for embracing the federal monitor of the police department, citing the need for reform. I read in the paper that you’re working to put more cops on the street, and have them engage with residents through community policing. Hopefully these kinds of changes can help improve community relations. I’m not very convinced, though.

In your crime plan, I was disappointed to see that you cited anti-loitering laws as among your successes. I think this is particularly baffling since you also want Newark to be an international destination. What would Times Square be without all the people milling around and taking pictures? What would Newark’s reinvented Military Park be without all the people playing and relaxing?

That is what makes a space feel vibrant. Walking down a dark, empty street makes a city feel less safe. The key is to create more active spaces, not less. Society’s perception of loitering is largely, if not entirely, based on the race and/or class of the accused. I was confused that you celebrated policies that, to my mind, encourage profiling.

I also remember when you introduced an ordinance to require small businesses (that catered to fewer than 20 people) to either hire armed guards or close early. Again, this policy can result in one less active space on a street, one less reason to walk or bike home, one less reason to even leave the house. I understand that some of the businesses in our community may look run down or sell unhealthy goods, and that may not be the kind of active space we want to encourage. How about some alternatives? Instead of restrictions, create incentives for them to change their menus or upgrade their appearance. Offer training. Encourage the creation of cooperatives that add value to the community. That sounds more like the vision you have for Newark.

I read in the press about Newark partnering with neighboring cities, and I think it’s a great idea. One article said crime would be the initial focus of those partnerships, but also mentioned plans for other shared services and inter-city engagement between organizations, agencies, and residents. It made me think of the international alliance BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), and the way they’re working collaboratively to counter Western dominance.

I think this initiative has the potential to similarly strengthen urban New Jersey’s political and economic position, and I look forward to seeing it develop. Much like the developing world, urban communities are often forced to look for quick fixes or take whatever aid or development they can get. They often end up fighting over the same investments, which weakens their ability to secure favorable deals. By pooling resources together in a model like BRICS, cities could support each other’s projects and work on more sustainable solutions.

Perhaps a regional master plan could be created to highlight and build upon the strengths of each city. I’ve heard you talk about land banks before. Maybe a multi-city land bank could be beneficial. You also mentioned inter-city basketball games. Maybe that engagement can be developed into multi-city campaigns and standards for affordable housing, living wages, public education, Ban the Box, and more.

I’m no political scientist. I’m no economist. I wasn’t born or raised in Newark. I’m just a resident that loves this city and felt like I should put this out in the atmosphere. I’m Jersey to the core, so I've always considered Newark “The City” — and my city. And I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given, including writing this open letter to you in this forum, to deepen my engagement and investment here.

Maybe next time I'll introduce myself.


P.S. Are you really changing the name of Brick City Development Corporation? I think it's kind of corny that you don't like the name "Brick City." I'm all for cities having multiple nicknames, though.

P.P.S. I first read about you years ago on and he called you “Hip Hop’s First Mayor.” I was just starting to pay attention to politics and that convinced me to attend the National Hip Hop Political Convention here in 2004. Now you’re the “mayor” mayor, but I don't hear you talk about hip-hop anymore. In the article “5 Things You Might Not Know About Ras Baraka”, you spoke about jazz and soul music. What hip-hop do you still bump?

Do you want to pen a letter to the mayor, or sound off on other issues about Newark? Send your perspectives – short or long – to

The Newark Adventure Squad’s mission: Find fun in Brick City

They don't base jump, practice parkour or exact vigilante justice around town. Instead, the Newark Adventure Squad is all about enjoying more everyday exploits in the city.

“There’s good in Newark. A lot of people don’t know about it, but it’s here,” said Jamaal Cobbs. Cobbs is a lifelong Newark resident who attended NJIT for his undergraduate studies. He's worked at a law firm for ten years and often finds time to volunteer at the Newark Bike Exchange on Washington Street.

“I sometimes help out [manager] Ryan Reedell organize bike rides, and one day he was unable to go,” said Cobbs.

It was on that day when Cobbs would go on a bike ride with Sarah Kate Clark, Trino Morgado, and Denis Vidal. During the ride, they talked about creating a group where everyone could keep in touch. The foursome revisited the idea over sushi afterwards.

“We were all just like, 'So let’s get this group idea going. Let’s get it rolling,'” explained Cobbs. “So we tried to figure out a name.”

Eventually someone proposed the name "Newark Adventure Squad". “It sort of just stuck,” said Cobbs. Little did Cobbs know that the Newark Adventure Squad would grow to 15 members the following week, and boasts 51 members a year later.

The group is mostly made of Newark residents, but not all. “Anybody can join if they’re committed and serious about meeting new people, hanging out in Newark, and having some fun,” said Cobbs.

While the Newark Adventure Squad initially focused on bike riding, it has expanded to include the interests of its growing membership, and is even something of an information outlet about things going on in Newark.

“We do different events, parties, game nights, some potlucks, we volunteer, and we’ve gone to some Red Bulls games,” said Cobbs. “Not every member has a bike, so we do different things.”

The Newark Adventure Squad tries to schedule one to two events a month, but some of its members hold smaller events on a much more frequent basis.

The next major event is scheduled for Sunday, September 7. The squad will celebrate its one-year anniversary.

“I’m going to have a party in my backyard for the group,” says Cobbs. “I’m going to do a barbeque and set up a television so people can watch football.”

“We really just try to provide people who come to Newark, who want to have fun in Newark, a way to easily enjoy themselves and not get caught up in all the negativity,” said Cobbs. “Newark isn’t all bad, and they can find out what’s really going on through us and understand that there’s a lot of fun things to do all over Newark.”



A traveler’s Newark: McGovern’s Tavern is an 80-year-old Newark mainstay

McGovern’s Tavern first opened its signature green doors in Newark back in 1936. Nearly 80 years later, the pub continues to reinvent itself while maintaining its storied past.

A new patrons will likely be drawn to the display of helmets hanging from the ceiling. McGovern’s gathered the collection over the past 20 years from former police officers and firefighters who have visited the bar and become part of its extended family.

In fact, family is an important theme at McGovern’s, and the establishment has managed to stay in the family for three generations. Most of its employees are either blood relatives or have been longtime, close family friends.

Bill Scully, who once owned the bar with his wife, Maura, is the uncle of one of the current owners. He is literally the face of McGovern’s, as his visage appears on the tavern’s coasters along with the words “In God We Trust. All Others Pay!,” the slogan he created in the course of his 50-plus years working at the bar.

It’s probably that sense of family that has cemented McGovern’s as a fixture both in Newark and in the extended community. The bar has established fundraisers for people in need, and raised annual scholarship funds for local kids to attend college preparatory high schools. According to its owners, these are just a couple of the ways McGovern’s gives back to the community that has supported them for eight decades.

The Irish pub is known for its burgers, delicious fries, and other freshly prepared menu items, and is lauded for a great pour of Guinness. It’s a place to see for Newark visitors and natives alike who are looking to enjoy a drink, have some food, take in some of the history of Newark, or do all of the above. At McGovern’s, history is present: pictures, signs, and clippings cover the green walls of the bar, providing an ever-present visual link to the past.

But make no mistake: McGovern’s isn’t a museum. Whether it’s the latest sporting event being shown, the sounds of live music performances filling the bar, the latest installment of Trivia Tuesdays, or beer pong night on Thursdays, McGovern’s is all about making the bar as fun and user-friendly as possible.

Despite operating through the Newark riots of the 1960’s, the economic decline of the 70’s and 80’s, and now the development in the surrounding downtown Newark area near McGovern’s, the interior of the Irish pub has seen only subtle changes. The bar has made a few updates to make customers more comfortable, like widening the doors for easier access, adding a projector and screen for viewing sports, and investing in a satellite jukebox to accommodate all of their customers’ musical tastes.

“It’s a place that, if you’re in Newark, you have to see,” says Sean McGovern, one of the current owners of the pub. “We’re an oasis, where you can come in, get away from the daily grind, and meet a variety of different people – whether it’s students, judges, painters, cops, or firemen – and get a real feel for Newark.”

So go down to Washington and New Streets and check out the only bar in New Jersey to make Esquire’s list of the Best Bars in America.

Located at 58-60 New Street, Newark, NJ 07102 | (973) 643-3984 | Hours of Operation: 10am-1am weekdays, 8pm-3am weekends | Happy Hour: 4pm-7pm, weekdays

Newark skate culture descends on Washington Park for Skate BBQ event

On a cloudy Saturday afternoon, skateboarders from Newark and other neighboring areas converged on Washington Park for a Skate BBQ event.

This was the first time such a skateboarding event has been held in Washington Park, and judging by the turnout, skateboarding enthusiasts jumped at the opportunity to display their moves and tricks on the five ramps the organizers set up on Washington Place directly across from the DJ station, and on the numerous ledges all around the park.

“This is the first year an event like this has been in Washington Park,” said Alfred Catalfumo II. “There’s also the Street League event on Sunday at the Prudential, so it really is perfect timing.” Catalfumo is part of Mental Limited Skates, and was at the event representing his skate team and promoting Street League by handing out vouchers for free tickets to Sunday evening’s event. “I’m just here trying to help and take care of some of these kids,” said Catalfumo about the free vouchers.

The ledges on the side of the Christopher Columbus statue were particularly popular, as skaters lined up to showcase their tricks. The Crook Shove It, Five-O Shove It Out, Hard Flip Backside 50-50, and the No Comply 50-50 were just some of the numerous tricks being performed or, in some cases, valiantly attempted. While some skaters were there to just partake in the environment and have some fun, some were actually signed athletes to different teams and brands.

Gilbert, a skateboarder sponsored by Newark-based Score BRX, was one of the skaters who showed up early to the park. He could be seen skating along the ledges near the light rail platform, using his handmade skateboard courtesy of his sponsor. The founder and designer of Score BRX, James Steven Wilson, could be found manning the grill located near the park's Seth Boyden statue. His company sponsors four skaters, and is all about showcasing the skater lifestyle.

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“I created [Score BRX] really as an extension of my artwork,” said Wilson, who is also an art handler, muralist, and tattoo artist, besides being a skater himself. “We provide a high-end skateboard brand that sells products and apparel.” Wilson looked at the Skate BBQ event as a clearly positive sign for the skateboarding community. “Every generation [of skaters] wants the next generation to skate,” he explained. “There’s more to it than people think, it’s about Visualizing and setting goals, overcoming obstacles, implementing mind over matter, being dedicated and willing to put in the time and effort, and just bending the universe to your will.”

One of the driving forces behind bringing the Skate BBQ event to Newark was Dilettante Bass and his comic-centric company, P.B. Soldier, which was originally based off a clothing line. Bass and his business partner Naseed Gifted, both NJIT graduates, said they'd always wanted to bring an event like this to downtown Newark, and that they were able to make it happen thanks to the help of others.

“We had so many partnerships,” said Bass. “People like the Life Lab, they’re here. Brick City Development Corporation helped with the food and water for the kids, and of course we worked with the city of Newark.”

Bass explained that having a skateboarding event in a place like Washington Park was about keeping the kids safe. He hopes that an event like this can help make more Newarkers aware of the growing skateboarding culture and community in the city. “We want to bring a skate park to the downtown area,” said Bass. “Hoboken has one on their waterfront, New York has a bunch of them, hopefully we’ll have one here.”  (City-operated Jesse Allen Park features a skateboarding facility, part of the park's renovation five years ago.)

While downtown Newark may have to wait to have its own skate park, it did have a major skateboarding event this past weekend. Street League Skateboarding's Super Crown World Championship was held at the Prudential Center for its fifth consecutive year. The Skate BBQ's organizers hope their event will get the wheels turning for a more permanent skateboarding facility downtown.

A challenge from a teenaged son. Then a mission to educate and empower Newark youth

Al-Tariq Best is the founder of FP YouthOutCry, a non-profit organization that has been serving Newark's youth and families for more than eight years.

But working intently towards a better future for Newark wasn’t always in this lifelong Newarker's plans. “I was involved with the music business since I was nine years old,” said Best. “I even have an album, mixed and mastered.”

Only Best never released that album. Since 2006, his time has been occupied by his community work. And it all started with a question from his then-14-year-old son.


The Challenge

“I was driving down Bergen Street, me and my sons. I stopped at a light, when three guys started beating on this one guy,” recalled Best. “Then one guy pulls out a gun, and at that point I was just trying to get my sons out of harm’s way, pass the light, and get out of the way.”

Best said he saw a police officer at the next intersection and told him what was happening. The officer made a U-turn in the direction of the scene.

“Once I heard a loud bang, something inside me just exploded,” Best continued.

In the aftermath of that incident, Best said he warned his sons against ending up on the streets of the very city he had defended on multiple occasions.

“I was embarrassed, really. As an adult, as a parent, I was just embarrassed that they actually saw that,” said Best. It was then that Best’s oldest son asked him a question that would change the direction of the former Georgia King Village resident's life.

“He told me, ‘Dad you always talk about being part of the solution and not part of the problem. What are you doing about it?’ And I was stuck,” said Best.

That moment prompted Best to pivot away from music and toward the Newark-based mentoring and education he’s made his life’s work for the past eight years. When he first started, Best said he took everything he knew from the music business and applied it to starting a non-profit organization, despite “not entirely knowing” how to build one.

“I just wanted to help, and I just wanted to serve,” said Best.

He initially wanted to focus his brand new initiative on helping youth, hence the "FP" in its eventual name, which stands for “Future Potential”.

He dived in headfirst, quickly launching FP’s inaugural project. “My first program was MTOL,” said Best. "My Thoughts Out Loud" is a traveling program that provides a forum for youth to express their concerns and challenges. The program's first stop was the Seth Boyden public housing projects, which Best said were referred to as “Death Boyden” at the time because of a string of recent homicides that had taken place there.

Best said he wanted to operate where he could have a real impact. “If you take a light and put it in an already lit room, it doesn’t do much," Best explained. “But if you take that same light and put it in a dark room, it can mean the world. Seth Boyden was that dark room.”

But Best soon realized he couldn’t maximize his impact on youth without including families as well. “They can’t teach what they don’t know,” said Best. “We try to instill more involvement in the families and adults, and close the gaps between them and their kids.” Best created adult-focused programs, like FIST (Families Involved in Structured Transitions), in order to help adults deal with financial literacy, health and wellness, self-sufficiency, and career readiness.  



As the goals of his organization expanded, Best said his physical presence had to, as well.

It wasn’t easy. For about two years, Best worked out of a 600-square-foot corner property in a Prince Street apartment complex formerly known as the Willi T. Wright Apartments. One of the apartment complex’s board members had admired what Best was doing in the community, and offered the space as a show of help.

But the fate of Best’s rent-free arrangement was jeopardized when new ownership, Treetop Development, bought the property. “They wanted to know why I was here in this office for free,” said Best. “So they held a meeting with the community, and the community stood up for me.”

As FP YouthOutCry grew, Best wanted his vision to include a physical community empowerment center. When he was approved to acquire more space on the Treetop Development property a year ago, the plan was set to create the H.U.B.B. (Help Us Become Better) center, which will be located on the lower level of 135 Prince Street once the renovation is complete.

“We raised $50,000 dollars to build up the place,” said Best. “We’ve expanded from 600 square feet to 9,000.”

The H.U.B.B. complex will feature an educational wing, an entertainment multimedia center, an empowerment center, which is still under construction, a copy center, a conference room, and other amenities. Although H.U.B.B.’s grand opening isn’t until October, Best said he grants tours of the new headquarters occasionally.

Best said FP YouthOutCry has received offers to open similar spaces on other properties in Newark, and even in different states, but that he wants to first set up the right organizational structure so his center can be a real template for community development.

“I definitely passed my initial expectations from the start, because it literally was just, ‘Let me help a little,’” sad Best. “I never knew that this would take my life on a whole new journey, and that I would find that my purpose in life is just serving people.”


Running lean

Best said although he’s benefited from significant support from Partnership for Children of Essex and the Newark Housing Authority, funding still remains his greatest obstacle, even after operating for eight years and earning numerous awards.

Despite having to operate on a conservative budget, Best said FP YouthOutCry is committed to consistently serving the community through its programming, which includes summer camps in all five wards, the annual Break Bread ceremony at Thanksgiving, and the fourth annual Citywide Healthy Olympics, which will take place at Nat Turner Park this Sunday.

“My whole thing with FP is to entertain, educate, and empower,” said Best, adding: “[I]f you teach them well enough, then they became empowered to do more for themselves and others, and that’s our goal.”