Here are some pictures from Shy’s.
Here are some pictures from Tipsy’s
Yesterday, community members participated in a ribbon cutting for the new Newark LGBTQ Center at 11 Halsey Street. The center seeks “to create and sustain a better quality of life for the LGTBQ community of greater Newark, by providing community-driven programs and services.”
The 2003 murder of Sakia Gunn, a 15-year-old lesbian teenager, galvanized the LGBT activist community in Newark to press for and create resources and havens like the center, in addition to broader cultural changes in Newark that would make the city a safe space for its LGBT community members. A little more than ten years after Gunn’s murder, the new center is the physical embodiment of that push.
Reverend Janyce L. Jackson, the center’s executive director, put the center’s opening in the broader context of recent wins on LGBT rights. Here in New Jersey, for example, a judge recently ruled that gay couples can marry beginning October 21. Jackson said “the same kind of grassroots work” that culminated with that legal decision is what the new center hopes to do right here in Newark.
Image credit: Valerie Jones
If at any time in the past 20 years you’ve been at Broad and Market and heard house music or classic R&B blaring, chances are it was Max Henry who was responsible for that quintessential Newark moment. I hung out with the Broad Street stalwart not long ago to hear his views on music, politics, who is benefitting from changes in Newark, who is not, and his other profession: fashion photography. Here are excerpts from our conversation:
On his business:
I’ve been selling music on Broad and Market for over 20 years. A friend at the time was selling music, and he brought me into the fold.
On the house music scene in Newark:
The area used to be filled with clubs, like Zanzibar. I think people who were club music fans were more open back then. The DJ was a legend to you, so you might not know the record, but someone like [DJs] Tee Scott or Larry Patterson made you listen.
On how Broad and Market has changed:
There isn’t the same energy here now. The demographics changed. I noticed it when they established [the] Family First [Card]. People on assistance used to have to come down here, but now that they have the card, they don’t have to come. That took away some of the traffic.
And you can’t park any more. I think the [limited] parking situation down here works against having a thriving city.
On the development in the area:
Yeah, it’s a lot more diverse down here. You’re seeing different types of people come through, and that’s cool – but what’s good for you should be good for me. I resent the divide I see. When the arena opened, they sent all these cops to this one area to protect and patrol. What about everybody else?
There’s a climate in the air of us against them. I was told that vendors at this intersection are seen under the same umbrella as the criminal aspect, and I have an issue with that. That’s like character assassination to me.
And grants and help for businesses – these things are a mystery to me. No one’s telling me about them.
On the police presence at Broad and Market:
The police station [on Market Street] is a joke. To stop crime, you need manpower on foot, not in the car and in the office.
I’ve seen some people get harassed by the police. It’s not all officers, and some of it is justifiable, but sometimes it’s excessive and overboard. You need one or two people to take somebody down, not a whole battalion. I’ve done security before – you have to assess character, and talk to people the right way. It seems like we [vendors] police the area better than the police.
On civic participation in Newark:
Change is going to come – not just for me, but for everyone here. Folks have to become more civically aware. You can’t just pull a lever [to vote]. Doing that doesn’t mean your job stops. All the responsibility for what happens in this city doesn’t fall on one man — everybody is responsible.
On keeping house music culture alive:
I purchase music from DJs. For classics, I mostly give them a list, but for new music, I rely on them. Me and others like me expose people to music they haven’t heard yet. You have some people who say I’ve been helping to keep house music going in this city.
The economy and people finding music online has definitely affected me, but if you like my taste, then you’re coming to me for your music. This is house – you’re not going to be able to find a lot of this music on [music identification application] Shazaam or something like that. And I have some regular customers who basically have my full collection.
On making a living as a music vendor:
I don’t worry about surviving. I have a working brain, and I do this by choice. I do this because I love the independence. Most people will never understand: I leave my house with bus fare, open up right here on Broad and Market — it’s a thrill.
On his photography:
I used to shoot Broad and Market covers for CDs, and over time I started paying a lot more attention to the images. When I saw what came back I thought, “I’m onto something.”
Then I bought a camera, and shot a designer friend’s clothes. My friend liked the images, and as they say, “The wheel keeps turning.” I’m basically a fashion photographer now, and I shoot whenever I have time. Being self-employed allows me to pursue other things. I leave here, go straight home, and start editing images. The beauty of it is, I’m constantly learning. (Max Henry’s photography is viewable on his blog, thrutheeyesofmax.blogspot.com.)
Do you want a shareable, “Brick City” branded web address that will easily expose all of your events? Brick City Live is offering legitimate businesses, organizations, and promotional companies the ability to reserve their “BrickC.it” web address for our calendar, for free! Those can include networking, parties, entertainment, education, community events and more.
If you follow us on Facebook and Twitter, you might notice that the links to all of our stories begin with “brickc.it”. This is a special web address that takes readers to Brick City Live content exclusively.
We’re now offering that special web address to those who organize events in and around Newark. For example, the address brickc.it/symphonyhall will take people to a list of Newark Symphony Hall events on our calendar. The address brickc.it/artisancollective will taken them to a list of Artisan Collective events on our calendar. The address brickc.it/bumpa2bumpa will take users to a list of events by the promotional company Bumpa2Bumpa Entertainment.
On top of that, we’ll give you a login to post, edit, and delete events yourself. We’re also happy to add existing events for you in bulk to start out.
If you want to reserve a BrickC.it address for your organization and get an event posting login, email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, business/organization name, and your website, Facebook page, and Twitter handle, if you have them.
I was sitting in the huge South Ward police precinct at Bergen Street and Clinton Avenue when John Sharpe James walked in, smiling, clad head-to-toe in black, unadorned by jewelry, and carrying a large box under his right arm. James was at the precinct to chair a community meeting on public safety, where police officers would field questions from residents in a large meeting room just off the precinct's main corridor. He would open his Central Ward headquarters on Orange Street the next day.
After positioning three long tables between a podium at the front of the room and a phalanx of chairs in the back, James set the box down at the end of the table, sat down next to it, and settled in for an hourlong conversation about his run for the at-large council seat in the November 5 special election. We discussed his previous council runs, his nearly quarter-of-a-decade military experience and its bearing on his run, the basic needs he thinks should be Newark's priorities moving forward, and the ways he thinks the current administration has fallen short. We also discussed James' father, former Mayor Sharpe James, a boxful of whose brand new memoir – Political Prisoner – the council candidate had shuttled into the station.
Andaiye Taylor: Your 2010 run was key in last year's dispute over the open at-large seat. Can you talk about your initial runs for office, and why you decided to jump in?
John Sharpe James: I first ran in 2006, because at that time I didn't feel the Booker team was fielding someone who was qualified to run the South Ward. So I ran for South Ward councilman. They ran someone with the same last name [Oscar James II], and spent $6 million running against the Rice team.
And so that was a beginning run. After that, I went to Afghanistan and served in the military, which I'd already been serving since '88, and when I came back, [mayoral candidate Clifford J.] Minor asked me to join his team. At that point, he wanted Ras Baraka to run for the south, and I said I would run at-large. And that's what I did.
I had a very good showing: 12,000 votes, for someone running for the first time at-large, and with minimal funding compared to what they spent.
What is your vision for Newark? What is your thesis for running?
Right now, Newark is in survival mode. The average Newarker just wants government services. They want the garbage picked up, they want police, they want protection, they want to be able to walk the streets, they want quality schools, they want a good, quality life, which does not exist right now.
There's no responsibility. No one's owning up to any of the crime or violence or murders that we have right now. And we need more people in government to speak out, instead of using Newark as a stepping stone, moving on to the next position or title, and not concentrating on what's going on right now.
So as a military veteran, as a law school graduate, as a Morehouse College graduate, I feel that I do have input as a Newark resident and homeowner, into what goes on in the city. My major background is in the military, where I spent 23-and-a-half years. So I've been serving my country, and now I feel it's time to serve the community.
What neighborhood do you live in?
I'm in the South Ward.
You think the current administration has been insufficient on those basic services. Can you cite some specifics?
Let's put it this way: when they ran in '06, they said we need reform, we need to get everyone out, we need to get new policies, new procedures. One of the first things they did was lay off everyone in City Hall, whether they were actually doing their jobs or not. It was detrimental, because there were a lot of workers who worked at City Hall for years who really knew their jobs, knew how to get money into the city and into programs, knew where the funding sources were. And they were just thrown by the wayside.
Then you had an influx of a lot of people who didn't live in Newark, and they didn't know how to do the jobs, because they didn't work in government. They might have worked in the private sector, but the government sector is different. We had an influx of higher-paid individuals with no allegiance with the taxpayers in Newark. And so the result is, we had the two police classes which were hired initially under the Booker administration. Within a year, year and a half, they ran out of money. And not only those two, but part of the ones that were hired under the previous mayor were let go because of funding concerns.
In what specific ways do you think the current administration is responsible for that?
I think it was mismanagement and lack of knowing how to fund things. We went through seven business administrators in seven years (James includes those acknowledged by the city – Bo Kemp, Michelle Thomas, Michael Greene, and the current administrator, Julien Neals – plus interim business administrators Pablo Fonseca, Bill Letona, and a third he says was in an "acting capacity" for a brief time), so no one has truly been watching the money, watching the budget, saying, "Hey, this is where we can cut, this is where we have a surplus, this where we can move money around."
Why do you think the council is an effective place from which to push your vision for Newark, as opposed to another elected office, a non-profit, or the private sector?
I've worked for the county for the past 14 years. I've been a jack of all trades; the county executive has had me in a lot of different positions. I was one of the people in charge of making sure the jail contracts were completed under the prior administration, and continued when the new county executive came in. He had me working the registrar's office to speed up the recording of deeds and mortgages. So I have county-level experience.
I have some experience working with my father. I have experience working with a lot of the council members already. Ron [Rice] Jr. and I grew up together from law school. He's already been a councilman for two terms. Ras Baraka – I know him, and our families have been together for a long time. So there's a lot of knowledge there. To some extent, people have not seen me enough because I was in military duty for the most part.
But as one of nine people, how do you manage to influence the other council members? What's your strategy?
I've worked with Ras Baraka, and with Anibal Ramos in passing, only because he works at the county.
We will see how it goes, because some people aren't running for reelection, and some people are running for higher seats. It's going to be interesting. This is the first time the council has had three current members running for mayor at the same time. It's a big shakeup. I'm not sure it's going to be positive for the city, because you're going to have a new person running the south, a new person running the north, and a new person running the central, instead of a slow progression. It's like a free-for-all in all three wards.
What should the council's top priorities be, and which ones have they not been attentive to in the last few sessions?
I think the council hasn't been helped by the executive or the mayor's office at all. Every time the council finds out about something, it's last minute, and the mayor is in the position where he wants them to vote on it or not vote for it, without all of the information, and without public hearings. And that is not right. So the hope in the future is you have a mayor that works more closely with the council and says, "This is my vision. Council, let's enact this, because it's for the betterment of the entire city." This will move us forward.
My father being mayor, there were definitely times when he was at odds with the council. But overall, together, they moved the city forward.
Is there any any potential mayor in this field that you could see yourself working with better than others?
No. We need someone who's going to speak for the people. People change when they get to the mayor's seat, so someone who looks good right now could be bad later; someone who looks bad right now could be good later. Just for now, I'm focused on the November race. I'm not trying to lose another election, and I think I deserve to be in office, because I've worked hard and I've served my community. Again, primarily military, but it's still community service.
Can you walk through your military career highlights, and how you think they equip you for the position?
I wrestled four years at St. Benedict's. Within four months at college, I gained weight. So I joined the military for two reasons: one, for love of country, and two, to stay in shape. [laughs]
With love of country, you never want to be thrown into a war. You want to prepare. You never want it to be like Vietnam, where people are drafted and thrown onto the front lines with very little training. I said if I'm going to protect my country, I will be trained. So after two years as a private, scrubbing toilets, doing all the little stuff you see in the movies, I stepped in as an officer and platoon leader in ROTC. I got into the infantry – I really wanted that branch – and started moving up the chain. I came back home and was commissioned a second lieutenant of a long range surveillance unit.
What does that mean?
You're trained to operate behind enemy lines. You're the spotters, and you let friendly forces know what the enemy's doing from behind enemy lines. So it's very covert. It's like special forces without the "special". And I really enjoyed that time. I was also airborne, so I jumped out of planes for the New Jersey National Guard. Then I went onto multiple positions in my progression: company commander, mortar platoon leader…
And this is all within a domestic, National Guard context?
Yes – New Jersey National Guard. So along the way we had incidents like snow storms and floods that we responded to. For September 11, we were put on duty for 30 days watching the train yards in Harrison and in Journal Square. We were in charge of securing the subway platforms and the parking decks right outside of Journal Square.
During Desert Storm, I was stationed in Augusta, Georgia for six months during the war, and at that point, I wasn't commissioned an officer yet – I was still enlisted. I was a barracks sergeant in a medical unit, responsible for all the buildings that our staff slept in, as well as for the patients.
Had Desert Storm been more violent, we would have gone to replace troops overseas. The hospital we were in had already deployed during the first wave. Since there were [low casualties] during the first Desert Storm, there was no need for follow-on medical forces. It was a good experience. I actually got decorated for that.
At any point during this time were you thinking, "I"m going to go into politics when I'm done with this experience."
When did that happen? I assume it was some time before you ran in 2006 that you started entertaining the notion.
Well, when 2006 came along, my father was leaving. My father was the mayor, so people would come to me for support and assistance. I'd be like "Dad, so-and-so wants to meet with you, wants to see you," or, "This program's going on, they asked if you can be there," or, "Someone's having a problem with City Hall, can you help out?" So I did have interaction with City Hall and the council members, and with my father's staff. But that wasn't specifically for politics — I was just trying to help people.
And then when 2006 rolled around, and my father decided that he may not run again, at that point I just didn't want Newark to be taken over. So I ran with the people's choice team. And we slugged it out, but it was just too much.
People say with politics, sometimes we might stay too long. And people feel like, "Hey, it's time for a change." And with Booker flooding the campaign with $6 million the first run, it was hard for people not to think "Ok, we're going to get a younger of Sharpe James or Ken Gibson, and we're gonna have this man for another 20 years," or something to that effect. But we tried to tell people that I was not the same person.
Are you sympathetic to that point of view? That people don't want dynastic politics in Newark, where there's a James now and a James later?
I don't think that was it. They just thought that this new young person would be similar to the other two mayors they had. And they went head over heels for the flash which, we now see, is not substance.
Back to your military service for a moment. You described your experience, and I know you were in the military for almost a quarter century. Can you talk about how you'd actually bring that experience to bear on the office if you win?
With the military, as you move up in rank, if you move up in rank, you're put in a lot of leadership roles. I was a platoon leader and a company commander, and I fired the anti-tank missiles. We had to be on our toes, because we couldn't make mistakes. In that type of position, you need leadership, you need to be on top of it, you can't let people be lax, you can't let people be lazy – I did that.
And then in 2007, after losing the 2006 election, I wanted more responsibility in the military. They said, "We have a team we want to go to Afghanistan," and I was the second person to volunteer. And so they sent 16 of us over to Afghanistan to work with the local police, which were the ones who got attacked the most, because the Afghan army doesn't move that much over there. So the local police are in the towns, and as a major in charge of that team, it's a big responsibility. You're dealing with troops from other countries, Afghan personnel, military personnel, auxiliary police, border police, and you have to interact representing the United States. There's a lot of leadership in that, and not only did I do that, but I brought the majority of my team back. One of my team members was killed, and so it's serious. It's a serious task, and I completed that, and I earned it.
And also, growing up in Newark, I know most of the people. You're not going to come in here and play games with me. You're not going to come sell something for your own purposes. I'm not going to be fooled. I think I'm that mix of advocate, military background, legal background, political knowledge background, and just a humble person who's never thrown my legacy in someone's face.
Given that you're a vet, do you have a special agenda for vets in the city?
Absolutely. They have the G.I. Go Fund in City Hall now. Unfortunately, they don't have any veterans on staff. My hope is to get at least get one veteran working for them.
Still, they've been doing outreach. They've been going to Penn Station at night, helping homeless veterans who are out there sleeping. We definitely need to make sure there's more veteran employment in the city. We just hired a class of firefighters where almost all of them (28 of 31) were veterans. Hopefully, we can get funding to do the same for the police officers.
But my biggest issue with the city right now is the budget. If we don't stay on stop of the budget, we're going to see more cutbacks on services. There are so many areas which we're cutting back on because the money isn't there, and which we'll cut back on in the future if we don't find funding.
And how do we find funding?
What I want to do is sit down with the current business administrator and get some of that institutional knowledge that was lost from before. And talk to the last business administrator, maybe from 2006 or 2005, and find out how we were funding our priorities back then, and if we're getting it from that same source now. If not, can we rejuvenate that source, whether it be state, county, federal, or a nonprofit? Can we find it from any of those sources, and try to marry that up? I think when 2006 hit, it was just another regime, and they had no regard for the institutional knowledge of the old regime.
Back in 2008 was when the recession hit hard. Have you considered that many of those sources might have just dried up?
I'm definitely afraid of that, but by the same token, we do need to provide services. We can't be a city that just has nine council members and a mayor, and no police and no fire department. The average citizen is concerned about basic city services: garbage, police, fire, taxes.
Speaking of public safety, it's a lot of people's number one priority. What are your ideas?
I know our police are hard workers. I know they're out there doing their best. Everyone's hung up on 167 cops laid off. The real number is about 400, because there have been about 40 to 50 retiring every year since then, and we haven't had a new class. So we're actually far short of where we should be if we stayed even.
Another piece of that is maintenance. If we don't take care of our maintenance and police cars, we're going to have a lot out of service. People focus on manpower, but we have to have equipment power, too. The police helicopter just came back up in the air a couple weeks ago. If we can get more police officers hired – again, I don't now where the money is going to come from – maybe we can get a federal grant like we did when Clinton was in office – to hire 50 to 100 to 200 more cops. That would help. I think if we look into the personnel – and I don't want to go too deep into micromanaging the police department – but if we have a better work environment, we'll have less of them retiring. Because the ones I run into say, "Look, I just had to get out. I just couldn't put up with the bureaucracy and the politics within the department."
And then as residents, we have to work closer with the cops, that's why we're here [having a community meeting].
And crime-wise, we just have a different generation now. I was raised in more of a family structure. The current generation now is more steeped in, "What's in it for me," and, "I'm not worried about anyone else." So we need to work together more as a people.
Home ownership in Newark is down. When you have renters, you have a different mentality. I'm not speaking for all renters, but they may not be vested in the block and in the area. That's a different mentality.
And the schools are such a mess right now. The governor clearly came out a couple weeks ago and said that they control the schools. And that's what we've been telling everyone: how can you fault us for the school situation, when the state has been running our schools for 20 years? So we need local control. I supported the Children First team for both elections. Now we have a chance because we have passed some of the QSAC (Quality Single Accountability Continuum, which New Jersey's education department uses to evaluate its public school districts) to have it turned back over to local control.
But there is another component with the folks who are controlling the charter schools who don't want to turn it over, because now a piece of the budget which is for Newark Public Schools can go off to their charter school.
There was just a story on Newark Prep charter school, and how K12 [Inc.] basically dictates what goes on in the school. I think they picked the principal, and the article clearly says that's not what we want. That's not the model. And the kids apparently are online by themselves unless they need help (for the first portion of the school day, per the Star Ledger). That doesn't even sound right. Someone said: "They're doing it in the colleges." But these are not college kids, these are high school kids. If they aren't properly guided or mentored, what's to say they don't go goof off?
So the jury is still out on charter schools. There has been no clear report that charter schools increase a child's intelligence. I believe it comes from the home, the family.
I want to talk about Mayor James a little bit. He's written a book arguing that he's innocent of the charges he was convicted for. Can you explain what his claim to innocence is based on? From a legal perspective, why does he think he was wrongly convicted?
At that time, governor Christie was the [U.S. Attorney]. Booker had just lost in 2002. He himself had said that after losing in 2002, he and Governor Christie became friends. They started communicating with each other. And my premise is, with Christie already admitting that he had met with Karl Rove about running for governor, he knew that Sharpe James could be a stumbling block. (According to a Star Ledger report, Democrats accused Christie of strategizing with Rove about using Christie's ostensibly apolitical U.S. Attorney role to shore up his chances of winning the gubernatorial seat. Rove and Christie acknowledged the conversations, but said they were merely about "state issues", not political strategy. Meanwhile, a New York Times report said Christie "won convictions or guilty pleas," not only from James, but "from more than 100 elected officials".) And Booker of course wanted to make sure he won the election, so he didn't want Sharpe James around.
And within months they said, "Well, Mayor James took these trips. We want a federal investigation. The mayor charges credit cards. We want a federal investigation." And immediately, Christie got the ball rolling, and an investigation happened.
Now, the key aspect of this is that in the courtroom, the federal government said Sharpe James did not receive any money. (James was accused of helping Tamika Riley get approved to purchase redevelopment zone land, which she then sold at a significant profit.) So now you're prosecuting someone who's not running for office anymore. He wasn't indicted until 2007, wasn't running for mayor, and didn't take any money. And we believe they wanted a conviction so he could no longer hold public office (James was still a state senator at the time of the indictment, and would remain so until January 2008, three months before the guilty verdict). And so he would be quiet while Christie moved to governor and Booker moved to be mayor.
Now, knowing it was fact that he didn't receive any money, why would Christie suggest a 20 year sentence for a 72 year old man? That would be a death sentence. They never suggested that for other politicians, even when they took money. Common sense tells you there was a reason. This was not your typical prosecution.
Given what you believe about the motivation behind the prosecution, how did you feel about it?
Of course I was upset. But I learned that politics has a personal side, and has a political side. There are people who like me – who've always liked me – but for political reasons, they can't support me. I get that. But my only issue was the personal attack on my father's character, on the family. It was just overboard. Now, I was in Afghanistan then – I was not here for the trial – so I had to get bits and pieces through some internet interaction periodically.
The military has a Stars and Stripes magazine, which is only given to frontline troops overseas. I came on the main base after being on the front for about three months, and one of my buddies from New Jersey said, "You need to sit down." He handed me Stars and Stripes, and in the New Jersey section it said, "Newark mayor Sharpe James and his wife convicted of fraud." So the lengths they went to push out the negativity about our family, our character…I can't respect that.
I've never talked to Booker, never shaken his hand — never will do that. Chris Christie is friends with my boss, the county executive. I respect him as the governor, but I cannot respect Cory Booker and that whole scheme.
As you saw on November 20, after me being the next-highest vote getter (after the top four vote getters, all incumbents, who won at-large seats in 2010) — he pushed someone who had never run for the seat in a backdoor deal. So if you look at character and you look at the games — he couldn't get away from Newark fast enough.
Mayor Booker's record in Newark has gotten more scrutiny now that he's in the midst of a campaign for national office. You've obviously had a different view of him than most people for a long time. What do you make of the change in the tone of the coverage?
In 2000, when he started running for mayor, I Googled him. And most of it was positive. But then there was this one guy, Glen Ford, who wrote for [left-leaning website] BlackCommentator.com, now BlackAgendaReport.com. He said, "This guy is a Trojan Horse. He's with the right, and they want him to push their agenda with the charter schools." This was written back in 2000. I tried to put this out to the people, and people said, "You're just mad because your father's not going to be mayor anymore." I said, "No, you guys don't understand. I'm not making this up. I still live here, my family still lives here, and we're all affected by what's going on in Newark."
And so it's now coming out, but I think it's too little, too late. It's assumed that he's going to win, and press has wanted to talk to me about him, and I refuse to. Because we've been saying this all along. So it's sad vindication, because the people in Newark are really paying the price. There are less police officers, there's less money, there's less services, and no explanation why. And he's out there pitching the total opposite: "I turned Newark around."
Is there even a little piece of you that thinks about your run as vindicating your dad somehow?
I think he clears himself, because when he goes around and talks to average Newarkers, they love him. Even the enemies he had before. So he's vindicated, because he didn't take a dime from Newark residents.
I want to tell people, they need to stop getting caught up in the entertainment and the flash. Look at what they're really about, and then think about how they're going to move the city forward, and how they're going to help you. That's not just in politics – that's common sense. Sometimes people fall for the stuff that looks shiny and nice and new, and that's not the case.
How do you feel about your chances with the current field?
The bottom line is, for me to run against $9 million in 2010, while my father was in jail, and receive 12,000 votes, was a sign that people respected me as I emerged from 2006 into 2010. There are not many people who can go from running in a ward and losing, to four years later getting 12,000 votes.
There are basic services we need in this city, and we need to secure the city in terms of public safety. But assuming we can manage the city's basic needs, what does a Newark that's reached it's potential look like?
Well see, I'd do it backwards: if you don't do the basics, you don't get to the end, which is better economics for the city, so that people are less impoverished, and committing less crimes because they have more. Socially, we need to get that family structure back, and you can't necessarily get that with government. So we need to continually work on the community, tie the community hand in hand with the government to say, "Hey, we're here to help, but everyone has to help themselves to an extent".
Someone was telling me about their son acting up. They called the police, and the police said, "We can't do anything. Your son didn't break any laws." And his mother was pleading like, "Look, this 15-year-old is out of control, he's disappearing from the house for 4 or 5 days at a time. When we find him, he's doped up. You guys gotta do something." And then finally [her son] did do something, and then they were able to put him in a program. So how do we help even before that? Through nonprofits or something like that, and not necessarily government or government officials. But where do we get that help to stabilize these families, so that babies aren't having babies, and people put more emphasis on going to school, getting an education, and doing something positive?
When I grew up, I was in bowling leagues. I was in Little League baseball. In high school I moved to wrestling. I ran cross-country. I did something productive. When we were on the street, we played stickball. We played electric football. There were a lot of other things we did besides crime. And so we need to get away from that current mentality that says, "I'm just gonna get mine. I'm just hustlin'". We can't have that, because your crime is victimizing somebody else. And nine times out of ten, it's your neighbor. It doesn't help the Newark community.
That is the hard part. That is 10 years, 15 years, 20 years down the road, getting people to think less violently. We used to have arguments — alright we had a fist fight. That was it when I grew up. By the time I got older, they'd moved onto knives, and now everything's a gun. And there's no recourse once you pull that trigger. They're not even trained, so they're not even hitting the target. They're hitting other people. And they need to realize that innocent bystanders are being brought into their little battles or arguments or disagreements. We've had all these killings in the past few weeks — no comment from the current administration.
Best-selling author Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche and I met at Elbow Room in Newark recently to discuss her financial literacy career, which she launched in Newark, and which has truly taken off over the past 18 months.
Depending on the day, you can spot her on your television, in your Twitter feed, on the Huffington Post, speaking at major conferences, teaching financial literacy in smaller groups, giving webinars, and being featured in high-recognition newspapers and magazines. Or, if you’re in Newark (Aliche lives here), you just might catch her strolling around town, always with a forearm full of her signature green Budgetnista bracelets.
Among other things, we talked about how the recession changed a generation’s attitude toward risk taking, why you should let your business speak to you, and why you might want to look out for a green “B” on your potential purchases in the not-too-distant future. And as always, I asked about the entrepreneurial climate in Newark.
Andaiye Taylor: Your reach has spread well beyond Newark. Can you talk about why Newark makes a good home base for an entrepreneur like yourself?
Tiffany Aliche: Newark is like a big city and a small town at the same time. If you succeed in Newark, it puts you on the map, because in your given field, there might be next to no competition. In my case, who else is going to teach financial literacy? I was the only game in town.
I look at Dreena [Whitfield, founder of WhitPR, a public relations firm, and Newark’s current press secretary]: no one was specifically doing public relations for small business here before she did. Or Akintola [Hanif, founder of Hycide magazine]: no one was a hardcore photographer in the way he did it.
These are truly talented people at what they do. It’s just that Newark allows us to hone our skills in a smaller environment, where people can help you out without feeling threatened, whereas in New York City, it’s more dog eat dog.
Right now, I’m like the valedictorian in a small high school: I’m right in league with the other valedictorians. Newark might be pretty small, but it’s the biggest city in the state. Because I’m at the top of the heap in Newark, it puts me in league with other people all over the country who do what I do.
And another thing I love about Newark is that all the movers and shakers are so touchable. It seems like everybody is just a touch away. There’s more than enough going on here that you can make an impact, and you can be put on the map to succeed.
Does the proximity to New York City also help?
It does. Because Newark is so close, I’m able to make the transition to New York.
I’m City National Bank’s financial literacy expert. That’s a case where I was able to work with a company that is based here, but has a presence in [New York] city. A bank in [New York] city would never have asked me to be its lead financial literacy expert at the stage in my career that CNB did. But here in Newark, there was no other real choice. The president [of CNB] saw a Star Ledger story and called me in. And that’s another thing: to even have the opportunity to have press here is a big advantage.
So it sounds like this has been a great place to kick off a career. Can you talk about living in Newark?
I love living here. It’s not a super pretty place like California. Newark is like the baby that’s not that cute, but it’s my baby. What I like is the people. The people here are really amazing, and it’s like I can’t make it from one end of the street to the other without meeting somebody new. Or seeing someone I know and having a conversation.
And there’s a certain energy here. Everyone is kind of like “Man, we’re all trying to figure out how to do something amazing.”
What do you think is driving that attitude? Why are so many people trying to do their own thing?
“Living richer” is about pursuing your purposeful passion in life. I feel like the recession has led to people thinking, “If I do things the ‘right way’, everything can still be taken away.” That’s the gift that the recession has given to us, especially if you’re in your late 20s, or in your 30s. My [younger] sister and her peers who are coming out [of college] now aren’t seeing the worst of it like our generation has.
The recession made you rethink how life is supposed to work. It shined light on the lie that if you go to school and get a “regular job”, everything’s going to work out fine. I think more people in our generation have thought to themselves, “If you’re going to take away my sucky job anyway, I might as well take a risk on doing something I’ll love.”
How did that play out in your specific case?
I was a teacher in Newark for 7 years. A couple years ago, around the time when school was going to start again for the fall, they called and said, “Don’t come.”
At that point, I had saved two years’ worth of income just because, so I had a cushion, and that situation made me realize I was over that kind of teaching anyway. But it was still a devastating time.
I took two years to travel and volunteer, and always ended up teaching somehow. I realized I loved teaching, just not in the box of the classroom.
I working with [Newark nonprofit] FP [YOUTHOUTCRY] teaching financial literacy, and would be in city hall all the time because of that work. And I’d meet all these amazing people there. Newark Now would have meetings where I’d meet a bunch of people doing interesting things in the city. When I wrote a financial program for FP, people eventually started asking, “How much does Tiffany cost?” Al Tariq [Best, founder of FP YOUTHOUTCRY] was like, “I think you should do financial literacy.”
How did you turn that suggestion into a business?
Three years ago, I was on my sister’s couch about to lose my house. One of my mentors said to me, “You need to get a contract.” I remember thinking, “Oh thanks, because they’re just flying in from the sky.” But then I realized I had everything I needed to go out and get paid for my work.
I thought about what organizations would want what I was giving. Then I thought about the people who could make the connections, and just started emailing. One woman I emailed connected me to The United Way, and that was my very first contract.
It’s funny because in the beginning, I used to force Budgetnista to be here and there. Now, I focus on doing the best job I can do, and I have not solicited any business in the last year and a half. My job is to do my very best work, write the very best article, give my very best interview, prepare and prepare for my speaking engagements. If I do that, people will contact me. If you’re an entrepreneur, the business will show you the direction you need to go in, if you let it.
Why do you think your audiences relate to you?
I tell them that they don’t need to be afraid of finances anymore, and I let people know they don’t have to be ashamed of their financial situation anymore. When I make a financial mistake, I don’t mind telling everyone, and using it as another lesson. Putting that on the table lets me say, “If I can show you this, then you don’t need to be ashamed to ask me about high credit card debt, or about how to handle your potential foreclosure.”
Speaking is a big part of your job. Where did your charisma come from?
I’m a middle child, so I guess that I’m always like, “Look at me!” Plus, I’m super talkative. I’ve learned that it’s just my natural personality.
You frame your financial advice in the context of happiness and quality of life. How did you develop your financial curriculum around those higher concepts?
I’m an avid reader — I always have my Kindle with me. I don’t read solely about business; I read a lot of philosophical books. I’m on that quest for the best life. I love The Alchemist. I love Jonathan Livingston’s book Seagull, which is about a seagull that thinks flying should be about more than just getting food. I read a lot of marketing books. In fact, my degree is in marketing. I watch a lot of YouTube videos. I’m always on the quest for my best self.
When you do your seminars, what types of people come out?
In Newark, it’s a great mix. I was working with YouthBuild, which is a program for kids who got into trouble, and want to get their lives together. When I speak at The United Way, it’s usually to professional people who are in their late 20s to upper 40s. They’re thinking, “I’m making good money, but I don’t know what to do with it, how to manage it.” I do a lot of schools and colleges. So there’s no typical person, it’s really just people who are admitting to themselves, “I know I can do better with my money, but how do I do it? I want to do better, but I don’t know the language.” That’s the thread that ties them together.
When it comes to my curriculum, I’m like a mad scientist. So many things I’ve shown people how to do are based on mistakes I’ve made. Or sometimes, I’ve figured out an issue someone I care about is having.
Because I taught preschool, I’m good at taking really big concepts and making them understandable. Being a preschool teacher was the best training ground for that. That’s why step one of my book (The One Week Budget) is literally, “Get a paper and a pencil, and begin writing this.”
You’ve had an exciting year and a half. Where do you envision taking your brand from here?
My ultimate world domination goal is that one day, Budgetnista won’t just be associated with financial literacy. It will be associated with value. You’ll see my Budgetnista “B” on a washing machine, or you’ll go to Target and see it on a dress. It’ll mean this item is a great value for your money.
In the next two to five years, I want to do more shows – I would love to be the “Friday girl” on a morning news show. I want to do more travel to spread fun financial literacy around. I’m also working on another book. I did a “30 day money challenge” recently, and after I did it, a couple people were like, “Is this all in one place?” So I thought, “You know what? That’s what I’ll do next”. But “One Week Budget” is still doing well, and I think it still has some time left.
I don’t want to put out a new book just to make money, though. I’m not in the business of taking money from people, I’m in the financial literacy business, and I’m into helping people. I want my new book to be borne out of that energy.
Although lending to small businesses increased in 2012, the number of micro-loans actually decreased, depriving small business owners of one of their most viable funding options.
In response, Rising Tide Capital, the community-based entrepreneurship organization, created the Start Something Challenge, which consists of a $10,000 cash prize business pitch competition, networking opportunities, access to startup experts, elevator pitch coaching, and general visibility for their venture. The deadline for the competition is this Wednesday, September 18, at 12pm.
Not sure how to approach your pitch? Rising Tide will be hosting a video pitch tutorial at their office this coming Monday, September 16 at 6:30pm, at their offices at 334 Martin Luther King Drive in Jersey City.
With construction crews plowing away at the ground that will constitute the foundation of the new Prudential tower on Broad Street, the historic Hahne & Company building, which will literally sit in the tower’s shadow, seems fallow and lonely by comparison. But at just the right angle, at the right time of night, you might spot something a little curious emanating from cracks in the building’s ground-floor panels: light.
As reported by The Star Ledger in July, the city approved the conversion of the former department store into a complex of residential units, and commercial/office space.
The buzz has been building for the past few weeks. Then one day it was no longer a rumor. Joe’s Crab Shack wasn’t just coming. It was here. You could look in and see the finishing touches of the construction and interior design. Some days you could see the staff in training. Then, this past Sunday, people were actually eating! It was a Friends & Family reception for the staff that put all rumors to rest.
The buzz got a jump start when a quarter-page ad appeared in The Star-Ledger with a promotion that the first 100 diners would receive free crabs for a year, and one of the hundred would be selected to win free crabs for life!
The first person in line – Greg Packer from Huntington, Long Island – arrived at 10:00 Monday morning. The first time he visited Joe’s was in Harlem, NY. The line here in Newark wrapped around the corner, where a port-a-potty was made available for guests. Everyone in line was given a wristband to mark their place in the queue.
A few spots down the line was a crew from Jersey City who arrived at 6:30 this morning. The mood in the line was pretty jovial. One guest said it was like a cool thing to say you’ve done – like climbing the stairs of the Statue of Liberty for the view.
Around 9:00am, staff from Joe’s came out with complimentary coffee for the guests in line. It was really amazing to see so many people from other cities waiting in line – right on Broad Street, no less. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the new Newark.