Building community in Newark with good food and restorative justice principles

Each month, members of the LGBTQ community, allies, and friends gather at the Newark LGBTQ Community Center for a community dinner based on peacemaking circles and the principles of restorative justice.

‘Ya’ll mad cause you lost.’ Unpacking the President’s first 100 days.

With Donald Trump’s 100th day in office fast approaching, comedian and scholar Justin Williams unpacks President Barack Obama’s 100 first days to shed some light on our current leader in these current times.
The similarities are remarkable.

Newark deserves quality public transportation. Here are three tactics to help get us there.

Newarkers need a fast, frequent, reliable, and affordable way to get around their city. Creating a first-class transit network is a policy imperative.

For discussion: Mayor Baraka on Newark development–It’s for us. (Video)

With $2 billion dollars’ worth of development rising out of the ground here in Newark, it’s clear something is shifting in town for real this time.

But for whom? In his latest video, Mayor Baraka rejects the comparison of development in Newark to what is transpiring in Brooklyn, and says we’re going for something a lot more inclusive, equitable and just.

Op-Ed: Will your vote count?

In this op-ed, NJIT professor Reza Curtmola demonstrates his thought leadership on the vulnerabilities of e-voting.

Why we commemorate Juneteenth

Juneteenth is a portmanteau term made of the two words “June” and “nineteeth” used to commemorate the day when Union soldiers marched into Galveston, Texas, announcing that slavery had been outlawed with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.  Now celebrated at the local level throughout the country, American black folks have adopted this day as a day to celebrate liberation, freedom, and self-determination.

However, there is something worth noting: the Emancipation Proclamation went into affect the very first day of 1863. Union troops didn’t get down to Texas until June 19, 1865 – more than two and a half years later.

There are conflicting stories as to why freedom was hidden from these enslaved black people for so long after slaveholders were mandated to release those they had enslaved for nearly 250 years. Some accounts tell a series of unfortunate events explaining the delay, while other, more realistic stories explain that President Abe Lincoln, the man who signed the Proclamation, had little power in the south and little sway with which to order southern slaveholders to do anything. It seems like many slaveholders simply didn’t want to give up the source of labor that had made them rich for more than 200 years.

The chattel slave system, used in addition to big cotton and tobacco business, built the country. The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation is supposed to mark the end of the 250-year old chattel slave economy, but enslaved black men, women, and children were forced to work for more than two years after the document supposedly freed them.

So on this day, the term “celebrate” is a little complicated. It’s true that the Emancipation Proclamation freed all three million southern black people, but the truth of their freedom was hidden from them for so long. It’s stomach turning to think of the amount of deception involved. We celebrate “Juneteenth” as the day of emancipation even though enslaved people had been freed over two whole years prior. How can we appropriately celebrate evidence of the selfishness and cruelty of America against black people?

We can celebrate by learning the true history of enslaved black people and the colonization of the Americas. We can celebrate 250 years of resistance. We can celebrate by learning the names of those enslaved and escaped black people who worked tirelessly for liberation – many of whom were unable to actually see the fruits of their labor. We can celebrate the courage it took for these people to fight for the abolition of slavery in the 1860s and the people who fight for the black lives that matter today.

And we can celebrate by supporting our communities. Many local Juneteenth celebrations, such as the Juneteenth Newark 5th Annual Event, focus on community and self-improvement with guest speakers, awards, black-owned business vendors, and live entertainment. On Juneteenth, we can celebrate all that it took, all that black people have done, to give us the freedom we have today in the face of such a cruel system. We can mourn the countless lives lost in the centuries of the freedom struggle, and we can find love and strength in engaging with our communities today.

Ode to ‘Brick City’: Newark doesn’t have to change its nickname to upgrade its identity

perspectives cardI recently had a spirited discussion with a local gallerist — a Newark lover who keeps an ear to the ground concerning any developments that might bode negatively for efforts to make the city a more desirable destination for business and pleasure.

I learned during that conversation that some who care about Newark are starting to think it’s time to move beyond “Brick City” as its nickname, and that even Mayor Ras Baraka is on board with this view.

Understandably, the mayor and others who are rooting for Newark want to dispel the harmful stereotypes the city has suffered for decades, often the butt of jokes for late night comics and movie punch lines. But I’m convinced that, even by any other name, Newark would continue to be fodder for humorists until they’re given a stronger, more substantial reason to stop laughing.

In 2009, Conan O'Brien made on-air jokes at Newark's expense.

In 2009, Conan O’Brien made on-air jokes at Newark’s expense.

The nickname of a city will only have negative connotations when the inhabitants of that city internalize the criticisms leveled at it by haters, and when they continue on a social, economic and political trajectory that invites scorn from outsiders.

Look at Newark’s municipal sibling across the Hudson. The “Big Apple,” as does Brick City, has no inherent value as a nickname – at least not on its face. The Big Apple has luster and panache associated with it only because of the way New Yorkers carry it. Period.

In the 1970’s and 80’s, during a downturn in New York City that included its near bankruptcy, blackouts and the wild west heydays of Times Square, the Big Apple was a target for the doomsayers. Like Brick City, some were writing its epitaph. The editorial cartoons in the tabloids were depicting apples infested with worms, or sunbaked and wilted, or plain rotted to the core.

nyc headlines

Rotten apple. Left: Long before Conde Nast readers voted Newark “Unfriendliest City,” these “Welcome to Fear City” pamphlets were distributed to would-be New York City tourists by plainclothes police at area airports back in 1975. Right: That same year, the New York Daily News responds to president Gerald Ford saying he wouldn’t bail out a financially wrecked New York City.

Now that New York has successfully rebounded from 9/11, and internalized and reflected that success, its Big Apple image is one of vigor and vitality.

So let’s not be in a hurry to throw out the baby with the bath water. Negativity associated with Brick City may actually be, in large part, negativity internalized by the Newark community and reflected back to the world. “Newark, the perpetual underperforming underdog,” we tell ourselves. Perhaps that statement is true in part because we repeat it so much amongst ourselves. By contrast, I think that if the people and institutions of Newark are positive, upbeat, forward-thinking and industrious, that’s the way the world will eventually recognize this city.

I learned a generation ago, from the generation before me, that Brick City has a centuries-long, illustrious reputation as a bustling, vibrant locale. As a young college kid and native Baltimorean, my virgin brain struggled to absorb the plethora of anecdotes fired at me from the mouth of my employer and mentor, Tony Zangari, about his beloved “Nork.” And Mr. Z, as I called him, was specifically intrigued with Newark as a “Brick City.”

That’s because Mr. Z was a builder.

As a new resident of Newark at the time, I had a distinctly different outlook of the city than most natives, who are already used to the “look” of the city by the time they’re able to grasp their surroundings. What was visually typical, normal and mundane to their eyes was unique, magnificent and wondrous to the eyes of one who’d never witnessed the physical structure of Newark.

Indeed, Newark was a visually stunning city to behold. Bricks, bricks everywhere. The Prudential and Mutual Benefit Life buildings notwithstanding, most of Newark’s downtown office towers in the late 1970’s, when I first encountered Newark, were brown brick – and beautiful.

Several of these buildings still adorn the central business district today – and are still beautiful. There’s also Penn Station, the library, the museum, NJPAC, the brick-lain Prudential Plaza, the historic brick brownstones on James Street, the beautifully architected and brick-hewn Broad Street Station, and lovely brick churches too numerous to catalogue. Back then, even Mulberry Street was made of brick — it hadn’t been paved yet. And as I traversed the city, I recognized the unique character of Newark’s neighborhoods and communities that also lent well-earned aplomb to the appellation “Brick City.”

NJPAC, Newark Broad Street Station, and James Street

NJPAC, Newark Broad Street Station, and James Street

At that time, more than 300 years after the city was born, it was obvious that Newark’s settlers recognized a “brick” as a magical thing. A material on which to build Newark’s foundation, and upon that, all that Newark would be and has become.

Three-hundred fifty years later, the building continues, and a funny thing happened on the way to today’s gleaming glass and steel from the original brick and mortar: Newark built a structural “brick city” while also attempting to build a community, a culture and a commerce. It’s a project that has certainly fallen short over the years, but excitement about finally hitting that trifecta — and in ways that benefit all Newarkers — is tangible, palpable, and electric in some of the initiatives I’m witnessing here now.

A significant level of pride in the Brick City moniker itself is also still on display today. Witness the many ventures that have absorbed “Brick City” into their own names, including this very publication.

Many who disdain “Brick City” disdain Newark regardless of what name the city goes by. Haters would associate any alternative name for Newark with an overgrown ghetto. But if Brick City were held in high esteem by Newarkers, it would stand a much greater chance of being praised and applauded universally, because it would be a reflection of our self-esteem as a city.

Newark has been built up over 350 years. With its geography, infrastructure, institutions and people, it has significant raw assets to boast. Brick City is an organic, homegrown, nostalgic brand, so let’s change Newark’s mindset and fundamental prospects, not its nickname.

Regi Taylor is a Baltimore native, illustrator, sculptor, writer and public relations professional who currently resides in the suburbs of Maryland. He cut his teeth in Newark politics and business development as a young man under the mentorship of Carl Sharif, on the public relations staff of former schools superintendent Dr. Columbus Salley, and as an unofficial apprentice to Balozi Harvey, former United Nations trade liaison on behalf of the City of Newark. Image: a handmade “Newark” wire sculpture by the author. Contact him at

Disclosure: While working in Newark as a young man, Regi Taylor also co-created founder and editor Andaiye Taylor.

More than plowing snow: Here’s the bigger lesson from the Jonas cleanup in Newark

perspectives cardWe now have a little distance from winter storm Jonas and Newark’s issues with snow removal in its wake. And after looking back and assessing the response, there is no way to sugarcoat this: the storm showcased some of the habits that hold our city back. Not only did it show how unprepared we were for managing natural disasters, but even worse, it showcased the immense amount of vitriol that has plagued Newark for far too long. The days after the storm were one giant master class in finger pointing. From City Hall to the media, everyone else was to blame for the chaotic and crippling cleanup effort.

In the end, it was residents who were left picking up the pieces. Heroic stories emerged across the Internet of Newarkers banding together to dig one another out, caring for the sick, and rallying together through the storm. While those stories of selfless neighbors are important, and are a fundamental reason why I continue to call this place home, those stories should not have had to happen. They didn’t happen in Jersey City, they didn’t happen in Montclair, and they didn’t happen in dozens of other places that were blanketed in snow.

Time and time again, Newarkers have to be the exception. Newarkers must constantly overcome in spite of something, and while that has contributed to our resilient character, we cannot continue to function as a city of exceptions. Moreover, we cannot thrive as a city of exceptions.

What makes winter storm Jonas so important has less to do with the actual snow, and everything to do with how we chose to react to it. If we can’t clean up snow, if we refuse to come together when people need us the most, how can we ever rise to be the city of our parents and grandparents’ dreams? Newark has high hopes, and rightfully so. Our downtown is reshaping itself in a beautiful way, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel in our education reform effort, and people are beginning to sincerely believe in Newark again.

But Newark has been on the brink and the precipice of change before, and we have fallen short before. If we want this time to be different, then it’s up to us. The future of Newark rests in our hands, not Trenton’s, not Washington D.C.’s, and not in the shortcomings of past leaders. Those who care about Newark, right now, native or transplant, no matter what their race, are all that matters in this fight to push this city forward.

Change is difficult. It requires a sort of soul searching and self-evaluation that we have often shrugged off as being the stuff of outside agitators, or a rejection of Newark. But in reality it’s quite the opposite. Snow cleanup debacles, physical altercations at so-called peace rallies, and a city that has become accustomed to less rather than more: we have work to do, Newark. Serious work. We need greater accountability, we need unified communities, and we need to push for a culture of excellence not mediocrity. Undoubtedly, each of us plays a part in reaching these goals.

President Lincoln once wrote he who has a heart to help has a right to criticize. I believe in Newark. I believe in its ability to be the greatest city in America if only we have the resolve and fortitude to make tough but necessary adjustments. If Newark has taught me anything, it’s to speak up when necessary. I’m imploring our leaders and communities to get it together and put the divisiveness behind us, because what is at stake — our future — is much too great and far too important to do otherwise.