#GiveNewark: Let’s help get Newark’s Ayana Stafford to a prestigious film program in Cannes, France

First, a full-disclosure author’s note: I am contributing to the campaign I’m about to describe in the story below.

Second, if you read nothing else, know that Ayana Stafford — Newark native, Arts High School graduate, William Paterson alumnae, film entrepreneur, and film teacher — has been accepted into a prestigious film program taking place this May during the Cannes Film Festival, and that if we join forces with the sixty-plus people who have already contributed to her GoFundMe campaign (as of this writing), we can all help her get there.

Here is the link to her GoFundMe campaign: gofundme.com/ayanafrance.

Video about the “Creative Minds” program

Now for Ayana’s story. Ayana initially studied theater while a student at Arts High School, but a teacher there introduced her to television and film, opening up an entirely new world to the young performer.

“Our teacher was new, he was young, he was fresh out of school, and had a lot of energy and passion,” Ayana said. With his help, Ayana and her classmates launched “Jaguar Journal,” a student-produced television show that Arts High School students still produce today.

The experience made it clear to Ayana that she was more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it, so when she matriculated at William Paterson University for college, she decided to study film.

Since then, Ayana has made television and filmmaking her world, including working for News12 New Jersey and VH1, helping out with a few independent films in New York City, and even working on the set of hit television show Gossip Girl.

But a life change caused Ayana to rethink the balance between her career aspirations and her personal life: just as her television and film career started gearing up, Ayana became a mom. “Working 13-hour shifts would not be possible for a new mom,” Ayana said. She knew she would continue working in film, but decided to localize her career. “I wanted something here in Newark, to be on my own schedule,” she said.

So Ayana took all she’d learned and started Leopard Stripes Productions here in town. Eager to add business management to her skillset, she took a local entrepreneurship course offered by Brick City Development Corporation (now the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation). BCDC also awarded Ayana a $5,000 startup grant, with which she purchased the cameras, audio equipment, and lights she still uses today.

Under the banner of her new film production company, Ayana has launched a number of television and film projects, including TTYL, a youth-focused talk show featuring local college students, and a documentary entitled The Race to Save Brick City, about the 2014 election between Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffries, which she screened at CityPlex12 just prior to the mayoral election.

Trailer for The Race to Save Brick City

Ayana also trains recent high school graduates in film production.

All that experience made Ayana feel ready when the “Creative Minds” film program at Cannes opened up the application for its internship program earlier this year. The program, according to its website, enables early-career film professionals to “make key contacts that will help them establish a career in the film industry.” (The Cannes Film Festival is one of the most esteemed film festivals in the world.) A mere two weeks after Ayana submitted her application, she was accepted into the competitive program.

But her journey to France doesn’t end there. Before she can jet to Cannes to work on a short film, network with peers from around the world, hobnob with some of the top executives and creatives in the film industry, and tout Newark’s potential as a film hub in a high-powered international setting, she needs one more important resource.

“Money!” she said when I asked how the community can assist her. The program granted Ayana a $500 scholarship, but the lion’s share of the $5,000 in program and travel costs are up to her.

And that brings us back to her GoFundMe campaign, which has already raised a little bit over half of the money Ayana needs to fund the program. In order to lock down her place in Creative Minds, she needs to see a surge in contributions to the effort by Friday, April 17.

If Ayana has her way, potential supporters will get back more than just the warm and fuzzy feeling of helping a deserving Newarker reserve her spot in a coveted program. “I want people in the film industry to know about Newark and to bring [the industry] here,” she said. “We have a great urban landscape, and were so close to [New York] City.” She sees serious potential to bring crews here to shoot city scenes (just like the makers of The Dark Knight Rises did back in 2011), and to employ Newarkers in film production.

To contribute to Ayana Stafford’s GoFundMe campaign, visit gofundme.com/ayanafrance.

#NewarkToLondon: Travel maven Madeline Boughton personally funds Newark students’ London trip

Six Newark public high school students are spending spring break in London, an all-expense-paid weeklong trip made possible by the diligence – and the 401(k) funds – of one passionate Newark native.

“No one is talking to children in Newark public schools about travel,” said Madeline Boughton, the trip’s organizer and primary benefactor.

At the age of 31, Boughton has traveled to 21 countries, camped out in the Sahara, and spent two years in Paris earning her Master’s degree. While she credits her parents with instilling a love of travel, she says discussions about studying abroad were nonexistent in high school.

Boughton has since become an outspoken advocate for the inclusion of international travel programs in urban school districts. Her platform has taken her door-to-door, visiting public high schools throughout the city where, she admits, several principals have flat out rebuffed her offers to speak with students.

“Sometimes they tell me no,” Boughton says. “They say we have to focus on graduation, and getting a job, and going to college. It’s not something we have time for.”

But she is hoping – “gambling” may be the better word – that this trip will inspire school leadership to shift their perspective. That is why she has invested $12,000 of her own money to make the trip happen. Without any corporate or philanthropic sponsors, Boughton initially turned to crowdfunding to cover the cost of airfare, hotel fees, and food. But when a two-month Indiegogo campaign only yielded $2,330, she withdrew the rest of the money from her own 401(k).

Madeline Boughton pitches the benefits of a weeklong London trip for Newark high school students in a video posted to Indiegogo. After the $25,000 campaign yielded just $2,300 in donations, Boughton funded the rest of the trip out-of-pocket.

“I was really stressed out and worried because I really didn’t want to cancel the trip, because I didn’t want to let the children down,” she said.

For their part, the students themselves were excited as the trip got underway. “The wait in Newark airport seemed like a couple minutes, it’s amazing how time flies when you’re excited,” blogged Joshua Skillern, a junior at Technology High school, as the trip got underway on March 29. “When we boarded the plane, none of us could keep quiet.”

With the help of an essay contest, Boughton hand-selected Skillern and four other high-achieving Newark high school sophomores last spring.  All honors students, the London entourage boasts two Rutgers Future Scholars, an NJIT Upward Bound student, and several athletes.

The itinerary includes touring Wimbledon and attending a Royal Shakespeare Company production. Students will also spend three days at Wroxton College, Fairleigh Dickinson’s satellite location in London, and the site of Boughton’s study abroad experience as an undergraduate. There, they will further explore Anglo-American cultural differences.

“We’ll be giving the kids that are coming over guidance about what it is they are seeing, some of the differences they may encounter, and why those differences are there,” said Dr. Nicholas Baldwin, dean at Wroxton College.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that international travel programs are absent from the curricula of Newark’s traditional public high schools. In a district where school administrators are saddled with addressing grave realities like low test scores and graduation rates, and where there’s been confusion and wrangling over the controversial “One Newark” school district reorganization plan, it’s easy to understand how a weeklong trip overseas could seem extraneous to school administrators, if not downright frivolous.

But in spite of both the steep monetary requirements and competition with more pressing priorities, access to excursions abroad for Newark students could be worth the effort in the long run, offering a global outlook for students who are inheriting an increasingly connected world where unprecedented global competition is a reality.

With this trip under her belt as a proof-of-concept, Boughton says she will seek the funding and support required to take a group of Newark high school students overseas every year.

 To read more about Boughton’s endeavors, see pictures from the trip, and read student blog posts, visit TravelingMad.com.

ayesha fainesAyesha K. Faines is a North Jersey-based writer and television journalist. Her non-fiction work explores millennial entrepreneurship, personal development, and the intersection of race and popular culture. A self-proclaimed “afromantic”, she also enjoys writing romantic fiction and poetry. She blogs regularly at www.xoAyesha.com and tweets @ayeshakfaines.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Madeline Boughton invested $23,000 of her own money into the students’ trip. In fact, she invested $12,000.

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 NewarkPulse.com, 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 NewarkPulse.com, 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.

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.

Newark creative entrepreneur D’TaRelle Tullis among graduates of Rising Tide Capital’s latest Community Business Academy

Late last week, 146 entrepreneurs — including 56 from Essex County — graduated from Rising Tide Capital’s (RTC) nationally recognized 12-week Community Business Academy (CBA) with a newly-acquired business education, an expanded network, and access to the support and resources they need to start or grow a successful business. In a historic moment in the organization’s 10-year history, the 1,000th entrepreneur graduated from the program, as part of the largest CBA class to-date.

The new RTC entrepreneurs joined an alumni network of 968 CBA graduates across Northern New Jersey in a graduation ceremony held at Saint Peter’s University. Featured speakers included Virginia Bender of Saint Peter’s University, Rising Tide Capital’s Chairman of the Board of Trustees Doug Forrester, cofounders Alex Forrester and Alfa Demmellash as well as representatives from the eight sessions of the CBA. During the ceremony, graduates received a Community Business Academy completion certificate and free membership into the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.

Among the graduating class was Newark native D’TaRelle Tullis, who is making a difference in her local community. With a mission to fight childhood obesity and provide affordable dance classes to surrounding communities, Tullis started her mobile dance studio Pitter Patter Feet in 1993. Starting with schools in urban cities like Newark, Maplewood and Irvington—she teaches ballet, hip hop, jazz and tap to youth combining dance with classroom instruction.

“Most families in my hometown lack the funds to offer their children professional dance classes; my business allows me to provide that opportunity. While my parents were unable to afford dance classes while I was growing up, I hope to infuse physical activity into the everyday curriculum to ensure the optimal development of youth,” she said.

With clients ranging from childcare facilities to public schools, Tullis uses her expertise as a New Jersey State approved consultant and trainer in early childhood development to create classes that provide physical and social development. While she started her business 22 years ago, Tullis took the Community Business Academy to gain the business and financial management acumen to sustain her business.

“I been in business for a really long time, however while I enjoyed the artistic side of teaching the dance classes I needed help with actually running the business. The CBA was extremely valuable. I learned that I needed to create a system to my everyday work to ensure I deliver excellent quality services. I also learned a lot about myself and built lasting relationships with my classmates and instructors.”

Since taking the Community Business Academy, Tulis has won $3,000 for Pitter Patter Feet after pitching her business in the Newark Innovation Acceleration Challenge.  She says her participation in the CBA gave her the additional boost of confidence needed to present her business and talk about pricing and book keeping. Tullis plans to explore options for creating online classes to expand her reach to more students.

The CBA, offered in locations throughout Hudson and Essex Counties, teaches entrepreneurs business fundamentals including budgeting, marketing, bookkeeping and financing.  Each CBA student receives a full-tuition waiver—covered by Rising Tide Capital’s funding partners—and continued business support through the Business Acceleration Services Program.

With Indian-infused burger joint, Newark economic development pro builds the type of business he once tried to attract

Check out our Halsey Street story map for more articles and previews in this series, and stay tuned to Facebook, Twitter, and our homepage for updates on new stories.

It’s mid-November in Newark, and Kai Campbell is getting ready to realize a dream: the opening of his and his wife Tamara’s new burger joint on his beloved Halsey Street.

That makes Campbell, a third generation Newarker, just the latest small business owner to launch a venture on Halsey Street, a corridor that, thanks in part to its prime location sandwiched just east of University Heights and west of Broad Street, has become a hub of downtown redevelopment.

“It was always my intent to save where I’m from,” said Campbell in an interview conducted in late October, as he oversaw construction at Burger Walla, the Campbells’ unique burger spot. Burger Walla opened its doors to the public with a soft launch on December 2.

Campbell, 33, is a University of Virginia graduate who has spent much of his post-collegiate life trying to bring big businesses to his hometown. He’s held several economic development jobs with the city, and was also was the former Senior Associate of Real Estate for Brick City Development Corporation. “I’ve met with every major retailer you can think of,” he said of his quest to bring business to the city.

Now he’s bringing business in a different way — by launching one himself. Along with his wife, Campbell also runs NewarkPulse.com, a local website that mainly focuses on positive news stories in and around Newark. They’re a true family about Newark: in addition to publishing about the city and launching a business here, Campbell, his wife, and their toddler and newborn live in town, as well.

One factor that can make it tough to attract businesses to Halsey Street and downtown Newark, Campbell said, is that they see Rutgers and NJIT as commuter schools, and consequently assume the coveted student population does not venture past Washington Street. But Campbell thinks Halsey Street is a good investment, and that he can get students to consistently cross that invisible border. “This is the epicenter of where development can take off,” Campbell said.

Social media users review Burger Walla

Thus Burger Walla, an Indian-influenced burger joint that serves everything from beef burgers and flat grilled hot dogs to shrimp and chicken burgers infused with Indian spices. The restaurant also offers an Indian drink called a “lassi,” akin to a traditional milkshake. “Instead of using ice cream, we’re going to use yogurt,” said Campbell.

Why Indian-inspired fare?

For one, Campbell loves Indian food, and he believes others who haven’t yet tried it will love it too if they give it a chance. “People don’t know that they like Indian food,” he mused. “I think by me putting a twist on burgers, which everybody can recognize, I think they’ll be more receptive to Indian food,” he added.

Campbell said the restaurant’s Indian elements are authentic. “I’ve flown halfway around the world to go to a single Indian restaurant before,” he said. In addition, his wife Tamara Campbell is of Indian descent.

The menu is also infused with a couple tastes of New Jersey and the couple’s beloved Brick City: Best hot dogs, Boylan sodas (Best Provision recently celebrated its 75th anniversary in Newark; Boylan Bottling Company was born in New Jersey over a century ago.)

In addition to offering unique food, the Campbells are also looking to infuse their restaurant with a distinct culture fit for a popular neighborhood hangout spot. Campbell said he hopes Burger Walla’s ambiance will keep college students and other community members coming back. “Every Monday night we’re going to be showing independent films,” he said.  Along with the movie nights, they also plan to offer viewings of sports events, outdoor dining — weather permitting — and live music.

Find Burger Walla on Facebook and Twitter for updates on events, and check their website for the restaurant’s menu and blog.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Poetry in Newark

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


The Coffee Cave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

Shakira: I did. I went to Central High.


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

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

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


Andaiye: What was then-principal Baraka like?

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

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

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

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


Andaiye: Who’s “we”?

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

newark youth council 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I looked at her like, “Chill out.”

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

Jessiah: Really. That’s what he said.

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

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

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

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

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


Andaiye: The comments?

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

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

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

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

Shakira: Yeah…

Kristin: Yeah…

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

newark youth town hall



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

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

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

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

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

group selfie

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

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

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

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

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

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