At 6 p.m. Wednesday evening in the dimly lit worship space of the Third Presbyterian Church on Ridge Street, residents and community members of the North Ward gathered for the final ward meeting regarding the upcoming Newark Celebration 350.
“This is the place where folks in the North Ward used to come and take care of community business,” said Junius Williams, chair of Newark Celebration 350 and the director of the Abbott Leadership Institute at Rutgers University Newark.
Williams recalled the 1968 Democratic chairmanship election, where Steve Adubato, Sr. was elected North Ward Democratic party chairman. “I know this church has a long religious history, but I remember it’s political history,” he said.
Less than 50 years later, residents of the North Ward gathered again to make another contribution to the city, this time in the runup to a symbolic milestone.
“This celebration is our chance to change the narrative of the city and reintroduce Newark to the country and to the world,” said John Johnson, Jr., executive director of Newark Celebration 350.
Programming ideas to highlight Newark talent were once again the point of the evening as one resident suggested a Newark literary festival to highlight both established and up-and-coming authors. Another suggestion involved asking veteran Newark jazz artists to host citywide performances at some of the newly established venues in the city, like Duke’s Southern Table on Clinton Street.
In an effort to utilize city venues, a star-studded musical performance (Bruce Springsteen was requested specifically) at the mostly dormant Bears Stadium was another idea on the table.
Curating events that focused on engaging smaller communities in the city was also a focal point at the final celebration meeting.
“Big city events are cool, but it’s the folks in the outer neighborhoods that are disconnected from the said prosperity going on downtown,” said attendee Diane Colson. “What I would like to see are smaller forums that give residents a chance to really be engaged and feel empowered, and feel like they can make a difference in their lives and the lives of others by participating in what’s going on in the city,” Colson continued.
Newark 350 programming chairperson and NJPAC president John Schreiber echoed Colson’s point, and stated that the committee has received over a 100 different ideas from citizens in various wards.
“What’s important is that these events don’t just take place in the Central Ward. We want this to be an opportunity for all citizens to participate and understand the city’s past, present, and future,” said Schreiber.
Williams also elaborated on the city’s plan to use the events to educate Newark youth about the city’s history, while revealing tidbits of Newark Celebration 350’s plans to incorporate a Newark curriculum in the city’s public school system. “A lot of Newark’s history hasn’t been written down. There are a few of us who have written books and things like that, but a lot of Newark’s history is just out there,” said Williams.
“Out of Newark’s 350 years, my family has been here for 52. We should really feel proud of this city and celebrate it as much as we can,” said North Ward Councilman, Anibal Ramos, Jr. who was also in attendance. He suggested celebrating historic neighborhoods and immigrant communities in the city that have “contributed to the fabric and the development of Newark.”
A number of residents expressed that as the city embarks on a celebration of it’s 350th year, these landmark celebrations should become lifelong city initiatives that continue long after the year is over. “We shouldn’t stop at 350, these ideas should continue on to 351, 352 and so on,” said resident Zayed Abdalla.
As the event came to a close, Wiliams urged residents to keep brainstorming ideas for events. “The event submission is on a rolling basis, so as long as we have time and money, things can keep coming in. Ideas can keep coming in. They probably won’t make it into the first round of events, but they can make into the rest.”
The line up for the celebration’s first round of events will be released on October 17th, the same day as the celebration kickoff event in Military Park.
Featured Image: Newark Celebration 350