Rashawn Davis to deliver youth empowerment message in commencement address to University High School graduates

after the run cardIn just over two months, a high school commencement speaker will be able to look a group of 18-year-old Newarkers in the eyes and tell them to do well in college, to consider bringing their talents back home and contributing to critical initiatives and, heck, perhaps run for local office while they’re young.

The words won’t come from judge, a seasoned corporate executive, or another figure who is quite a bit of distance from them in age and experience, but from a young Newarker who sat where they did a mere five years ago, and will be able to speak with the credibility of experience when he asks them to build their talents and skills, and not “wait until they’re older” to invest them back into their communities.

In June, Rashawn Davis, the activist, organizer, and former candidate for local political office, will deliver the commencement speech to graduating University High School students.

In 2014, Davis made history when he became the youngest person ever certified on a Newark municipal ballot ahead of his run for Newark’s West Ward city council seat. He was just 21 years old. Davis didn’t ultimately win, but the seriousness of his candidacy raised his profile, and the experience gave him firsthand insight into the pugilistic electoral process in Newark.

After the election, he doubled down on his organizing by selecting and working on needle-moving initiatives. Perhaps most prominently, he joined the ACLU, where he was a key figure in advocating and organizing for the creation of a Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) and other police reforms, even before police reform flared up as headline-making national issue.

Newark’s CCRB has been hailed as one of the strongest in the country. When the board was created, Mayor Ras Baraka named Davis one of its nine appointees.

Davis also breathed new life into the Essex County Young Democrats, a county-wide organization where he now serves as president and can work across municipalities on youth-oriented issues, and directly influence youth participation in the civic and political processes.

Davis has noted in the past that while youth bear the brunt of a number of critical problems in Newark, including unemployment and crime victimization, they’re almost completely shut out of the governing process in Newark. It’s a chasm he’s said he is committed to closing, by participating himself and by inspiring his peers to do the same.

The commencement speech will give him a captive audience whose decisions over the next few years will shape the extent and tenor of their participation in Newark if and when they return to the city after college. According to a statement about the speech, University High School Principal Regina Sharpe is excited for Davis to deliver his message to her graduates.

“There is nothing better than our very own successful Georgetown graduate paying it forward as a political figure and role model for current University High School students,” she said.

City’s new “We Are Newark” Tumblr showcases city employees

The City of Newark recently launched a new Tumblr blog entitled WeAreNewark, meant to showcase what Mayor Ras Baraka calls “Newark 3.0,” embodied in this case by a diverse legion of city employees.

The inaugural post is a profile of Carrie Velez, the city’s principal personnel technician. Angela Daniels, the city’s press officer and social media manager, said these snapshots of city employees are meant to put a face behind the people who ultimately make the city run. “Everyone’s job is important, and we are using this blog as a method to showcase who we are, what makes us different, and also use this as an outlet to share our love for our City,” she wrote in an email, before adding that the blog would highlight other developments in town.

True to its name, the blog is meant to further press home Baraka’s “we are the mayor” message from the campaign, underscoring just how many people who were heretofore unknown to the general public work behind the scenes in city government. City employees interested in being featured on the blog are asked to contact Daniels at danielsan@ci.newark.nj.us.

End of the beginning: Rashawn Davis finds his footing after Newark’s municipal race

It’s an early spring Saturday afternoon in Newark, and I’m bumping along Springfield Avenue in the backseat of a red Buick. Rashawn Davis, 22, is seated in front of me in the passenger seat discussing the details of his next event with his campaign manager, Chad Montague. He’ll be visiting St. Ann’s Soup Kitchen in Newark’s West Ward to read at a literacy program and serve food to the kitchen’s Saturday morning clientele.

For Davis, this Saturday afternoon is the coda to a week spent working at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on community policing issues by day, and talking to the likes of me at night (I interviewed Davis for this story four days prior to our soup kitchen excursion).

rashawn-davis-reading

Image credit: Andaiye Taylor

At St. Ann’s, Davis is greeted warmly by the soup kitchen’s staff. He heads into a long, thin reading room where children have gathered around a table, and reads Babar Comes to America to a young girl. When he’s finished there, he crosses the facility and heads into the kitchen, where he dons a baseball cap and matching apron, and receives a rundown of the day’s menu from kitchen staff. Asked to make some remarks to the people he’ll soon serve, he assents readily and walks out to the middle of the floor to say a few words.

His basic message to the soup kitchen attendees: that he’ll be working on their behalf in the political off-season, far away from the klieg lights and media hype that contribute to the circus-like feel of campaign season here in Newark. This, in a nutshell, is the blueprint for Davis’ life after his first political run.

Unto the breach

Newark might be one of the oldest cities in the country, but look at its current demographics, and at the people who are most affected by the city’s most pressing problems, and the watchword is undoubtedly “youth.”

Newark indexes slightly higher for pre-adult youth than the state of New Jersey, and the city boasts a senior population of only 8.6 percent, versus the state’s 13.5 percent. Young people are the subject of the city’s raging debate about education, and the hardest hit by unemployment. They’re both the most frequent victims and perpetrators of violent crime.

Yet Newark’s political leadership is characterized by legacy, incumbency and, well, age. It’s a particular concern for Davis, who worries that the experiences, worldview, and talents of the millennial generation are essential for moving the city forward, but missing from the city’s local government leadership. The needs of that generation, and of the city on the whole, can’t be sufficiently addressed because of youth underrepresentation, Davis says.

So in 2013, while the Newark native was still a college undergraduate at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and buoyed in part by his core group of friends – all enterprising young black men from cities around the country – Davis decided to “be the change” and run for office in his hometown.

Failing forward

Davis entered the campaign with the intent to do as well as he could, but on the merits, it was highly unlikely that he’d pull out a win. In the beginning in particular, attention to his campaign was slow-going, and money was scarce. He was also up against Newark voters’  tendency to vote for incumbents and other known entities in local elections (a tendency they share with the average American voter). Davis was decidedly neither.

Davis made it clear to me that losing wasn’t fun (“for a week or so after the election I didn’t talk to many people, and I was a little disenchanted with the system,” he said, mostly due to vandalism and other assorted ugliness his campaign weathered as voting day drew closer). But Davis also knew that losing the race was merely the end of the beginning of his plan to be a change agent in Newark. “We still had a ton of opportunity ahead of us, even if we didn’t win,” he observed.

In the technology startup world, this is called “failing forward.” The concept: statistically, an entrepreneur’s first venture is unlikely to succeed. But launching a new venture, and all the activities that go along with it – defining a vision, creating an execution plan, hiring the right (or the wrong) team members, getting investors to contribute funds – these make for such dynamic learning experiences that founders often find themselves in high demand for new opportunities, even if the business they founded didn’t succeed. They fail forward.

Davis’ first run conferred similar benefits. Hearing from Newarkers helped him understand what he would need to accomplish to make his pitch to Newarkers resonate better. Trying to get an audience for his message with a lean team and even leaner funds made the importance of serious fundraising and smart staffing apparent. And the attacks Davis said his campaign experienced after his first big press mentions – on PolicyMic and MTV – awakened him to the ugly realities of Newark politicking during campaign season.

Back to the day-to-day

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Image credit: Brian Rock

In this way, Davis’ first run helped bring shape and clarity to the work he does now. Working backwards from the types of arguments he would like to have made to Newarkers about his record during his first council race, Davis has been able to marry issues he sincerely cares about with a plan to accomplish milestones that the community can easily understand and appreciate.

In the most concrete way, that work has involved the creation of a Civilian Police Review Board under the aegis of the ACLU. While systemic – and often deadly – abuse of communities of color by police has recently become a marquee issue in national conversations, Davis’ work precedes this attention, instead coming on the heels of the Justice Department’s announcement last July of a federal monitor to keep watch over the Newark Police Department.

Davis is being intentional about how he spends his post-campaign time in other ways. One of his initiatives is to bring young professionals and creatives together to collaborate on projects in Newark, and to simply be aware that they’re a resource for one another here in town. To that end, he recently hosted an “Innovator’s Happy Hour” at Newark’s new Skylab rooftop bar. “I knew what it was like to wonder if you had a community here,” he said of his motivation for organizing the event.

Davis is also continuing to hone his ideas for how to elevate civic life in the West Ward, and in the city at large. One of his favorite ideas? “‘City Hall to Go’,” he said. “You take a van of City Hall employees to a different corner in a neighborhood each week, park it there, and let people come and get their questions answered there. It’s like a City Hall substation,” Davis explained of the idea he first learned of at the “innovation lab” at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

And in general, Davis is in favor of a muscular approach to the city council office. “The demand on council people is so much more” than what they are required to do by statute, Davis said. “Council members need to have visionary insight,” in order to do their part to improve the city, he added. From figuring out how to reform the blighted Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery site on South Orange Avenue, to maximizing commercial opportunities along the Orange Street corridor, Davis says an “expansive mindset” is required for council members to help unlock Newark’s potential.

In the next few months, Davis says he expects to continue dedicating considerable time to the Civilian Police Review Board, an initiative given new dimension by the current national climate. More tactically, Davis plans to start interviewing for communications, funding, and intern staff.

And perhaps he’ll accomplish a thing or two he can’t anticipate at the moment. “This in-between time is new,” he said.

Featured image credit: Brian Rock


#AfterTheRun is our yearlong series examining the life and work of Rashawn Davis after his city council run.

Read the next article in this series, Settling into the campaign post-season, Rashawn Davis doubles down on issues and builds bridges.

The mid-term elections are this Tuesday. Who and what is on the ballot?

If you’re concerned about the types of government services and policies that most effect you day to day, you should consider voting for your county, district, and state representatives and executives in the mid-term elections this Tuesday, November 4th.

Newarkers will vote on two U.S. Representatives (Newark is split between the 8th and 10th New Jersey congressional districts), one of New Jersey’s two U.S. Senate members, a pair of ballot measures, and county government officials. Want to know who and what is on the ballot, and where to vote? See the list below.


 

Sample ballots

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Where to vote

Look up your polling location here. The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

U. S. Senate – New Jersey

Term: Six years

New Jersey 8th Congressional District

Term: Two years

New Jersey 10th Congressional District

Term: Two years

Statewide ballot questions

County Executive

Term: Four years

  • Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. (Democrat – Incumbent)
  • Peter H. Tanella (Republican)

County Register

Term: Five years

  • James Boydston (Republican)
  • Dana Rone (Democrat)

Freeholders-at-Large

Term: Three years; Total seats: Four

  • Ricardo Alonso (Republican)
  • John Anello (Republican)
  • Ryan Funsch (Republican)
  • Brendan Gill (Democrat – Current District 5 Freeholder)
  • Rufus Johnson (Democrat – Incumbent)
  • Lebby Jones (Democrat)
  • Adam Kraemer (Republican)
  • Patricia Sebold (Democrat – Incumbent)

 

District Freeholders

District Freeholder – District 1

  • Rolando Bobadilla (Democrat – Incumbant)
  • Aracelis Sanabria Tejada (Republican)

District Freeholder – District 2

  • Wayne Richardson (Democrat)
  • ** No Republican candidate **

District Freeholder – District 3

  • Britnee N. Timberlake (Democrat)
  • ** No Republican candidate **

Rewind: Ras Baraka spits his “American Poem”

Mos Def introduced him to the Def Poetry crowd as “hip hop’s political future.”

In the run-up to the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, and with a nod to our feature story about Newark’s homegrown poetry scene and it deep origins here, we look back at verses recited by Newark’s current chief executive — and poet-in-chief.

Are there any American poets in here? he asks. A true American poem might be real, but it ain’t pretty. WATCH:

 

 

Full video: Ras Baraka’s first 100 days

Here is the entire video of the Baraka administration-produced video detailing the mayor’s first 100 days in office. It features a lengthy clip from his inaugural address, archival news footage, press conferences, and interviews with the mayor, city government officials, parents, and the CEO of Newark newcomer Panasonic discussing the public safety, education, and business agenda from the administration’s point of view.

Thoughts?

CityPlex12 to screen documentary detailing Ras Baraka’s first 100 days in office

Newark’s CityPlex12 movie theater will host a documentary screening detailing Ras Baraka’s first 100 days in office. Per the city’s official calendar:

Join Mayor Ras J. Baraka at this video screening to see firsthand what your new administration has planned and accomplished in its first 100 Days in office. Everything that this administration has done in these first three months has been to provide better service to you—the residents of Newark. Meet and greet the Mayor Baraka following the viewing.

The screening will take place at the theater on Wednesday, October 15 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are available on EventBrite. The documentary will air on the same day and time on both NWK-TV, Cablevision channel 78 and FiOS channel 28.

City Hall and police department look to increase service and engagement by joining private social network for Newark residents

Newark community activist Donna Jackson is widely known here as an unbowed guardian of grassroots community interests, willing to call out politicians, police, and community members when she thinks they're falling down on the job.

But seated inside the City Hall rotunda at a press conference announcing a new civic social media tool being rolled out citywide, she was feeling positive about a possible opening for Newark communities to connect with the local government, police, and each other like never before.

That social media tool is Nextdoor.com, and it's a private social network for neighbors. Nextdoor, itself only two-and-a-half years old, first came to Newark about a year ago, with individual residents logging in on their own to establish the social network's various neighborhoods (disclosure: the author is the founder of NextDoor's Central Business District neighborhood), and posting about events, items for sale, local recommendations, community incidents, and other topics.

In April, the city announced to Nextdoor.com's founding members that City Hall and the police department would begin using the platform to disseminate information, and to hear about local concerns from the site's members. Police and the city say they will encourage Nextdoor members to form "virtual neighborhood watches", and report incidents anonymously through the portal. The city also said it would post announcements about city services and other important information for residents. Police director Eugene Venable said the department would post crime tips and strategies to the site.

This is the first such partnership between Nextdoor, a city hall, and a police department in the northeast, according to the site's founder and vice president of marketing, Sarah Leary.

Jackson, for one, is for it. "I think that this is an excellent opportunity for us to connect in our neighborhoods, because for the first time in 10 or 12 years, we don't talk to each other anymore in our neighborhoods," she said. "I think this is one area to get us to reconnect."

Mayor Ras Baraka said today that he is "ecstatic" about the new technology, and hailed it as one that "allows us to make the city a little smaller". 

As we reported earlier this year, prospective Nextdoor members must verify their home address by entering a credit card, social security number, or telephone number, or by having a postcard with a verification code sent to their home address. Once inside the network, users are able to send messages to individual neighbors, their entire neighborhood, or nearby neighborhoods. The neighborhoods themselves are small geographic areas: Lower Roseville, Broadway, Central Business District, and the Ironbound are some of the neighborhoods in Newark.

The participation of the police department on Nextdoor concerned a few active members when it was first announced. When the police department announced its presence on the site back in April, a couple members suggested that they could use the network to eavesdrop on Newarkers.

It's a concern police chief Anthony Campos sought to allay: "Nextdoor does not allow the police department to snoop or investigate the posts," he said, adding that the department is interested in the technology because strong neighborly bonds help "create a stronger, safer city". 

But even if there isn't a technical way for police offers who are not Newark residents to see neighbor-to-neighbor posts on the site, Jackson said that concerns about privacy should be addressed from a different angle. "There need to be serious assurances to people in the community," she said. If residents proactively report incidents and police respond, she said, they need to make sure the identity of the Nextdoor member in question is protected.

And to be sure, many members have warmly welcomed the police presence. In the past day, several police officers have posted greetings and introductions on the site. They've been met with thank yous, welcomes, and even specific requests for training.

Leary said it was the early users of the social network that inspired partnerships like the one between the social network and Newark city departments. She said those early users began asking how Nextdoor members could integrate city halls, police departments, and fire departments into conversations when they choose to do so. "We followed that lead," she explained, adding that Nextdoor created a way for city departments to enter into a dialog with members "without compromising the privacy of the neighbor-to-neighbor communications."

Gary Campbell, an eight-year Newark resident and member of the Forest Hill neighborhood on Nextdoor, said he joined the social network about a year ago, in part because his car was broken into five times in about six months. "I was very frustrated, because it seemed like I was just out there all alone," he said. "That's actually when I joined Nextdoor. We get these emails about different things happening in the area, so I'm more aware," he continued.

Campbell's feeling about the city and police department's new role? "It'll just help support the residents," he said. "It'll decrease the apathy, give us a little more control, and help us to feel stronger about the city, especially if the technology takes a hold."

But Jackson, displaying her typical awareness of grassroots concerns, said that although Nextdoor could be "an excellent tool", some additional resources would need to be put behind the initiative in order to customize it to the needs of all Newarkers. "We need to make sure that the internet connections, and the tools that are needed for all of us to connect with this, are in place," she said. Senior communities, she pointed out, could see an outsize benefit from this type of tool, but would need access to computers, and the training to take advantage of it.

In the wake of the justice department calling for a federal monitor to watch the Newark police department, could this tool help improve police-community relations? "It all depends on the responses," Jackson said. "I think that much of the breakdown has come from a top-down mentality of 'we don't have to be in the community, we just have to deal with the community'," she said. "This tool presents an opportunity for that relationship between the community and the police to start to change," she added.

Newark residents can join Nextdoor for free at Nextdoor.com

Governor Chris Christie to Newark student: ‘I’ve been to Newark a bunch of times, and if I decide to have a town hall in Newark, I’ll have one’ [Video]

Governor Chris Christie had another one of his infamous confrontations with a questioner at a town hall, this time with a Newark high school student who attended his public forum yesterday in Belmar.

The student, 17-year-old Kristin Towkaniuk, asked the governor why he had "blatantly ignored Newark during his over 120 town hall meetings" around the state during his tenure as governor, to a light smattering of applause from the crowd.

Chistie responded: "I've been to Newark, I suspect, more than any governor who has been serving in the last 40 years."

"But have you had a public town hall meeting?" Towkaniuk pressed.

"I have been – I have had public events," the governor said. He continued:

I don't know whether I've had an actual town hall meeting, but I've had public events in Newark where people have been able to ask me questions, and to say that the governor who spends $1 billion a year on the Newark school system, the governor who spends over $4 billion in economic development to the city of Newark, is blatantly ignoring Newark is – with all due respect – just not well informed. Go to mayor Booker and ask him if he thinks, in the years he was mayor, that I ignored Newark. The fact is I've spent as much time, or more, in Newark than anybody has, and the idea that I have ignored Newark is really ridiculous.

But Towkaniuk didn't let up on the specific question of public forums, politely pressing: "I'm talking about the town halls. Will you be willing to have a town hall in Newark for the public?"

Christie responded:

I've been to Newark a bunch of times, and if I decide to have a town hall in Newark, I'll have one. But the fact is I've been to every part of the state, and I've been to Newark literally dozens of times in forums where I've taken questions, and in forums where I haven't taken questions. And so the answer is I'll do my town halls where me and my staff think are the best places to do the town halls. If one of them turns up in Newark, I hope you show up and you get to ask a question that's better than the one you just asked.

His comment was met with chuckles and applause from the crowd. Watch below:

 

 

 

Ras Baraka to officially become mayor today + downtown Newark traffic advisories

Ras Baraka will transition from mayor-elect to mayor today at noon in a swearing-in ceremony to be held at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC). The ceremony is open to the public.

A black-tie inaugural ball will follow this evening at the Robert Treat Hotel, complete with a cocktail reception, inaugural program, and VIP reception.

Because of today's events, there will be several street closures downtown Newark in the NJPAC area. They include:

  • Park Place from Raymond Boulevard to Center Street
  • East Park Street from Park Place to Mulberry Street
  • Center Street form Park Place to Mulberry Street