Art review: ‘Pebble Drinkers’ exhibition is easy to swallow

Entering “The Pebble Drinkers” is akin to being immersed in a three-dimensional Rorschach Test. This group show at Gallery Aferro is comprised of work replete with symbols and associations that tell us much about the artists’ experiences and beliefs, while simultaneously eliciting psychological responses from the viewer. The exhibition encompasses a range of media and narratives. Each artist employs their own clearly developed lexicon that expresses different concerns manifested in a rich array of visuals. The glue that holds this exhibition together is the application of these artistic vocabularies, bridging the gap between the wildly divergent media and themes.

Stephanie Williams’ “Ernie’s Self-Edit” is an amalgam of sewn forms arranged over a wooden armature. This loosely defined figure seems disemboweled; spilling an assemblage of cascading textiles resembling intestines, female reproductive organs and sausage links. The macabre sentiment is offset by the bright color palette and ornamental stitching that heightens the tension between allure and disgust. Williams’ goal is to make reflective objects that are collections of ideas and senses born of her own experience, while leaving room for the viewer to insert their own.


Corwin Levi’s stream of consciousness mixed media pieces on panel read like schematic drawings. They are concomitantly maps, medical diagrams or molecular charts. Densely overlaid with text and image, they provide a hazy, hypnagogic terrain for viewers to unravel. The modest scale beseeches earnest looking and thus implicates viewers in the act of deciphering the clues held within their nebulous confines. The density of imagery and text is deftly offset by the simple elegance of the black lines set atop a mostly neutral ground.

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A.V. Ryan’s Gravitas series of sculptures provides a respite from the busy quality of Willams and Levi’s work, but are no less effective in eliciting a strong emotional response. These elegant white forms, set atop pedestals, draw upon long-standing traditions of sculpture with allusions to the body and draperies. Approximating the sensual Modernist figures of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, upon closer inspection these bodies melt into deflated abstraction. This push-pull of absence and presence is haunting and seductive.

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“The Pebble Drinkers” provides much sustenance for the psyche, nourishing it with a plenitude of ideas, symbols and experiences. In this Freudian landscape of objects swirling throughout Gallery Aferro, viewers may come away with varied meanings, but according to Stephanie Williams, the artists are working not only with their personal experiences, but also those of the viewer. She noted, “We are the result of a collection of experiences.” These wide-ranging expressions of experience leave plenty of psychological ground for audiences to navigate. Indeed, the main strength of the show is that it solicits viewer input of the content, rather than demanding passive receipt, to make this show function poignantly and effectively.

Jeanne Brasile is an independent curator and artist. She is currently the Director of Seton Hall University’s Walsh Gallery and teaches in the university’s Graduate Program of Museum Professions. She can be contacted at

The Pebble Drinkers is on view at Gallery Aferro through March 28th. Gallery hours are Thursday through Saturday, noon to 6pm. There will be a closing reception coinciding with the gallery’s twice-annual open studios and resident artist talks. For more information contact:

Gospelfest returns to the Prudential Center this Mother’s Day Weekend

The McDonald’s Gospelfest returns to the Prudential Center Saturday, May 9, 2015. Produced and directed by Emmy Award-winning Producer A. Curtis Farrow, Gospelfest is a talent competition and concert that features the wide-ranging abilities of its performers.

Kicking off at 3 p.m., the competition includes rising stars competing in a variety of categories, including Soloists, Youth Choirs, Adult Choirs, Praise Dancers, Steppers, Singing Groups, Gospel Comedians, Gospel Poets and Gospel Rappers. Previous Gospelfest participants have gone on to successful careers in entertainment, including the Bishop Hezekiah Walker.

Walker will perform at the gospel concert that begins at at 6 p.m., along with other top choirs and performers including Ricky Dillard, Bishop Hezekiah Walker & LFC, Mighty Clouds of Joy, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Mississippi Mass Choir,  Cissy Houston, The Clark Sisters, and a special performance by Faith Evans.

Tickets to Gospelfest are on sale now and can be purchased at Prudential Center’s Box Office or via Ticketmaster at 800.745.3000 or

Free event at NJPAC to highlight black women’s Newark migration stories

The Newark History Society’s next program, “Open Up the Door, I’ll Get it Myself: Migration Stories of Newark’s African American Women,” will take place on Monday, March 16, 2015 at 6:00pm in the Chase Room at NJPAC.  The Women’s Association of NJPAC’s Cultural Legacy Committee is co-sponsoring this program.
Drawing on oral histories, Linda Caldwell Epps will discuss the great migration of blacks from the South in the last century.  Dr. Epps is the president and CEO of 1804 Consultants and the former director of the New Jersey Historical Society.
This program is open to the public at no charge, and light refreshments will be available.

Seating is limited — RSVP by March 10 by replying to this email ( or by calling 973.376.8273. Parking is available in NJPAC Lots A and C and the Military Park Garage for $2 with validation available at the program.

#GiveNewark: Newark Police Department seeks volunteers for the Domestic Violence Response Team

From the Newark Police Department:

“Newark Police Department, in conjunction with Rachel Coalition the Safe House, is establishing a team of specially-trained volunteer advocates available to meet confidentially with victims of domestic violence at police headquarters 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. The volunteer advocates, who are civilian members of the community, work in conjunction with the police to provide support, information, and referrals to victims of domestic violence at police headquarters. The advocates also discuss with the victim their legal rights in regards to obtaining a Temporary Restraining Order.

“D.V.R.T. volunteers, whose identities are kept anonymous, are trained to empower victims to make decisions about their own lives and link them with needed resources such as the Essex County Family Center, where multiple agencies provide comprehensive services to victims of domestic violence in one location.

“Applicants must be 25 years of age or older, have access to transportation, possess a valid driver’s license, be willing to serve on an on-call shift basis, and submit to background investigations and fingerprinting.

“A 40-hour intensive mandatory training will be provided to successful applicants. The Rachel Coalition will be conducting a training beginning in the Montclair area. Prior knowledge of domestic violence is not necessary.”

Domestic Violence Liaisons:
Detective Erica Silva-Lopez and Sergeant Ricardo Maldonado
Newark Police Department
Special Victims Section
22 Franklin Street, 2nd Floor
Newark, NJ 07104
973-286-3890 ext. 213

View from the top: “Innovators’ Rooftop Happy Hour” takes tonight at Skylab 

The Innovators’ Rooftop Happy Hour, hosted by former city council candidate Rashawn Davis, will take place tonight, February 19, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the rooftop bar at the new Hotel Indigo on Broad Street. The event’s invite bills it as an “opportunity to network and the chance meet fellow innovators during Happy Hour.” Those who planned to attend are asked to RSVP on Facebook, and to use hashtag #InnovatorsHH on social media.

innovators happy hour

Check out the Beds and Breakfast seminar in Newark to plan for this year’s gardening season

Greater Newark Conservancy is inviting participants to start planning for the 2015 gardening season at Greater Newark Conservancy’s 4th Annual Beds & Breakfast Seminar on Saturday, February 21st (snow date March 8th), from 9:00 a.m. till 2:00 p.m.

Community gardeners from Newark, Essex County and beyond are invited to share information and gardening tips while enjoying a delicious breakfast, exciting presentations, networking, workshops and giveaways.

Seminar participants will learn about Community Gardening and Urban Farming programs, how to create community gardens in their neighborhoods, take part in hands-on demonstrations and presentations and get connected with other community gardeners. Topics to be covered include seed starting, hydroponics, composting, tree pruning, rain water harvesting and more.

“Beds & Breakfast was created for the gardener interested in getting a jump on the upcoming season,” noted Robin Dougherty, the Conservancy’s Executive Director. “Whether you are just beginning or are trying to learn more about local resources and programs, this winter seminar will provide everything you need to prepare for the year ahead.”

Resource tables filled with information from seed companies and local organizations will also be available at the Conservancy’s Outdoor Learning Center, 32 Prince Street in Newark during the seminar.

Seating is limited to the first 40 people who register. Register and pay by February 13th to secure your participation. The registration fee includes breakfast, giveaways and resources. No walk-ins can be accommodated on the day of the event. Participants must be aged 15 and older (no child care is available).

To register, or for more information about Greater Newark Conservancy’s programs and services, call 973.642.4646 or visit You can also follow news from the Conservancy through social media at and Twitter at @Citybloom87.

Brick City Love: Power Couples who are helping to shape Newark

power couples new tableuAll photos: Tamara Fleming/Tamara Fleming Photography

This Valentine’s Day, we wanted to celebrate just a handful of the many couples who are shaping Newark together, using their love for both the city and for each other to power their efforts.

Below are our conversations with a few Newark couples who are doing just that. They’re making their impact on the city as small business owners, civic workers, educators, environmentalists, artists, professionals, social workers, and community advocates. Some are Newark natives, and others are new to the city.

We asked each couple how they met, how Newark factors into their love story, and what Newark has to offer couples. Single and looking? Fear not — we also asked them for a few date night recommendations.

We’re calling the lovebirds featured below “power couples.” Our contention is that power couples don’t have to be marquee names known coast to coast (though we wouldn’t put it past any of these couples to get there eventually). They can also be the homegrown duos working sincerely, tirelessly, and together on behalf of the city they love.

All couples portraits were taken for this feature by Tamara Fleming of Tamara Fleming Photography.

“Kaimara”: Kai & Tamara Campbell

Native Newarker Kai has worked to attract business to Newark, and Tamara is a marketing pro and entrepreneur who has worked extensively with local restaurants, founded the local website, and is working to create networks for information sharing, support, and fun for Newark mothers. Together, the parents of two young children recently launched Burger Walla, an Indian cuisine-themed burger joint, on Halsey Street.


BCL: How would you define a power couple?

Kai: My definition of a power couple is a bond shared by two [people] that makes both of them better, bringing out the best in each individual for the good of the work. A power couple does things together, pushing forward, with a positive influence.

Tamara: It’s also a couple that is a part of their community, can influence their community, and is helping make changes for the better.

BCL: How did you meet, and how does Newark factor into your love story?

Tamara: Newark is our love story!

I was hired by the city to coordinate Newark Restaurant Week, and Kai was working for the city. We spoke for the first time at the launch party for [the local blog] GlocallyNewark, and as I was falling for Kai, I was falling in love with the city too.

Some of our first dates were around the city, like lunch at Assaggini Di Roma, drinks at Blue Mirror, and picnics in Branch Brook Park. We lived on Halsey Street (where Kai had lived for years) and had a very Newark wedding downtown. As business owners and residents, we are strong proponents of supporting local, and for our wedding we used over a dozen Newark businesses, venues, and talent. We are still very much Newarkers and are raising our two daughters here.

Why did you choose to launch this venture together?

Tamara: I have always believed a strong relationship is similar to a successful business partnership: to run smoothly and effectively, each one must have their strengths and weaknesses, and strong communication is the key. We have each other’s loyalty and support in all we do – opening Burger Walla was just another venture.

Kai: Tamara was the inspiration behind me going out and starting companies. She is my business North Star in a way, as a confidante, mentor, and partner. To have such a strong businesswoman – she’s had her own marketing agency for 16 years – as a resource, it was and is a blessing. We work so well as a couple, it would be foolish not to try to beg her to be a partner in everything I do.

Business is just who we are at the end of the day. We see needs and our passions, and try to match them always if we undertake a venture. Business is an extension of our marriage.

What does Newark have to offer young couples?

Kai: We are at an interesting time, where there are opportunities all over the city, whether in education, living, or creating. We are creators, strivers, and pushers, which is what couples naturally are.

When you’re young, you have so much energy, and that needs outlets. Bring that positive energy here and express it in any way that you can. Even children count – they’re the fruits of such glorious labor and energy!

Tamara: In the fall, we hosted a Newark couples social to get to know other young couples that have made Newark home and hope to continue that this year. And two years ago after becoming a parent, myself and a friend started Newark Mommies to create a community of moms to share resources, plan playdates, and more. It’s been a great way to introduce those new to Newark to other couples as well so they know they’re not alone.

BCL: Where are your favorite places to hang out in town?

Tamara: With our time being tied up with [their new venture] Burger Walla and having two kids under 2, we don’t really get out in a traditional sense. However as a mom, I’m a big fan of all our green spaces in the city during the summer – the splash park and orange boardwalk at the Riverfront in the Ironbound, Military Park, and the farmers markets. With cold weather, we frequent the Newark Library system. If time allows we – especially Kai – enjoy the arts, music, and indie scene downtown.

Kai: Since Skipper’s closed, I would have to say Halsey Street or Newark Airport. Halsey Street represents the past, present, and future of our city, while the airport is a constant reminder of how we take Newark with us around the world.

Besides Burger Walla, in what other areas have you worked to influence Newark?

Kai: I worked in economic development under both Sharpe James and Cory Booker, in real estate development, as a leader in the Halsey Merchant Association, and as a board member in what was once Newark Screens (now CityPlex12).

Tamara helped the city run the first Newark Restaurant Week, coordinated the largest Halsey Street block parties, started, ran three ShopLocal campaigns, serves on the board of the Friends of the Newark Library, is one of the founders of Newark Mommies, and volunteers in many more committees and organizations.


“Jherick”: Jheryn & Alturrick Kenney

Jheryn and Alturrick’s relationship happened because of chemistry, shared values, and one incredible stroke of luck in an airport. Alturrick, manager of port activities for the City of Newark, and Jheryn, a corporate sales professional, have actively corralled a social network of like-minded young couples in Newark. And move over North West, get back Blue Ivy Carter — the couple’s young daughter, affectionately known as “BK” (Baby Kenney), has become something of a local celebrity as the couple shares highlights of her development with friends on Facebook.


How did you two meet?

Jheryn: We met at the Blue Mirror. I was at a scholarship fundraiser costume party for the National Sales Network around Halloween 2008, and I had recently become single. My friend Kwabena, who was the president of the organization at the time, said he had someone he wanted me to meet. He called Alturrick, who was his childhood friend. He happened to be on a date…

Alturrick: …I wasn’t on a date at the club. I was on a date in another location.

Jheryn: Yeah, so he ended his date early and came up to the Blue Mirror. I saw him when he came into the room, but I didn’t want to seem overly interested. Keep in mind that everyone in the room has a costume except him. He sticks out his hand and says, “Alturrick Kenney. Nice to meet you.”

I said, “Nice to meet you. Who are you supposed to be?” because he wasn’t dressed in a costume, but he seemed so official.

And his response was, “Working black man.” And that was fine by me.

Alturrick: She had on a pageant outfit that said “Miss Congeniality.” [To Jheryn: You thought I forgot that!]

[Jheryn to Alturrick: I did.]

Alturrick: When the party was over, I asked if she wanted to connect. She said yes. When I asked what she was doing the next day, she said she had to wake up at 7 in the morning.

Jheryn: He asked me if I needed a wake up call, and I wanted to test if he was going to be true to his word, so I said “sure”.

Alturrick: I set my alarm for 6:57 a.m., and at 6:59 I started making the phone call. At 7 o’clock I pressed “Send,” and of course she woke up. We started dating.

Jheryn: I always thought he was a great guy, but [over time] I had concerns that we might not work because I’m Christian and he’s Muslim, so we broke up a few times. After the last time, I was coming back to Newark from Phoenix and had a layover in Charlotte. There were like five people in the area where I was, as I was going from one concourse to the other, and there was this one gentleman in a Johnston and Murphy men’s shop. I saw him from behind and thought he had nice stature. Then he turned around, and I said to my friend on the phone, “You’re not going to believe it.”

It was Alturrick. He’d randomly gotten up that morning and decided to go to Charlotte. Who does that? And on top of that, he’s already at his destination, yet he’s in the airport shopping? Who does that?

Alturrick: I don’t even have Johnston and Murphy clothes, either. I don’t even have Johnson and Johnson!

Jheryn: I really think it was a divine appointment. Alturrick was put there for me to take another look. And here we are!

How would you define a power couple?

Jheryn: I think that power is about living a life that’s true to you, and one of the things Alturrick told me before we got married was, “I serve the city of Newark and the people in Newark. This is who I care about. This is what’s true to me. And I’m going to continue to do this.” So I think for him, his power is in doing what’s true to him.

I think the way that we support one another – anything and everything I do, he supports me, and vice versa – and work together to build each other so that we’re better than we would be individually, is power. And we never stand in each other’s way.

Alturrick: I think also being in a space where we’re trying to self-improve and become better than who we are, and make sure whatever we do is a reflection of who we are. When I met Jheryn, she was in sales, but she was also always helping build women. And she’s still that – a person who’s consistently building herself and the people she surrounds herself with. She makes sure she surrounds herself with ambitious women.

Living in an environment where there may be a lot of negativity, you don’t get that sense from who she is. I think being powerful is the ability to see opportunity in any circumstance and take full advantage of it. That’s something that Jheryn exemplifies, and something that we try to do as a couple.

How would you pitch Newark to young couples and families?

Jheryn: That’s easy — and I talk about this all the time, because I’ve learned to love Newark over the years. One of the best things about Newark is that even though it’s a city, it still has a small town feel. It’s like [the television show] Cheers, where everybody knows your name. In other places, people are so consumed with themselves, but in Newark, everyone is so interconnected — especially people who are doing something positive.

When we had BK – our baby girl – I can’t tell you how many people brought food and gifts and things like that. When we’re out and about, people will stop and talk to us and ask about her. I think that’s why Newark is so attractive — there’s a sense of community here.

Alturrick: Our daughter is like a local celebrity. I think people really care about her growth and her development. They enjoy seeing her get older, and they enjoy seeing us be parents for the first time. It’s a real example of a village.

And there’s a lot of great people – and specifically great couples – in Newark. You just have to find it. One of the things we did is connect ourselves with other young couples who are ambitious and striving to become what they hope to become. You can look right here and find people who are married, who love themselves, who love their wives, who love their husbands, and aren’t shy about expressing their commitment to one another. That’s been the Newark that I’ve known, and I try to always convince people to look beyond the [reputation] and get the experience.

Where are your favorite places to go on dates in Newark?

Jheryn: Duke’s [Southern Table]!

Alturrick: Vonda’s!

Jheryn: Duke’s Southern Table is our absolute favorite. Vonda’s is our second favorite. Taste [Venue] is great. Also, [Alva Tavern at] Hotel Indigo.

Alturrick: We go to Burger Bound, Francesca’s [Pizza], and Mercato Tomato Pie. Oh, and Burger Walla — Kai and Tamara are a great couple.


“Gabrielabeth”: Gabriela Celeiro & Elizabeth Salerno

Gabby and Liz share a love of the environment, animals, art, and justice. The pair – a social worker and Rutgers professor, respectively – moved to Newark in 2012, and made a robust life teaching, serving LGBT youth, becoming neighborhood caretakers, making new friends, and getting to know Newark.  On October 21, 2013, they were among seven same-sex couples who were married at City Hall by then-mayor Cory Booker, a milestone for equal marriage rights in New Jersey.


Let’s go back to the beginning – what was your first meeting like?

Liz: We met at the Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI) in New York City. That was in 2008. We had met a couple times before and acknowledged each other, but didn’t really have a lot of time to connect.

But this was the time that we got physically near each other, and there was a real strong connection, whereas before we’d be running in two different directions. One night a bunch of us were out together, and I offered to walk her to her next destination. And what we always reflect on now is that our hands kept hitting each other, and we were like, “Why can’t we get away from each other?”

Gabby: Liz had been a counselor for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth for five years in New York City, and I’d just been hired as a sexual health educator, and when we met it was just an instant connection. I wasn’t looking to date at the time, but it felt like there were magnets connecting us. We connected as friends before it was romantic.

You met in New York City — how did you come to live in Newark?

Liz: Gabby was still in school for her Master’s in Social Work, and she had one more year to go, but HMI really wanted her in Newark to work with youth, and Gabby really jumped at the opportunity to move here.

We moved from New Brunswick in 2012. They call it a city, but it’s really small. We were looking for something with more of a scene, more connections to New York City, more connections to a larger artistic movement, because we were bored. So when the opportunity arose [for Gabby], my job [at Rutgers] allowed me to switch offices to Newark. We found a really amazing place to live – Newark really allows you to move into places that are old and have personality and character.

Gabby: Our friend Rachel is amazing and does a lot in the community, and she told me about the environmental movement here, the artist movement here. I knew I was going to be able to come in and get involved in a real community here.

What did the move do for your relationship?

Gabby: We’ve become good friends with local artists in our community, and we support them at local arts events, hang out at their houses, go to their studios. We plant trees in the neighborhood. It’s makes us a better couple, because we can do things together that we really care about. There’s almost so much to do that we don’t have to leave. That’s something that Liz and I enjoy.

Liz: Gabby and I are different – I’m cautious, and she takes more risks, so we really balance each other – but when it comes to what we value, we’re 99.9% the same. If we see an animal that’s hurt in the road, we’ll stop, get it, and give it a burial.  People in the neighborhood think we’re insane, but that’s what we love. We’re aligned in the way we look at the environment, at the way people contribute to it. Here in Newark, there are incinerators, we’re surrounded by an airport, there’s highways going through it — it isn’t healthy. We’re very committed to Newark’s healing. Not just the people, but the land, too, because that can make for a better quality of life.

Gabby: But it’s really interesting, because neighbors around us are starting to say, “Oh, you two feed the birds. You water the trees. You pick up garbage.” The ladies next to us that run the laundromat started planting tomato plants. So I do think that there has been an opportunity to invigorate the community — it’s little things that make the community better.

As a same sex-couple, at first we were definitely stared at, and now it’s interesting to see that we’re being recognized for what we do in the community, and not just our sexuality. It’s not just, “Oh my god, there’s these lesbians,” which I definitely felt a lot more at first. It’s interesting to see the shift from being an “other” to being [considered] part of the community, and having that respect. Or at least being tolerated. But there’s been many people who have totally welcomed us.

You were married at Newark City Hall when same-sex marriage was legalized in the state. How did that come to be?

Liz: That was largely Gabby being noticed for the work that she does.

She had been volunteering in the Newark pride community, been involved in the peace parade with the Barat Foundation, had been doing mentoring and counseling for the LGBT youth community in Newark – Gabby never says no to anybody. I think that from there, they wanted to choose people that were dedicated to the community, that they know love each other, and that have a devotion to social justice not just for LGBT people, but for people in the black community, those fighting for gender equality, people with disabilities — those are things that we’re passionate about.

It really undermines your relationship to not be recognized. You have this love for each other, but to have people really put you in that “other” category — it does something to the way you operate in society, like you are less than. It’s a heartbreaking thing. So people understood that [with the City Hall marriage ceremony] we would feel celebrated for once, not denigrated. For once. For once it was about being honored. And I think people thought we would get that.

Gabby: It wasn’t that easy. We had to go to the court several times. We had the ceremony at midnight, but at 9 p.m. they called us and said we had to go back to court again. It was like the Amazing Race of gay marriage.

But the courts in Newark were really sweet, and worked with us to make it happen. But then when we arrived, there were protesters. But it was still beautiful, and [then-mayor] Cory Booker and his team and the judges were wonderful. It was celebratory and beautiful and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

At the time I was a bilingual counselor for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth in Newark, and it felt great. I felt like, “I’m doing this for you. I want you to have the rights that you deserve.”

Liz: I have to say one thing about Cory Booker. I think that there’s a lot of distrust of politicians, and I didn’t get that sense that this was a political stunt for him. I’m a social worker, and I’m trained to understand where people are coming from, and I felt this genuine want to help from him.

Where in town do you like to eat, socialize, or just hang out?

Gabby: My favorite place to eat right now in Newark is probably Monk Room. I love 27Mix, and I love Coffee Cave — I love the stuff that goes on there, and the owner is cool about letting people have events there.

Liz: I like the new park that they put on the riverfront. You can see the skyline from there.

Gabby: We went there and they had a house music DJ and we danced outside — it’s nice.


“Tichaughn”: Vaughn & Tichanda Thompson

Woman has dog. Man “steals” dog. Woman and man fall in love, get married, move to Newark, and get down to business. Tichanda Thompson is an entrepreneur who has gotten several projects filmed in Newark, including for the Oprah Winfrey Network and a few top brands. Her husband Vaughn has gotten to know Newark in large part in his role as principal of Eagle Academy for Young Men, New Jersey’s first all-boy public school. How bankable is their love? You can find their family in a print campaign in the Bank of America on Broad and Market Streets.


BCL: How do you define a “power couple”?

Tichanda: I would define “power couple” as two people who can stand alone on their own merits, talents and strengths, but when combined with their partner, the chemistry creates a powerful union because each party compliments, encourages, supports and uplifts the other. They work as a team and a united front against all obstacles and distractions for a common goal.

Vaughn: I would emphasize that being a power couple is an ever-evolving journey that requires a collaborative effort of support and mutual admiration for each other’s pursuits.

Tichanda: We don’t work together per se, but I have gotten Vaughn and our kids booked in many print and commercial campaigns that I have been a part of. We now call it our “family business”!

BCL: How did you two meet?

Tichanda: I was in Virginia at a friend’s house planning to go to a Mike Tyson fight party, which was canceled last minute. All dressed up and no where to go, me and my friend decided to drive to Brooklyn…except I had my new puppy with me in a dog crate.

When we got to the party, I realized there were too many people inside to let her run around, so I left the crate outside with my friend and went inside to put our bags away. When I came back, [my friend] was standing outside with an empty crate! She said a guy had opened it and taken the dog and ran down the street. That guy was Vaughn.

Vaughn: Tichanda was surprised that someone had the audacity to run away – sort of – with her dog. A look of disbelief. It was funny though.

Tichanda: I ironically called my mom the following day and told her I’d met my husband. We were married 5 years later almost to the day. We actually won a wedding and honeymoon from that story – the winning entry was: “He stole my dog and stole my heart”!

What brought you to Newark?

Tichanda: After living together and getting married in New York, we decided to look for a home, and we ended up in Newark. We were drawn here by the city’s potential and close proximity to New York City. We loved our up-and-coming neighborhood as well as our neighbors, and the buzz surrounding the city and Cory Booker.

We decided to start our family here, and now we have two boys that were actually born in our home! I know no matter where we go, we will always have a real connection with Newark.

Vaughn: My students and their families are the best and most authentic connections to Newark. New businesses will develop, but the pulse of Newark is its residents. My students offer me a realistic perspective and true insight into the challenges and positives of living in Newark.

What are your favorite things to do in town?

Tichanda: We really enjoy the events that come to town – especially since we have two kids – so we are always at the Prudential Center or NJPAC at a concert, or at a sporting event. We like local events as well, like the Lincoln Park Music Festival, and the newly renovated Military Park and Riverfront Park. We also like 27 Mix and Dinosaur BBQ.

Vaughn: And I like to visit Nico’s Restaurant.

What does Newark have to offer couples?

Tichanda: I think Newark has a lot to offer. From a supportive community of entrepreneurs and small business owners to proximity to New York City, the airport, and other Jersey attractions, I really think the changes that I have seen in five short years are tremendous. I think we are still only seeing the beginning of what Newark has to offer!

Tamara Fleming of Tamara Fleming Photography shot all of the portraits for this feature. To learn more about her photography services for “power portraits”, visit TFP’s website and Facebook page.

Take your honey on a date right here in Newark. Peter Winstead, Jr. is playing Duke’s Southern Table for Valentine’s Day

Peter Winstead, Jr. – formerly known as Peter Hadar – will be playing a Valentine’s Day show along with Castle Sound on Saturday, February 14th at Duke’s Southern Table downtown Newark. In addition to launching music series at Military Park and Taste Venue and a monthly party at Hell’s Kitchen here in Newark, the Newark native is also an accomplished independent R&B artist with a worldwide fan base. Check out one of his songs below for a taste of his sound, and the full flyer for his Valentine’s Day show below that.


Two pioneers of Newark’s skateboard scene mentor a new generation of riders

Featured image above: James Wilson (fourth from left, without skateboard) and a group of his pupils at an exhibition of his art in January 2015. Photo courtesy James Wilson

If asked to name skateboarding’s East Coast capital, most skaters would likely be hesitant to name Newark.

And it’s true — Brick City is still a far cry from East Coast skateboarding epicenters like Philadelphia and New York. But the scene here is also a far cry from its beginnings, and it has evolved tremendously in recent years.

It’s evident in the annual Street League skating events taking place at the Prudential Center; in the immense popularity of Shorty’s, a homemade skate park in the Ironbound; in the number of kids seen skating the ledges at Washington Park, or zipping up and down Market Street on summer days.

As Newark continues to develop its identity as a skater’s city, a lot can be learned from two of the founding members of Newark’s scene — James Wilson and Quim Cardona.

The pair helped plant the roots of the Newark skating scene before many of the kids who are pushing it forward today were even born. The two met through skateboarding in the early 90’s, and have remained friends and well-loved figures in Newark and New Jersey skate culture ever since.

From Garden Spires to Washington Square Park

Wilson has been skating here for two decades. Born and raised in the Garden Spires housing complex, he’s worked professionally as an artist and art handler in Newark and Manhattan, as well as a slew of other jobs that have ranged from a plastic factory in the Ironbound to real estate throughout New York.

Skateboarding has been a constant pastime and passion all along. Through his brand Scorebrx, Wilson designs decks, clothing, and art pieces, all revolving around the themes of Newark and skateboarding.

scorebrx boards

A row of Scorebrx skateboards at Washington Park in Newark, summer 2014. Photo credit: Brian Pujada

Now 35, Wilson’s been skating since he was 10, when his mother’s boyfriend first taught him how and took him to Washington Square Park, then the heart of New York’s scene. “The first time I ever saw a kickflip, I was hooked,” said Wilson, referring to a skateboarding maneuver. “Even when my mom and her boyfriend weren’t together any more I would carry the torch, at 12, and head to New York by myself to skate,” he added.

These were the early days of East Coast skateboarding, and Newark didn’t yet have a scene to speak of.

“I learned you had to get out of Newark — into the suburbs or across the river — if you wanted to find the other skaters. And that’s what saved me, too, because then I was not at home – not in the Spires – where I didn’t fit in anyway,” reflected Wilson on those formative years.

Life as the offbeat kid who was into art and inseparable from a skateboard could be incredibly difficult in the Spires where, for Wilson, being different only compounded the hardship and violence facing everyone in the neighborhood. As one of the few skaters in the city at the time, Wilson said he was well-known for his pastime, and often ridiculed and attacked for his passion.


Enter Cardona

Quim Cardona, now a fixture of Jersey skateboarding who has logged over 15 years as a pro, grew up outside of the city, but his Newark roots still run deep.

Cardona’s father was a local celebrity in the Ironbound due to his small family medicine practice on Ferry Street, which he maintained for 40 years. Although Cardona grew up in Scotch Plains, he spent countless hours in Newark.

Cardona met Wilson over 20 years ago, skating outside PSEG’s headquarters on Raymond Boulevard downtown. It was a place where a lot of Jersey skaters would congregate on their way to sessions in New York.

Wilson fondly remembers his first interactions with Cardona, recalling that “he was one of the most talented, naturally gifted skateboarders I’ve met in my life, hands down.” They were part of a crew immortalized in the film Kids. Many of the young New York-area skaters in the film went on to have long careers in professional skateboarding, acting, and the arts.

Cardona has had one of the longest-running and most successful skating careers in the group. He earned his first pro board in the year 2000, and has been riding for skater brand Organicka since 2002. Cardona has also graced the cover of Thrasher magazine and been featured in countless video parts, all while based in Jersey.

thrasher_quim cardona

In addition to skating for Organicka, he founded Sushi Wheels in 2013, and is also involved in Newark’s art scene, actively painting and making music.


Riding into the mainstream

For both Cardona and Wilson, skating was something they initially began doing because they felt different from their peers. But with the sport’s explosion in popularity in the last decade, skaters have gone from misunderstood and maligned to coveted.

“It’s bigger than ever,” said Cardona. “Celebrities’ children skate. Prime ministers’ children skate. Famous people of all types skate. Lil Wayne and Wiz Khalifa skate. I mean, even Justin Bieber skates. All these people are skateboarding,” observed Cardona on skating’s rise in popularity.

“When I first started skating, kids would laugh at you, hike on you, yelling ‘don’t fall,’ call you names. And if you didn’t have the nerve you’d end up fighting them,” said Wilson. “Now when they see you riding down the street and see you kickflip, kids ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’, or they demand tricks,” he continued.


Giving back to Newark

Cardona and Wilson are using the rise in interest around their sport to positively impact Newark, the city that played an active role in their development as skaters and individuals. Both have taken to mentoring young skaters here, guiding their growth both on the board and as young adults living in an often-harsh environment.

Cardona has participated in skate clinics and camps in the city. In addition to mentoring young skateboarders, Wilson has been involved in the city’s mural programs, and hires homeless youth to support his art-handling and gallery work in order to help them learn a valuable and in-demand trade.

For both of these veteran skaters, working with young people is about a lot more than teaching a kid to kickflip.

“My young friends look at skateboarding as the only way out of the situation they live in. I tell them that’s great, but you always have to do other things to get to where you want to be. You have to develop skills in many different areas,” said Cardona.

Quim 1

Quim Cardona ollies a bicycle at New York City’s Astor Place, one of the city’s most famous skate spots. Photo courtesy Quim Cardona

“On average, out of 10 skaters in Newark, only two are going to make it. Maybe only one. For the others, it’s good socially. It’s good to be around your friends. It keeps your hopes up. It definitely keeps you out of trouble,” he added.

Cardona said his goal is to keep his pupils grounded, positive, and focused on becoming well-rounded young men and women, not just better skaters.

For Wilson, his youth work is about developing attitudes and self-confidence.

james wilson scorebrx

James Wilson poses with a Scorebrx skateboard at Newark’s Washington Park, summer 2014. Photo credit: Brian Pujada

“Skateboarding is a metaphor for life. These are goals that were once impossible. Before you can ride down the street, let alone ollie a curb, you have to start,” Wilson said. “Kids complain about not being able to land a complex trick, but there was a time when they couldn’t even stand on the board,” he added.

“Any time you land a trick, you bend the universe to your will. If they could apply the same rules to skateboarding – that repetition, that focus, that nothing else mattering attitude – to every other goal they had, they’d be fine. They’d be better off,” Wilson continued.

Skating certainly isn’t a panacea, but it is a safe and structured outlet for a growing number of young adults. The influence of successful and relatable skaters can help ensure that a kid’s decision to pick up a board can change their life for the better, even if in small ways.

But even with the sport growing by leaps and bounds in the city, Newark is still far from a skater’s paradise. Cardona said its only skate park is often neglected because of its location.

Quim 2 (felipe lara)

 Cardona lands a frontside nose slide. Photo credit: Felipe Lara

“The park on Avon stays empty because too much bad stuff happens. When I go there it’s always empty; my friends tell me it’s always empty,” Cardona lamented, referring to Jesse Allen Park, which enjoyed a ribbon-cutting celebrating the second phase of its major renovation in 2012.

Cardona sees skateboarding as an area to raise Newark’s profile, and if young people in this city continue to pick up skateboarding at the rate they have been in the last decade, Cardona’s dream just might become a reality.

Are you a musician interested in playing Military Park? Here are details for how join their Live Music Lab

Military Park has announced a new after work series for local musicians. With its Live Music Lab, the recently renovated park is inviting “Newark bands, singer/songwriters, and DJs” who are interested in playing the park this May and June to submit their information for consideration. The park is asking for:

  • Names and instruments of your members
  • Contact information for your group
  • Genre
  • Link to YouTube, Bandcamp, or website with your music
  • Websites, social  media accounts, and/or press that gives a sense of your band’s personality

The park provides basic equipment, including a mixer, speakers, and four microphones. Musicians must bring all other equipment to the park.

Submit materials to by April 15, and contact with questions.