Urban League Young Professionals talk strategy on area’s gravest issues in first general body meeting of the year

participate cardFor their first general body meeting of the New Year, the Urban League of Essex County Young Professionals (ULECYP) set out to cross-examine the current state of black New Jersey. After a day’s work, young professionals from the surrounding Newark area (under the leadership of Jason Grove, the chapter’s president) assembled at Newark’s First Presbyterian Church to appraise both the city and the current state of its black residents with a focus on education, employment, and criminal justice

“It’s just rich history, so much rich history,” said Reverend Glen Misick, the church’s first black pastor since its inception in 1666, about the church, which is often hailed as “the Church that founded Newark” given its role in the growth and development of the 350-year old city. More than 50 years after the Urban League of Essex County first hosted their meetings in the same location, Reverend Misick noted that the rousing activism of the young professionals demographic is one the historic church is keen on embracing.

The conversation of the night, which hinged on education, jobs, and justice, included a panel with Lawrence Hamm, founder and chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress; Vivian Cox Fraser, CEO of the Urban League of Essex County, and Rashawn Davis, president of Essex County Young Democrats. The conversation turned in part to the relevance of history and of civil rights organizations like the Urban League.

“You can’t really understand the present unless you understand the past, and the past is bearing down on us everyday,” said Hamm. “So when we talk about jobs, education, and justice now, it’s against the backdrop of all the things that occurred in the past,” he continued.

Cox Fraser added: “Today, the need for an Urban League is great if not greater that 100 years ago. It goes to show that although many things have changed, many things still remain the same.”

One of those issues is concentrated property, which affects many of the other issues that affect young professionals even if they don’t experience poverty itself firsthand. In response to a question about how young professionals can advocate for a decrease in crime in the city, Hamm explained that the high rate of crime in urban communities is not a singular issue, and should not be treated as such.

“Crime is the handmaiden of poverty, and I would submit to you that until we deal with the poverty, crime is going to remain with us,” Hamm explained.

A recurring theme in the discussion centered the need for action to improve the quality of life in New Jersey’s urban communities. “Today in New Jersey, over 60 percent of our incarcerated population is African-American. Cities like Newark have unemployment rates that are almost double the national employment rate. Children of color born today in urban cities have worse life chances than ever before. And I say all of this as a reminder that we have work to do,” said Davis.

The “work” — which panelists noted could begin with young professionals opting to live and work in the city as opposed to moving out and leaving it — is also vulnerable to gentrification, said Cox Fraser. “If you don’t own anything, you don’t control anything,” she said, before continuing: “Gentrification has occurred in many communities, and I believe that the only way you can stop it is to get in front of it. We need young professionals to come back and own their community.”

The Urban League of Essex County currently spearheads  a plan to revitalize the historic neighborhood of Fairmount Avenue in the city’s West Ward. According to a strategic plan for the project, the initiative will focus on creating the type of neighborhood that the people who live and work in the community want to see. The work is of a piece with the ULECYP’s urgent tone and sense of urgency around economic equity, public safety, and quality of life, and a slate of practical initiatives they’ve undertaken of late to chip away at those issues.


Learn more about ULECYP on their website and Facebook group. ULECYP are members of the Urban League between the ages of 21 and 40.

 

Video: Newark EDC honcho Otis Rolley discusses his urban planning philosophy

video cardIn a recent video produced by cultural news website CivicStory, Newark Community Economic Development Corporation CEO Otis Rolley discussed his approach to urban planning, and the progress he thinks the city will make within the next decade.

“What I love about urban planning is that it provides you with an opportunity to deal with challenges from a comprehensive approach,” he says while seated in Military Park. The end goal of urban planning, he said, is to think comprehensively about “how you can have a successful city.”

And at the end of the day, said Rolley, investment in people provides the greatest return.

“You can spend billions of dollars in a structure, in a park,” he says, amidst shots of Military Park and the Prudential Tower, “but if you approach that investment [by asking] what is the net benefit or return on investment to the humans the families in and around that area, you’re going to see the greatest return.”

He continued: “As we bless and enrich our people, the city [and] the state, get rich as well.”

Rolley then pivoted to discuss the progress he predicts the city will make in the coming years. “In the next five to ten years, we’re going to be a vanguard city,” he said citing educational institutions’, business leaders’, and the arts sectors’ investment in the city’s success as a key indicator. “They all see this as ‘our Newark, our city'” said Rolley.

“It is very much an international city,” Rolley insisted. “That diversity is part of our strength.”

“If you love to eat, if you love art and culture, and if you love entertainment, wherever you live, move. And come here,” he said.

Watch the full video below:

Video reposted with permission from CivicStory.org.

Interactive Timeline: Key moments for Newark’s ex-offender re-entry efforts in the last dozen years

context cardThe reentry and reintegration of the formerly incarcerated into the community is a critical issue for Newark. Each year, an estimated 1,700 formerly incarcerated people return to the city from state prison, facing all manner of serious employment, housing, and health issues that effect the ex-offenders themselves, plus their families and communities. It’s no wonder that according to the most recent available data from the New Jersey Department of Corrections, for the incarcerated released in 2009, 53 percent were rearrested, 39 percent re-convicted, and 32 percent re-imprisoned within three years.

President Barack Obama will visit Newark on Monday, November 2 to highlight the city’s work on re-entry. The visit will take him first to Integrity House, and then to Rutgers-Newark’s Center for Law and Justice, where he will convene a roundtable discussion about re-entry and deliver remarks on the topic.

The visit is a recognition of work that’s been done at both the city and state level long before now, including the creation of the Office of Re-entry here in Newark, and a package of bills passed at the state level that the New York Times said could make New Jersey “a model for the rest of the nation” on re-entry policy.

But serious issues still abound, from the resources available to reintegrate the formerly incarcerated back into communities, to the policies and resources to stop the outflow of Newarkers to prison in the first place. In the timeline below, we highlight some key events in re-entry policy that have occurred at the national, state, and local level within the past dozen years, and help frame Obama’s visit.