Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche: Newark’s financial literacy ‘valedictorian’

tiffany the budgetnista aliche

Best-selling author Tiffany "The Budgetnista" Aliche and I met at Elbow Room in Newark recently to discuss her financial literacy career, which she launched in Newark, and which has truly taken off over the past 18 months.

Depending on the day, you can spot her on your television, in your Twitter feed, on the Huffington Post, speaking at major conferences, teaching financial literacy in smaller groups, giving webinars, and being featured in high-recognition newspapers and magazines. Or, if you're in Newark (Aliche lives here), you just might catch her strolling around town, always with a forearm full of her signature green Budgetnista bracelets.

Among other things, we talked about how the recession changed a generation's attitude toward risk taking, why you should let your business speak to you, and why you might want to look out for a green "B" on your potential purchases in the not-too-distant future. And as always, I asked about the entrepreneurial climate in Newark.

Andaiye Taylor: Your reach has spread well beyond Newark. Can you talk about why Newark makes a good home base for an entrepreneur like yourself?

Tiffany Aliche: Newark is like a big city and a small town at the same time. If you succeed in Newark, it puts you on the map, because in your given field, there might be next to no competition. In my case, who else is going to teach financial literacy? I was the only game in town.

I look at Dreena [Whitfield, founder of WhitPR, a public relations firm, and Newark's current press secretary]: no one was specifically doing public relations for small business here before she did. Or Akintola [Hanif, founder of Hycide magazine]: no one was a hardcore photographer in the way he did it.

These are truly talented people at what they do. It's just that Newark allows us to hone our skills in a smaller environment, where people can help you out without feeling threatened, whereas in New York City, it's more dog eat dog.

Right now, I'm like the valedictorian in a small high school: I'm right in league with the other valedictorians. Newark might be pretty small, but it's the biggest city in the state. Because I'm at the top of the heap in Newark, it puts me in league with other people all over the country who do what I do.

And another thing I love about Newark is that all the movers and shakers are so touchable. It seems like everybody is just a touch away. There's more than enough going on here that you can make an impact, and you can be put on the map to succeed.

Does the proximity to New York City also help?

It does. Because Newark is so close, I’m able to make the transition to New York.

I'm City National Bank’s financial literacy expert. That's a case where I was able to work with a company that is based here, but has a presence in [New York] city. A bank in [New York] city would never have asked me to be its lead financial literacy expert at the stage in my career that CNB did. But here in Newark, there was no other real choice. The president [of CNB] saw a Star Ledger story and called me in. And that's another thing: to even have the opportunity to have press here is a big advantage.

So it sounds like this has been a great place to kick off a career. Can you talk about living in Newark?

I love living here. It's not a super pretty place like California. Newark is like the baby that’s not that cute, but it’s my baby. What I like is the people. The people here are really amazing, and it's like I can’t make it from one end of the street to the other without meeting somebody new. Or seeing someone I know and having a conversation.

And there's a certain energy here.  Everyone is kind of like "Man, we’re all trying to figure out how to do something amazing."

What do you think is driving that attitude? Why are so many people trying to do their own thing?

"Living richer" is about pursuing your purposeful passion in life. I feel like the recession has led to people thinking, "If I do things the 'right way', everything can still be taken away." That’s the gift that the recession has given to us, especially if you're in your late 20s, or in your 30s. My [younger] sister and her peers who are coming out [of college] now aren't seeing the worst of it like our generation has.

The recession made you rethink how life is supposed to work. It shined light on the lie that if you go to school and get a "regular job", everything's going to work out fine. I think more people in our generation have thought to themselves, "If you're going to take away my sucky job anyway, I might as well take a risk on doing something I'll love."

How did that play out in your specific case? 

I was a teacher in Newark for 7 years. A couple years ago, around the time when school was going to start again for the fall, they called and said, "Don’t come."

At that point, I had saved two years' worth of income just because, so I had a cushion, and that situation made me realize I was over that kind of teaching anyway. But it was still a devastating time.

I took two years to travel and volunteer, and always ended up teaching somehow. I realized I loved teaching, just not in the box of the classroom.

I working with [Newark nonprofit] FP [YOUTHOUTCRY] teaching financial literacy, and would be in city hall all the time because of that work. And I'd meet all these amazing people there. Newark Now would have meetings where I'd meet a bunch of people doing interesting things in the city. When I wrote a financial program for FP, people eventually started asking, "How much does Tiffany cost?" Al Tariq [Best, founder of FP YOUTHOUTCRY] was like, "I think you should do financial literacy."

How did you turn that suggestion into a business?

Three years ago, I was on my sister's couch about to lose my house. One of my mentors said to me, "You need to get a contract." I remember thinking, "Oh thanks, because they're just flying in from the sky." But then I realized I had everything I needed to go out and get paid for my work.

I thought about what organizations would want what I was giving. Then I thought about the people who could make the connections, and just started emailing. One woman I emailed connected me to The United Way, and that was my very first contract.

It's funny because in the beginning, I used to force Budgetnista to be here and there. Now, I focus on doing the best job I can do, and I have not solicited any business in the last year and a half. My job is to do my very best work, write the very best article, give my very best interview, prepare and prepare for my speaking engagements. If I do that, people will contact me. If you're an entrepreneur, the business will show you the direction you need to go in, if you let it.

Why do you think your audiences relate to you?

I tell them that they don’t need to be afraid of finances anymore, and I let people know they don’t have to be ashamed of their financial situation anymore. When I make a financial mistake, I don’t mind telling everyone, and using it as another lesson. Putting that on the table lets me say, "If I can show you this, then you don't need to be ashamed to ask me about high credit card debt, or about how to handle your potential foreclosure."

Speaking is a big part of your job. Where did your charisma come from?

I’m a middle child, so I guess that I’m always like, "Look at me!"  Plus, I’m super talkative. I’ve learned that it’s just my natural personality.

You frame your financial advice in the context of happiness and quality of life. How did you develop your financial curriculum around those higher concepts?

I’m an avid reader — I always have my Kindle with me. I don't read solely about business; I read a lot of philosophical books. I’m on that quest for the best life. I love The Alchemist. I love Jonathan Livingston's book Seagull, which is about a seagull that thinks flying should be about more than just getting food. I read a lot of marketing books. In fact, my degree is in marketing. I watch a lot of YouTube videos. I’m always on the quest for my best self.

When you do your seminars, what types of people come out?

In Newark, it’s a great mix. I was working with YouthBuild, which is a program for kids who got into trouble, and want to get their lives together. When I speak at The United Way, it's usually to professional people who are in their late 20s to upper 40s. They're thinking, "I’m making good money, but I don’t know what to do with it, how to manage it." I do a lot of schools and colleges. So there's no typical person, it’s really just people who are admitting to themselves, "I know I can do better with my money, but how do I do it? I want to do better, but I don’t know the language." That's the thread that ties them together.

When it comes to my curriculum, I'm like a mad scientist. So many things I've shown people how to do are based on mistakes I've made. Or sometimes, I've figured out an issue someone I care about is having.

Because I taught preschool, I'm good at taking really big concepts and making them understandable. Being a preschool teacher was the best training ground for that. That’s why step one of my book (The One Week Budget) is literally, "Get a paper and a pencil, and begin writing this."

You've had an exciting year and a half. Where do you envision taking your brand from here?

My ultimate world domination goal is that one day, Budgetnista won’t just be associated with financial literacy. It will be associated with value. You’ll see my Budgetnista "B" on a washing machine, or you'll go to Target and see it on a dress. It'll mean this item is a great value for your money.

In the next two to five years, I want to do more shows – I would love to be the "Friday girl" on a morning news show. I want to do more travel to spread fun financial literacy around. I'm also working on another book. I did a "30 day money challenge" recently, and after I did it, a couple people were like, "Is this all in one place?" So I thought, "You know what? That’s what I’ll do next". But "One Week Budget" is still doing well, and I think it still has some time left.

I don't want to put out a new book just to make money, though. I'm not in the business of taking money from people, I'm in the financial literacy business, and I'm into helping people. I want my new book to be borne out of that energy.

Painter Sophia Domeville makes a profession out of her passion

I first met abstract painter Sophia Domeville last year, at the offices of Medina=Citi in the Richardson Lofts here in Newark. I went home and checked out her website, fell in love with one of her paintings, and bought it. It now hangs in my apartment.

When I met Sophia that first time, she was still figuring out how to make a living as an artist. Not long after that, it seemed like new opportunities were happening for her left and right. Quite often, social media would light up with news of a new opportunity being afforded Sophia because of her art.

In the conversation below, we discuss her inspiration, how her creativity called her into a career as a painter, how Newark helps her to create, and more. (Check out Sophia’s recent street style spread here.)

Andaiye Taylor: How would you describe yourself as an artist?

Sophia Domeville: I would describe myself as an abstract painter. I use colors, shapes, various designs, and mixed media to express my emotions, and to talk about what’s going on in society.

How long have you been painting?

I started painting when I was five, so 25 years.

And why did you start painting?

I used to draw on the walls as a child. And I remember even in kindergarten, I would mix colors just to get the right shade of green 0r the right shade of yellow I saw when I went to the park the other day. So art has always my voice, refuge, and therapy.

I always had an issue speaking in general – like letting out my emotions and trying to find the right words. Art in itself was my voice, and I rediscovered my love of painting in middle school and high school, then again in college.

Now you’re a professional artist. How did you go from painting on the walls as a child to being a professional artist. Did you decide to make that happen, or did it just happen to you?

After I finished college – I got my BFA – I basically had a breakdown, and I gave away 90 percent of my work. I gave it to people I knew: friends, campus ministry. One friend of mine in South Jersey was holding my work, but her basement was flooded, so a lot of my work was destroyed.

Giving away the work was me trying not to care anymore. At that time, I  didn’t know where I was going with my creativity. I wanted to get MFA at Art Institute of Chicago, but that fell through, and I felt really stressed out between graduating from college, not knowing where I was going, and thinking about how to pay for school.

So what did you professionally after college?

I dove into the corporate world for the first time. I was working at a law firm for a family friend and was training to be a legal secretary, but I was not happy. Then I got a job working at a huge cosmetic company in New York as a receptionist and HR assistant. That was my first real corporate job. During that time, I would love to go out and party, and I started hanging with promoters and bouncers. So I started doing party promotions, and I realized I loved to plan. In 2007, I dove into being an event planner. I created “Ms. Phia Presents…”, and did event planning for years.

What kind of events did you do?

I did everything: charity events, spoken word, poetry was my thing, concerts, and was working with Urban Pro Group, which introduced me to the urban market scene. I was doing events in New York, Jersey, Long Island, and Miami. Those events really boosted my popularity at that time.

Were you making a living at this, or still working at the cosmetics company?

I was still working at the cosmetics company, and doing this on the side, as hobby.

In ‘o8, I left [the cosmetics company] and started working with LinkShare as their purchasing coordinator. I was still working there in 2011, but by that time I was becoming more depressed, because I wasn’t happy with work anymore, and didn’t understand what was going on with me. It was my friend Simone who said to me, “You need to create art.” She’d known me since I was 19. So she gave me her sister’s old paint and brushes, and said, “Here, paint.” But I had no canvas.

So I painted the walls within my entire apartment. My creativity started haunting me in my sleep, and I couldn’t sleep anymore. I wasn’t happy. I knew something was missing, and I knew what it was, but I just wasn’t ready for it. And it wasn’t until I basically had a small heart attack (a reaction related to hypertension) that I took two weeks off of work. During that two weeks, I made the decision to leave my job, and pursue my passion for the arts.

I wasn’t working for almost a year after I decided to leave. My savings were depleted. I was living in Brooklyn the whole time. and it wasn’t easy, because it was expensive. I lost my apartment, and I was living couch to couch.

During that time, I received an opportunity to showcase at Jade Lounge in Queens. It was my first exhibition in 8 years. I had no money at that point, so my friend Kimberly asked if I wanted to do Kickstarter campaign. Initially I didn’t like to ask for money, but she said I needed to do it. My ex was a videographer, and he helped me make three short documentaries in one day: in my home, walking around Brooklyn in front of murals, saying why I was doing this exhibition. I wound up raising $1,300.

The exhibition I did was called “Soliloquy of Chaos”, and it discussed what I went through those past two years: not having a job, pursuing my passion, falling in love, realizing I was falling in love, pursuing that dream. That exhibition was for the people, by the people. Everything – the paint, brushes, canvases – was paid for by others. Some of them didn’t even know me, but they said, “I heard about you, I want to support you.”

How did you get the opportunity to show there in the first place?

My friend Kimberly went the lounge and noticed a gallery space. I still remember when she texted me and said, “There’s a gallery space. You need to check it out.” At first I was like, “I don’t want to do this – I’m scared.” But when I saw the space, I knew my work was going to be there. I could see it. I didn’t even know what I was going to create, but I knew, “That’s mine.” And that’s how it’s always been. As an artist, I know when it’s right.

I sent an email to the event coordinator with the only three images I had. He responded the same night, and said he had an open spot in January. Because of that exhibit, I was on WPIX11 news, I interviewed and got featured in Amour Creole magazine, I had my work in Philadelphia – all in one year. I realized at that point that I could no longer do a nine-to-five.

That was 2011. When I first met you [in 2012], you were on your way, but still figuring things out. Then I looked up, and it seemed like you had tons of opportunities all over the place. How did that happen?

[The year] 2012 was a whirlwind. I’m like, “How did I get here!”  I was asked to be featured in Amour Creole by Valerie Brutus, who is also my publicist. She believed in me, and she said, “Ok, let’s see if we can get you out there. I need to see you everywhere.” And honestly, all the exposure was between her and people hearing about my story. A lot of the gigs, the articles, the blogs, the magazines, newspapers, going to Dartmouth, going to Haiti — it was just referrals.

I remember a couple weeks ago, I did a fundraiser for the Haitian American Caucus. I had one of my large paintings called “Emotional Combustion” there — it’s always grabbed people’s attention. There was one lady who was like, “That’s mine. I need that in my house right now.” She had one of the attendants spy and make sure no one else entered bids. To see that – it’s fulfilling as an artist. Especially because I want to change the world through art.

How specifically do you want to do that?

I’ve done creative art workshops for nonprofits and schools. The workshop is called “Discover Your Voice”, and at that workshop, students rediscover who they are as a person. I discuss media and how it affects who you are as a person. We discuss the fundamentals of art, the meaning of art. We also discuss its history. We dive into how art is revolutionary. That’s how I feel I’m going to change the world: using art as a tool, as a medium to open the eyes of others, and inspire others to think, “my voice is important”.

Can you talk about the importance of getting started? Do you think your artistic career took on a momentum of its own once you put yourself out there?

Like, immediately. I was so used to being in the background, doing the events and not being in the public eye. So once I decided it’s time for me to say my story, and understand the purpose of my point of view, and not be scared of being a leader or success, things started happening.

Success is a whole different responsibility. I really have to be a leader and say, “This is my art. This is my vision.” Honestly, it’s not about the money. To me, success is knowing that I’m inspiring others. Money and recognition is cool, but just to know you’re inspiring others – it’s wonderful.

What primary emotions and themes inspire your artwork?

Everything. Love, life, and understanding the world. Understanding why things happen, and understanding ways that my vision can have an effect on someone. And my voice – I have to let it out.

What is it about the abstract style in particular that’s so conducive to talking about the themes you care about?

There are no rules. I tell my students: there are no mistakes.

Right now I’m into breaking things apart, like wood. I used to deconstruct canvas when I was 19. I’m literally going back to that old style of mine, what I learned 11 years ago. It’s just about finding ways to communicate that are not so obvious. Abstract art makes you think. It makes you feel. It makes you understand. It makes people question things: “Why did she do that?” It makes people ask themselves, “Why do I feel so strongly about that one piece?”

As an artist in today’s climate, what would you say about opportunities to exhibit your work? I’ve noticed a lot of artwork in spaces that aren’t necessarily galleries. Have opportunities to show your work become more diverse?

Opportunities to show my work have definitely become more diverse. Showcasing at restaurants and lounges is a good opportunity, but the issue is, you don’t want to get stuck. That’s the thing: it’s great, but I need to get out to a broader audience. I need to be in Chelsea. I need to be in Jersey City. I need to be in LA. I want people knowing who I am – like, “Oh, that’s a Domeville.” It’s starting to get like that in Brooklyn, I notice. I want to continue that, but at a larger scale. I’m going to try to get my kit together and see if I can show my work at the Brooklyn Museum, or even the Newark Museum. I really want to do a show at the MOMA San Francisco. New York is cool, but San Franscisco…I actually want to live there eventually. I want to show my work not only domestically, but internationally. That’s the goal. I want to be out there.

How do you break into those opportunities?

It was [Citi] Medina that said this: you have to go places where you don’t feel comfortable. One place like that for me was Dartmouth College (Sophia taught at the Rassias center recently).  It was different not to see people who look like me, and to understand it didn’t matter. I had to break out of my own shell and comfort zone, and say, “You know what? I’m just gonna be Sophia.” I know that to get myself out there, I’m going to have to put myself in situations like that.

How did you come to be in Newark from Brooklyn, and what has your experience been here?

A friend of mine let me sublet his apartment because he was getting married last year. I’m still, a year later, getting to know Newark, because I got so comfortable being in Brooklyn. Now, I’m trying to make Newark my new home. I’m still trying to figure out what are the ins and happenings of the artists here. But Newark helped me focus — being in Newark, it is a different world for me. I’ve created much more work being here. Newark is my refuge — I go home, and I create art.

What is your impression of the town? What do you observe about Newark as someone who moved here fairly recently?

People are very different than in Brooklyn – the energy is different. In Brooklyn, there’s a creative energy that can be very distracting and suck you in. It’s about being an individual and standing out. Crocheting your own sweater, creating your own earrings. In Newark, I notice people are more similar to each other. There’s a little bit of individuality here – hopefully there’ll be more. When I first moved here, people would look at me like, “You’re not from around here. Are you from Brooklyn?” And I would say, “How did you know?!”

In Brooklyn, everybody’s always ready – Jay-Z might do another pop-up concert somewhere, or somebody’s taking photos down the street for a magazine. There’s always something happening. And I can see that happening in Newark in time.

If you had the opportunity, would you move back to Brooklyn, or could you see yourself staying here?

Part of me says yes, and part of me says no. I want to see how much of an impact I can make in Newark. I feel like with Newark, I’m starting over, and I have a platform to really sustain an actual impact here, and be known for it. Brooklyn is a little saturated. Here, it’s like you can make your own pond. So I would stay in Newark. I want to build first before leaving.

Portrait of a Newark teen: Entrepreneur and philanthropist Makeba Green makes her own luck

makeba green

The last time I saw Newark native Makeba Green, she and her team were at the Forward Ever NJ networking event downtown Newark, making moves and contacts among business owners and politicians twice her age. The time before that, she was in full work mode, photographing a holiday party and networking event teeming with professionals of all stripes for the company she owns, OMG Photography.

And the time before that, we sat down to discuss just how it is that a young woman who hasn't yet seen her 20th birthday is already an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and accomplished creative professional.

Tell me about your background.

I'm from Newark – I grew up on Clinton Avenue in the South Ward. I went to Arts High and concentrated in TV production. I'm currently a sophomore at Montclair State, where I'm a double major in TV production and jurisprudence, with a minor in bio. I want to eventually get both a law degree and a medical degree.

What are you working on right now?

I'm in the process of coming out with two books: Successful Men of New Jersey, and Successful Women of New Jersey. I'm also working on my second annual gala to give out scholarships to high school seniors in Newark, and I'm planning my first conference to bring together different businesses-minded people to motivate and inspire youth.

I'm also giving out prom dresses this year to high school students who can't necessarily afford to go. I didn't get a chance to go to prom, so I would like to help other young people who would like to have that experience.

You're working on a lot of projects. Where did your entrepreneurial sense come from?

I was raised by entrepreneurs, so my first official business was when I was five and I would sell candy containers with my mom for Mother's Day. We'd vend on Springfield and Central Avenues, during the Million Man March, in Philly, in DC – all over. Me, my mom, and my dad. We had a truck, and it was called the Blue Goose. That's when I realized that people would actually buy from me.

My mom signed me up for photograhy classes, and I really focused on it because I loved it so much.

Can you tell me about your photography business?

It's called OMG photography. Since I love photography so much, I wanted to find a way to use that to give back, so I use some of the proceeds from the business to fund the prom dresses and scholarships, and I'm also approaching corporate sponsors to help with the scholarships. This year, I plan to give out over 300 dresses, all through the proceeds of OMG photography.

How did you decide to do the Successful Men and Women of New Jersey books?

I was talking over dinner with my dad, and he gave me the concept. My twist was the target audience, which is young people.

I believe that you are what you read, so I wanted to present examples people can relate to. I've interviewed Congressman Payne and many other Newark politicians and business owners. I've interviewed over 400 people, but I'm going to roll them out in different volumes. The first one comes out in April 2014, and I'm going to self-publish it. I going to have different book signings and a book release party, probably the week before easter.

I know you already have a lot going on, but have you started thinking about your next move?

Actualy I am – I'm thinking about starting a mini web series to shoot different music videos and documentaries. 

You've been able to get a lot of people to buy into your vision at a very young age. How have you been able to do that?

I just introduce myself and start conversations. When I see [notable] people, I look at it like, "You're a human being just like me." And either people are going to help you or they're not. For most events, I'm the photographer, so I look at the programs to see who's speaking and pass out my cards.

Who's on your team?

I have a main board which consists of family members, and an advisory board that includes other business owners, one politician, and a retired teacher. I also work with an assistant photographer and other creative professionals. 

What advice do you have for other people your age or younger who have the ambition to start something?

Unfortunately, some older adults can be stuck on themselves and don't want to give their time. I try to introduce my peers to the people I've met who have helped me. I really think if successful people gave other people an ear, we could change a lot. 

To get started, you have to be open-minded and willing to take risks and put yourself out there. And you have to be willing to put in the work to develop your idea. You're going to have a lot of people along the way that ask why you're wasting your time, or tell you to wait until you "grow up". Ignore them. 

You have to understand that in life, you're going to probably get a little bit more "nos" than you get "yesses". However, somebody's going to listen. It may not happen tomorrow or the next day, but it will happen if you believe in what you're doing and develop your idea.

Everyone at a certain point needs to meet someone who has the same type of mindset. If you lack that support at home, get in contact with people who can be a support system elsewhere. 

I rely a lot on history — I realize that when I'm going through something, others have gone through it as well. I got to speak at a Rutger's men's conference once, and it was so inspiring that people wanted to talk to me afterwards, probably because they saw their struggles in my experiences.

You have to keep your faith in yourself, and if you truly believe in what you want to do, you have to go through with it.


Newark community members organize in wake of planned public school overhaul

In the wake of the announcement of a major overhaul of the Newark Public School system, including both out-and-out closures and the conversion of traditional public schools to charter schools, a group of Newark parents, community members, and activists is urging Newarkers to contact the governor's office and state legislature and register their frustration at being "left out of the equation" on decisions about community schools, as one flier circulating around the community puts it.

The flier, which cautions that "Silence gives concent (sic)" and says it's "time to make some noise", advises how to reach key officials' offices via telephone and online.

Last Tuesday, emotions ran high at a Hawthorne Avenue School community meeting as community members asked NPS director of school support operations Keith Barton why the school was being closed, particularly when it had shown year over year achievement gains above the district trend. It was the first time community members had been invited to speak with a district official about the school closure. One of the Newarkers who addressed Barton was fifth grade student Angelo Nichols, who tearfully asked the director, "Why do you want to close my school?"


And this past Friday morning, Newark mayoral candidate and Central High School principal Ras Baraka, who was in attendance at the Hawthorne Avenue meeting, held a rally to protest the district's proposed overhaul at Weequahic High School, which is slated for a structural overhaul.

The campaign's organizers ask those interested in the initiative to email or call (973) 342-2697 for more information. 

‘Tis not the season to be single: How to avoid the sadness of solitude

When we are looking for love from a particular source, we are bound to be disappointed. However if we allow love to come from where we will and not where we will it, we will always find an abundant source.

There's something about the holiday season in this country that requires even the Grinchiest of us all to acknowledge the possibility of love or the glaring lack of it, depending on our circumstances.  You can’t login to Facebook without seeing cute couples in hideous Christmas sweaters, or adorable (and slightly annoying) family photos wishing you Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, or Festivus for the rest of us. The annual marathon of sappy holiday romantic comedies on TBS can be torturous for even the staunchest single folks, as we are reminded of our own relationship to love. The expectation of being in a romantic relationship is further exacerbated by drunken relatives asking about our plans for the future, and our eggs start scrambling as we watch the next generation of children enjoy the joys of childhood.

It’s more than annoying: for those who are alone during this time, there is often more pain than love. The experience of unrequited love, being single, or being separated from family by time, distance or even death is magnified in the face of the holiday spirit.  The message from mainstream media and pop culture is that the perfect partner to pair up with can fill any emotional void. The antidote for this toxic lie is the understanding that love is not limited to a particular source, but that all love comes from the Source. 

Although we overemphasize the power of romantic love, all love is actually created equal if we choose to believe that it is. Love does not always come from the direction we expect, and if we are only focused on where love is missing, we will not be able to experience love from all the possible directions from which it can come.  The universe does not offer vacuums. When there is a void, it will always step in and fill it, usually with more of the thing we have been focusing on. Believe in the possibility of love, and it steps in. Focus on the absence of having a boo, and loss and separation rule the day.

My new favorite holiday movie that serves as a perfect example of this is the Best Man Holiday. Director Malcolm Lee offers a touching example of the many possibilities for love that we can turn to for support, with none taking precedence over the other. By removing the trump of romantic love, or even traditional family love, and placing beautiful and complicated friendships, relationships with a higher power, and relations with children and parents all on the same equal playing field, Lee offers a great example of the many ways love can show up when we are open and willing to accept it.

So if you are currently suffering from loss of love or experiencing sadness at separation, ask yourself, where is there love in my life? Who and where is it coming from? Then head fully in that direction, knowing there is more of that where that came from.

Thursday Night in Newark: ‘Shadow Dance’ at Aljira

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Choreographer Nai-Ni Chen and her award-winning dance company presented Shadow Dance: Alone but not Alone last night at Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art in Newark. The performance commerated the gallery's 30-year anniversary, and her dance company's 25th.

The company performed the work, which explores the relationship people have with themselves in solitude, througout the gallery space. "Personally, I'm always very interested in site-specific work," said Chen just before the performance. "I've found it very rewarding when I'm put in a very spatial situation. The creativity just comes, it really opens up your mind."

Chen said her dance company did a lot of improvisation to explore the central themes of the dance and develop the piece. "It's based on the idea of being alone," Chen explained. "And from that state of mind, I expore the possibility of you and your shadow, and of going deep into yourself to expore your state of mind." The piece is comprised of nine segments, each exploring a distinct idea about a person's relationship with oneself. That relationship was sometimes embodied by dancers interfacing with each other, and other times by dancers working with literal shadows on the walls of the gallery.

The dancers performed the nine segments all throughout the gallery, starting in the back, and gradually working their way up to the front, within sight of Broad Street. A guide lead the audience to various sites throught the gallery's interior to view the performances.

“Hello Newark”: Teaching HTML to Ann Street School students during Newark’s Hour of Code

Yesterday, I joined more than a dozen other volunteers who fanned out across nine Newark Public Schools to teach an introduction to HTML to more than 200 students for Newark's "Hour of Code" sessions. By the end of the day today, the program's 30 volunteers will have taught sessions at 15 schools.

I found out about Hour of Code through emails from Brick City Tech meetup, and during a conversation with Newark's technology policy advisor, Seth Wainer, who worked with the 15 participating schools to organize the program. I've been coding fairly continuously since I first taught myself the rudiments of BASIC at 9 years old, and had been thinking about ways to share it with the community ever since I launched Brick City Live. Hour of Code, it turned out, was the perfect first step.

8:45 am The volunteers for yesterday's Hour of Code receive an email from Newark's technology policy advisor, Seth Wainer, telling us that despite the bad weather, "it's ON". Wainer worked with the participating schools to organize the volunteers and curriculum for the day. My assignment is at Ann Street Elementary School, where I'll meet my co-teacher, Josh Villahermosa, a Rutgers student who I'd met once before at a Brick City Tech meetup event.

10:55 am Clad in inappropriately smooth-bottomed boots for a slick and slippery day, I'm walking briskly in the middle of the street toward Ann Street Elementary School. We were supposed to be there 15 minutes ahead of time, but weather-related transportation woes set me back by exactly that much time. I'll just make it into the classroom, I think. As I approach the building, I realized it had been a very long time since I'd set foot inside a traditional public school during the school day.

10:58 am With the school security guard leading the way, I wade through a gaggle of elementary and middle school students, who are switching classes or on their way to lunch at the moment. I remember that these are the years when many of the girls stood taller than the boys. The wild variation in height among students who are all the same age is something I'd forgotten about.

10:59 am I'm in the principal's office, and I feel like a kid again. Everyone is friendly to each other, everyone is working and moving, and everyone calls each other Mr. and Ms., even out of earshot of the students. Coming from the tech world where everyone wears jeans, assumes first name basis, and even sometimes maintain full dry bars on their desks, this is a different world to me. The principal is a petite, no-nonsense woman. She tells me that the class starts at noon, not 11 AM. It seems I'm 45 minutes early, not 15 minutes late.

11:01 am A bright-eyed teacher runs up to me, introduces himself as Mr. Oliveira, and asks if I'm here for Hour of Code. I confirm that I am. "I'm on lunch duty right now. She'll take you up to room 305," he said, gesturing to a very polite student before disappearing down the hallway. She walks me up to the third floor.


11:02 am I meet Josh in room 305, where 30 PCs are set up. He's fiddling with the projector and loading Codecademy, and we start discussing the curriciulum. Although the day's organizers have set out a fairly well mapped out agenda for the day, we decide to introduce ourselves, start the basic HTML curriculum, and then let student progress and questions dictate how we proceed. We'll be teaching the students some basic HTML tags, with the goals of both demystifying the look and syntax of code and of showing the students ways to continue learning and building their skills on their own.

11:15 am Wainer and technology specialist Jack Fader show up, clearly making their rounds through the various Hour of Code sites. Wainer apologizes for the confusion about the start time. I tell him that given my slippery commute, this actually worked out for the best. They wish us godspeed and move on.

11:27 am I'm surprised to see Mr. Olivier walk in with his students a half hour early. I count 28 students file in, and they're eyeing Josh and I curiously. They're still buzzing about us when they sit down at the computers. I recall how consistent my day-to-day experiences were with adults in middle school. Of course encountering two fairly casually dressed adults they'd never seen before at the front of their classroom was a little buzzworthy, I realized.

11:30 am After the students settle in, Mr. Oliveira explains to them that we'll be giving them an intro to HTML, which influences "everything that goes into seeing what you actually see on the computer screen". He further explains that the purpose of the session is to, "Inspire some of you to someday be code writers."

11:31 am Josh and I introduce ourselves to the class, and we both talk about how coding has enhanced both our marketability and our ability to make things on our own. I show the students Brick City Live during my intro, and explain to them that I started coding when I was only 9 years old, that I continued doing it throughout high school, college, grad school, and during my career, and that the skills I developed enabled me to develop the site on my own for free. I told them I taught myself the fundamentals of my first language, BASIC, by reading the instruction booklet for a toy. If I could do it, they could, I explained.

11:33 am We start working though the Codecademy HTML curriculum, starting with a basic explanation of how tags work. "Tags affect how the words in between the opening and closing tags appear on the screen," I said. "The "<strong>" tags," – now I'm pointing to the default Codecademy example, "make the words between them appear bold." We tell the students to save and submit the code that had been pre-loaded by Codecademy. The program loads the browser with the bolded words, "Feel free to change this text." The students don't seem too impressed.

feel free to change this text

11:35 am I realize that the students need to make a change to the code on their own, then load it and observe how it affects what they see. "Say I wanted to make these words italic," I said. "The tag for italics in HTML is <em>. Change <strong> to <em>, change the closing tag </strong> to </em>, then load your browsers again." The students followed suit. When the same words appear in italics on their screens, many of them gasp. They're coding now. Jackpot.

feel free italics

11:42 am Josh walks the students through the syntax of HTML. What is a "tag"? What does it mean to "open" and "close" it? What does the acronym "HTML" stand for? He walks them through so they don't get lost in nomenclature as we move forward. I then explain further: "It's important for you to understand this, because sometimes these phrases can seem intimidating if you don't know what they mean. Once you do understand, you'll realize how simple a lot of this really is." The students seem relieved.

11:45 am Josh walks the students through nesting: putting tags within tags to create multiple affects on the same words in HTML, like making them bold and italics at the same time. A mere twenty minutes into the session, and the students are now writing lines of code that look more and more complex. Josh and I walk around the room to help them in small groups and one-on-one. They're asking the right questions.


11:52 am Mr. Oliveira asks if they can change the actual font of the words on the screen, so I demonstrate how to do so to the students using the dreaded Comic Sans font. "There's a "<font>" tag," I tell the students, "and it has several attributes. Just think of Microsoft Word. With fonts, you can change the color, the size, the face, and so on. Those are the "attributes" of the font, and what you set them to, like red or Arial, are the 'values'." I type <font color = "red"> into the Codecademy browser, then close the tag (</font>). I load the browser, and the words turn red. Gasps.

11:57 am "You all know that there are many shades of colors you can choose from," I tell the students. "In HTML, you can use six-character codes called 'hex codes' to get very precise colors." I show them the website, which provides the codes for many shades of colors – like "pummelo pulp" red, "lindsay eyes" blue. The students navigate to the site and have a field day.


12:06 pm A great opportunity presents itself to demonstrate how the students can continue learning on their own. A student asks me how to change the background color on the screen. But I typically do this using CSS, and can't recall the precise syntax in HTML, so I quickly Google it.

I call the class to attention. "Guys," I said. "Someone just asked me how to do something, and I couldn't remember the exact way. I want to show you what I did." I navigate to Google. "Once you understand how this stuff works – and you all understand a lot of the basics already – you'll find yourself doing exactly what I did…Googling it." I search "HTML background color", navigate to the first result, and show the students how easy it is to find exactly the information I needed. I copy and paste the code into the browser, set the color to black, and load the page.

12:13 pm Perhaps emboldened by the Google demo, a group of students in the back of the classrooms begins going a little off script and looking things up themselves. This is great, I thought. I let them do their thing.

12:17 pm Mr. Oliveira notes to me how much the students seem into the lesson. "Maybe we can start a coding club here," he suggests. "We could do it in the morning." I concur. I'd been wanting to do something like this any way. "Hour of Code" is definitely validating the idea.

12:23 pm The students have been exploring on their own for a while. I call them to attention again to show them how to add pictures to their pages using a Google image search and <img> tags. I add a Christmas tree to my page. As it loaded, many of them exclaimed: "Whoa!" I look around the room to see what types of pictures the students are adding to their screens. There are lots of Christmas trees, a few cute cats, some teenage heartthrobs I'd never seen before, and a good number of New Jersey Devils logos.

12:31 pm The students are asking the right questions again. "How do I change the size?" "How do I get it to move to another line?" "How do I center it?" A few of them have guessed on their own how to change the dimesions of their images. Some are close. Others guess exactly right. I show the entire class how to do it using the "height" and "width" attributes.

12:37 pm I call the class to attention again. "Now I want to show you all how to create links. Because that's what the web is, basically – a series of linked pages." I demonstrate how to do this using "<a>" tags. Josh helpfully jumps in and descibes what the tag does in detail so they understand what all the attributes mean. 

12:40 pm Josh and I walk around the classroom to assist students one on one again, but we notice that many of the students are also assiting one another. And some of them have started creating what look like nicely formatted pages. A couple of students ask me if they can create a website using the Codecademy program. "No, it's more like a sandbox," I tell them. "Then how do we do it?" I tell them I run Brick City Live using something called Wordpress, and that there are many more tools like it out there. I realize these sessions will obviously have to continue.


12:50 pm I interrupt the students again to show them how to make a link out of an image. As I look around at their computers, I realize that a little over an hour ago, the HTML they were typing at this very moment, and with their own hands, would have looked completely foreign to them. Already, they were running with the concepts that Josh and I had demonstrated to them. They were already extrapolating how they could achieve effects with HTML that we hadn't even taught them yet.

12:57 pm With just a few minutes left until we have to let the kids go, I show the students how to use  a Firefox tool called Firebug to change how existing web pages look. "This is one great way to continue exploring on your own," I say. One of the students asked me to demonstrate it again. As I did, I noticed she was furiously glancing at the projector and taking notes at her computer.

12:59 pm Mr. Oliveira tells the class it's time to go. "Awwww…" the students said in unison. They didn't want the session to end. Mr. Oliveira, Josh, and I smile at each other. He repeats the idea of starting a coding club. More than a few of the students look like they'd be game. Mr. Oliveira notices that one of the students has written something on his hand: "December hex code." I ask the young man if I can snap his picture, and he obliges.

"Got 'em," I thought as Josh and I gathered our things and left the classroom.


Hour of Code is a two-day series of hourlong coding sessions involving a dozen Newark Public Schools and 30 Newark-based volunteers. The goal is to " demystify 'code' and show that anyone can learn the basics to be a maker, a creator, an innovator." Hour of Code coincides with Computer Science Education Week.

Encouraging local holiday commerce with a Newark shopping tour

In the year that Emily Manz has been giving monthly walking tours of downtown Newark, she's taken her groups to the types of sites typical for a tour: cultural institutions, historical sites, emerging developments, and notable businesses.

Beyond simply showing off those attractions to participants, which have included newcomers and longtime residents alike, Manz reasoned that the tours could motivate participants to both patronize the sites they visited on the tour and continue to explore the city on their own.

But this month, Manz, who is also an associate of real estate and business attraction at Brick City Development Corporation, decided to make patronizing local businesses the explicit theme for her tour by hosting the Have You Met Newark? Holiday Shop Hop, which will take place this coming Saturday.

Manz said the idea for the shopping tour came to her because she wanted to increase her own local holiday purchasing, and figured that with the growing emphasis on buying local, others might like to, as well. "I decided it would be fun to make December's tour focused on helping people navigate and find great holiday gifts in downtown Newark," Manz said in an email.

Participants in the tour will visit a still-growing list of local businesses including T.M. Ward CoffeeSt. James & Co., Luxe Boutique, The Dressing Room, the Newark Museum Gift Shop, Halsey Fabrics, Art Kitchen, the Hello Beautiful Pop-Up Shop, and Glassroots.

The free walking tour will leave from downtown Newark this coming Saturday, December 14th, at 10:30 AM. Space is still available. To sign up for the tour and see information and photographs of past tours, visit Have You Met Newark's website or Facebook page.

Image credit: Have You Met Newark? Holiday Shop Hop Facebook event page

Seven ways to create more time

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Brick City Insider: Get alerts about what’s happening around town for Super Bowl XLVIII and UFC 169!

The first weekend in February 2014, Super Bowl XLVIII will descend on New Jersey and New York, and the UFC will host two title fights at the Prudential Center. Don't miss out! For emails and real-time alerts about what's going on around town, sign up for Brick City Insider's Super Bowl/UFC edition!

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