#Middle of Nowhere Screening

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Key Newark arts figures featured on NBC News

Gallery Aferro artistic director Evonne M. Davis and Newark artist Jerry Gant discussed the "Usual Suspects" Black History Month exhibit on NBC last night.


Network effect: Newark women bring award-winning Sundance film to town with $0 budget

Updated 2/24/2014 at 9:58 PM

This coming Wednesday, February 26, a group of women from the Newark Sister Circle will screen the independent film Middle of Nowhere at Essex County College, and round out the program with an opening reception before the screening, and a panel discussion afterwards. Middle of Nowhere is an independent film directed by Ava DuVernay, who in 2012 became the first black woman to win the best director award at the Sundance film festival. In the narrative below, Sophia Domeville explains the origin of the plan, and how the group was able to put the event together using their social and professional networks in lieu of a budget.

Late last year, I posted a link on Newark Sister Circle's Facebook page about Mother George, which is a film by Nigerian director Andrew Dosunmu. At first, I wanted to see if we could go to New York to support a film together, but then I thought, "Hey, let's see if we can bring it here to Newark."

I was connected to Pamela Daniels, who was then at CityPlex, to see if we could bring the film here, and both of us were like, "Why don't we do a film screening of Mother George for Black History Month?" We had a meeting with Tracee and Jessica from the sister circle, and Pamela suggested we do a monthlong festival for Black History Month, so Jessica compiled a list of movies that would work for that.

Pamela and Tracee created proposals for the festival, and I combined both of them together, but when we pitched it to ECC (Essex County College) it was already too late to get funding. Since we didn't have a budget, and because of my background as an event planner, I took the lead as event producer to try to secure outside sponsorship.

At that point I said, "Hey, why don't we just screen one film at ECC?" Tracee suggested Middle of Nowhere by African-American director Ava DuVernay — it's a great film that lets us discuss the images of people from the diaspora within the film and media industry.

I contacted a friend from BCDC to help, who then connected me to The Honors Program, a branding and marketing company. I was able to have them be our brand and marketing sponsor. They put together the flyer for the screening, and sent the information to their network of several thousand contacts.

I was able to get a lot of my close friends and network to help by donating towards the film screening expenses. La Vie PR is both my publicist and one of our PR sponsors. I was able to get Phoenix Aficionado, the National Black Front, and Empress Movements to sponsor, as well. My best friend Shauntey Clark is founder and owner a dessert company, Touch of Perfection, and she's sponsoring the opening dessert reception. Hello Beautiful is rounding out the group of sponsors by helping bring awareness of the event to their networks.

Initially, the licensing fee for the film was $500, but I notified the licensing director at AFFRM to let them know we were a small group of sisters from Newark with no budget, and she cut it to $250. Thanks to my supportive network, of close friends, women from the sister circle, and my sorority sisters, I was able to secure enough donations to cover the licensing fee.

The guest panel speakers are Francesca Andre, an up-and-coming female Haitian filmmarker, Timothy Brown, who is a Newark-based filmmaker, Tahir Jetter, another up-and-coming, Brooklyn-based filmmaker, Newark-born multidisciplinary artist Jerry Gant, and New York Maverick from Affirm. They'll all be discussing the images of people of the diaspora in the film and media industry, so I'm excited. Also, Lisa Marie Jackson, who is the creator and owner of Phoenix Aficionado, will be doing the live Twitter feed throughout the event.

It's definitely going to be all hands on deck for this screening event, and everything was donated by many of the people of Newark!

Garden State Ultras host fourth annual art auction

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New York Red Bulls supporter group the Garden State Ultras hosted their fourth annual art auction at mmmBello's Pub on Market Street yesterday. The event, organized by artist Hope McCarthy, also raised money for Aaron Alonso, a New Jerseyan who lost both of his legs when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan earlier this month. The auction featured work by dozens of artists, two DJs spinning eclectic music, and a packed house of attendees.

Heroes of Halsey Street: Now there’s a way to get free lot parking downtown Newark

As a downtown Newark resident for six years now, I've personally heard it time and again: "I'd love to meet you at [insert downtown establishment], but the parking down there is horrendous. Can we meet somewhere else?" This area is notorious for hard-to-find street parking, and it's often the only thing that scares people way from checking out downtown establishments.

The parking problem became even worse for Halsey Street business owners when construction began on the new Prudential Tower on Broad Street, which blocked whole streets and snarled traffic.

"It was already strained prior to Prudential eliminating the parking," said Luxe Boutique owner Linda Jumah. "Once the parking on these blocks was eliminated, it compounded the issue. Between New Street and Warren, there's no parking at all."

Until recently. A grant from the Prudential Foundation will enable people who shop in Halsey Street establishments to park free in Edison Parking lots for up to two hours. Customers can validate in-store at some locations. For stores that don't offer in-store validation, customers can bring their receipts to Green Chickpea or Robert's Pizza.

The program lauched in December and will run for 18 months, according to Steven Hillyer of Newark Downtown District.

How did it all come together?

The Halsey Street merchants joined forces to seek a solution to the parking problem as it worsened, and called on the Newark Downtown District, Brick City Development Corporation, representatives from the city, and Prudential to help them find one. The free parking grant was a result of that effort.

But it wan't the only one.

"We actually learned that there were three main issues," for the Halsey Street businesses, said Hillyer. "Parking is the first thing we worked on, but it was also marketing of the area and business education."

Jumah added that banding together on the parking issue resulted in the Halsey Street businesses discussing other problems and opportunities for the strip. "Now we're in the beginning stages of creating a merchant's association," she said.

Jumah, who announced the free parking in an email to her customers today, hopes it will excite people and make them want to come back to Halsey Street to shop. More broadly, she said the Halsey merchants envision building a viable, sustainable street where people who live in, work in, or are visiting Newark will come to see what the street is all about. She noted new and soon-to-come arrivals Green Chicpea, St. James & Company, and Pooka Pure and Simple as a sampling of the diverse stores and dining establishments customers can enjoy there.

"These are small businesses and people from the community who want to invest in the city of Newark," Jumah said.

The hip-hop scientist: Jah-Jah Shakur breaks down Essex County College’s new Hip Hop Business course

Essex County College announced late last year that its new business degree offerings will include a hip hop business concentration, which has kicked off with the new “Introduction to Hip Hop Business” course. The Council’s Collis Marrow spoke with course designer Jah Jah Shakur about why he designed the course and how hip hop can engage students. Here are excerpts from their conversation.

What was your motivation for designing this course? 

I am not the first professor to design a hip hop degree program and course, but I am the first to develop a hip hop business degree program and course.

My motivation is that hip hop education has [the potential for] academic outcomes for students that far surpass traditional educational outcomes. According to academic education research that I have discovered, hip hop education has increased high school and college students’ graduation, recruitment, and retention rates. Students participate more in extra-curricular activities, and they feel empowered. My forthcoming series of hip hop education books are going to reveal this to the world. I am motivated to assist students to self-create.

Who were a few of the hip hop scholars you’ve studied with?

Hip hop philosopher KRS-ONE, [who I’d call] the father of hip hop education. I have worked with him since the Stop the Violence Movement in 1989, and personally since 1996, [when he founded] The Temple of Hip Hop. I am also a teacher and cultural specialist at the Temple of Hip Hop.

How many years of research have you have dedicated to studying the origin of hip hop?

I have been studying, researching, and living hip hop all my life. Scientifically I have been studying, researching, discovering, and living hip hop for 24 years.

You’ve stated that you have attempted to implement the course in other colleges. Explain some of the impediments you faced.

Most educational institutions are afraid of change and real academic reform. Real hip hop education is about challenging conventional pedagogical methodologies that do not enhance student academic achievement gaps. Hip hop education challenges existing curriculum content that subjugates the creative output of students, faculty, and staff. Biases, prejudices, stereotypes, black classism, and systematic white racism are some of the impediments. 

With the media’s portrayal of hip hop as being misogynist, violent, negative and pessimistic, how will you address these stigmas in the course?

Corporate mass media has always portrayed subjugated populations of people in America and the world negatively. The scientific and sociological methodologies of how this is done by mass media will be discussed throughout the course in order for students to counterbalance these misconceptions and gross stereotypes of hip hop. I am a scientific thinker, and my students and the professor that I have chosen to teach this course are all directed and guided to be scientific thinkers and doers.

This course is going to crush any misconceptions about the original intent of hip hop, and the original meaning and purpose of hip hop.

What are a few innovative methods and techniques that you will use to replace the conventional methods of classroom learning?

Conventional classrooms sit in rows. The hip hop classroom is designed for each student, including the teacher, to sit in a hip hop cypher, or hip hop circle. In this format of classroom management, there is no hierarchy in the classroom. Both the professor and students are all considered equal.  In the hip hop classroom, there is no little “me” and big “you”. In the hip hop classroom, the information is what’s big.

And the course will connect business, sociology, history and anthropology to hip hop?

The very root of hip hop is organically representing these disciplines already. Every academic discipline and subject matter can be taught in a hip hop context. Hip hop as an American-born culture is historically 40 years young, but hip hop origins can be traced to the beginning of time, which has no birth record.

How many countries have you traveled to studying the universal effects of hip hop? 

I have traveled to every major country in the world studying hip hop. [Indigenous] people all over the world are embracing themselves through hip hop. Hip hop [represents] the reclamation of freedom, justice, and equality. Hip hop is an artistic and scientific response to political oppression, economic exploitation, and social degradation. Every place that I have traveled in the world is hip hopping their way toward self-determination.

Hip hop is big business. Can the country learn anything from hip hop in the wake of tough economic times? 

Hip hop is about democratized self-creation. This is an artistic activity that allows humanity the equal opportunity to discover and express their desire to manifest their purpose. Equal access to financial and human resources enable each human being to manifest their god-given talents without hindrance. Hip hop gives each individual the sovereign right to be and become what God has designed them to be.

How can the new hip hop business degree course raise the graduation rate at Essex County College? 

Student-centered learning and culturally relevant pedagogy is what students are interested in [here] in 2014. Whenever students learn about any subject contextualized with them at the center, students’ academic interest is accelerated.

Curiosity is the mother of education, but repetition is the law of the universe. Hip hop repeats what it is curious about, and hip hop is curious about the freedom of its people through self-creation.

The Council: Q&A with Calvin Souder

What creative ideas will you implement for addressing crime if elected as Councilman?

I would create legislation that differentiates between violent crimes and non-violent offenses. Crime is usually driven by poverty. Furthermore, mental health issues are a major element in the criminal thinking process. In addition, the real answer to crime prevention is employment and education. Without a holistic approach, crime will continue in the city of Newark.  

How are you civically engaged in Newark?

I am on the Corporate Advisory Board at the Boys and Girls Club in Newark, and I am the chairperson on the Board of Trustees for Essex County College. I can affect a mass amount of individuals from a board position. Individuals reach out to me – whether it is a block association meeting or a rally at City Hall. I am a part of the community.

What plan will you implement to address the abandoned house problem in Newark?

That [requires] a multi-faceted response. First, increase the number of code enforcers in Newark, [and] code enforcers need to be held more accountable. Also, [we need to] create more homeownership opportunities. Once homeowners move into Newark, they'll influence more businesses to migrate here, which leads to economic growth.

What is your perspective on the privatization of public schools?

I fundamentally disagree with privatizing public schools. I believe in good schools – it does not matter if they are private, public or charter schools. In Newark, we pay a great rate per student for them to receive an exceptional education. I would create an ordinance or panel that will assess all schools and determine their performance. Social problems are often overlooked when our children enter the classroom. [I think] the city, state, and [federal] government should be held more accountable for the youth’s education.

What inspired you to run for a council seat?

We need individuals in office who [possess] the substance to make change. Our leaders harp on the problems in Newark, but do not have resolutions. Newark groomed me and is [deep in] my roots, [so] I plan on creating more opportunities for the citizens of Newark. My ultimate objective is to raise their standard of living.

Are you an advocate of non-profits, and if so, will you be open to giving more funds and contracts to non-profit organizations?

I am a great advocate of non-profits. I [plan to] give them the resources to commune together and help neighborhoods in our city. I am not [enthusiastic about] non-profits with [overlapping] services, and any non-profit whose administration costs are greater than 20% of their budget will be required to go through training and audits in order to receive funds.

What are some effective ways to decrease unemployment in Newark, which currently stands at about 15%?

First, we would survey the city’s education level. Panasonic moved to Newark hiring only engineers, and this does not help Newark citizens that much. We need manufacturing employers and businesses that link with social institutions to bridge the gap of unemployment. I would propose legislation that creates a task force to do an ongoing assessment to attract employers that match the skillsets of citizens in Newark.

“Race to Save Brick City” filmmakers seek community questions for documentary

Newark, NJ – The Race to Save Brick City documentary will cover the campaign trails of all the Newark mayoral and council candidates competing for the highly publicized and anticipated May 2014 election.

With the succession of incumbent Senator Cory Booker, the recent string of violence, and a public feud between the community and the Newark Public School district, the country is watching to see who will determine Newark's fate.

Producer Ayana Stafford of Leopard Stripes Productions is partnering with Director Jamal Hall of Dynomyte Films to create this documentary, which will help Newark residents choose the best candidate to move Newark forward. A public screening of the documentary will be held on one of the pending dates of Wednesday April 23 or Wednesday April 30 at CityPlex12 movie theatre in Newark.

The goal of the documentary is to give candidates an unbiased, equal opportunity to express their platforms to Newark residents. The mission in hosting a public screening is to motivate Newark residents to participate in the electoral process and help decipher who is most suitable to address the issues plaguing Newark.

We need your help to produce this documentary. We are taking viewer-submitted questions that will be used during the one-on-one interviews with your future elected officials. If you have questions you would like us to ask the mayoral, council member-at-large, North Ward, South Ward, East Ward, West Ward or Central Ward candidates, please follow this link or submit them to leoaprdstripesproductions@yahoo.com with the subject: The Race To Save Brick City. Please indicate which candidate the question is addressed to.

This year's election is pivotal to Newark's future and deserves documentation. The media is watching and, more importantly, Newark residents are waiting to see who will win "The Race to Save Brick City".

NJ Communities United & Newark Students Union endorse Ras Baraka

Newark, NJ – Yesterday, NJ Communities United and the Newark Students Union endorsed Councilman Ras Baraka for Newark’s next mayor.

“Our mission at NJ Communities United is to build a progressive movement of grassroots voices to tackle the issues that Newark residents care most about,” says Trina Scordo, executive director. “Over the last two years we have worked closely with residents to fight the foreclosure crisis, demand local control of our public schools and strengthen rights for all workers. The movement we are building is in lockstep with the movement that Ras Baraka is building.”

NJ Communities United is dedicated to stopping the attack on the public education and re-establishing democratic local control of the Newark Public School system. A project of NJ Communities United, the Newark Students Union was formed over a year ago in response to education budget cuts when it mobilized more than 1,000 students to walk out of class.

“Ras Baraka has stood by the students of Newark and we want to stand by him,” said Kristin Towkaniuk, president of the Newark Students Union. “The Newark Students Union endorses Ras Baraka for Mayor. We all understand that when he becomes Mayor, our fight to protect public education and restore local control will continue. Our work together is about building a movement – a movement that will not fade out in a couple years but a movement that will benefit generations to come.”

“In running for mayor, I am building an inclusive, broad-based movement of people and institutions empowered to transform our city,” said Councilman Ras Baraka. “In two short years, NJ Communities United has become a vital part of that movement. My theme is “Believe in Newark”. This reflects my belief that the people of Newark have the power to raise up our city if we believe in ourselves and in what we can accomplish by working collectively. I’m honored that NJ Communities United, the Newark Students Union and their growing grassroots membership base are standing beside me.”

A native of Newark, Ras Baraka is a former Deputy Mayor, the principal of Central High School and councilman from Newark’s South Ward. The son of poets Amiri and Amina Baraka, Ras is an accomplished poet and author. His family has lived in Newark for over 70 years. Ras was educated in the Newark public schools system, received his B.A. from Howard University and his Master’s degree from St. Peters University.

Whether as a councilman, an educator or a community organizer, Baraka shares the NJ Communities United’s values of economic justice, social equality and sticking up for working families.

The Council: Q&A with council candidate Dosso Kassimou

We continue our Council series with Collis Marrow's conversation with Dosso Kassimou, who is running for one of the four at-large seats in the May election.

What creative ideas would you suggest for addressing crime prevention?

I would implement a plan to restructure the community.

Economic hardship plays a huge role. We must keep the community, business owners and political officials aware of the social problem and encourage engagement in a communicative crime plan. These are the individuals who could create a roadmap for resolution.

How are you civically engaged in Newark?

I am heavily civically engaged. I am on The Board of Directors for the Youth Outcry non-profit organization. In addition, I have fed the homeless, and I am the CEO of Sanji CDC. This is a non-profit in which I educate students on the importance of the needs of young children in Essex County. Furthermore, my objective is to empower the youth, so they can become self-reliant and raise their level of consciousness.

Also, I am the Chairman of the Newark African Commission, which is in the Mayor’s office.

Finally, I organized cultural activities and syposiums to bridge the gap between African and Americans.

There are a massive amount of abandoned houses in Newark. What housing plan would you implement to address this social problem?

Houses are abandoned because of foreclosures. I would invent an economic plan to address this issue. Also, I will negotiate contracts with banks to help homeowners. Finally, I will educate the citizens about predatory lenders which sometimes leads to homelessness. 

What inspired you to run for political office?

I have always cared about humanity, and I have worked as a project manager for the housing authority in Newark. My duty was to oversee contractors for renovating sites, and this experience gave me the opportunity to analyze the living conditions of our community. I was exposed to teen homelessness, and it was a damaging sight. This harsh reality inspired me to become a political figure and bring about change. 

Are you an advocate of non-profits? If so, would you vote to give more funds and contracts to non-profit organizations?

Yes, I believe that the government cannot do it all. However, the non-profits must be reliable. For example, Youth Outcry is doing amazing work in the community. Despite their success, they should be given help from municipality. Non-profits can play a vital role in the prevention of juvenile delinquency. When I win, I am going to ensure that there are resources for non-profits that are doing great works for the city.

How will you create employment in Newark in the face of a 15% unemployment rate?

The best way to create employment is through entrepreneurship training and development. And, we must empower small businesses, which will hire more citizens. For example, we can [take] a street vendor and [make] him a store owner. Also, we will find grant money for individuals who don’t qualify for traditional loans, but have a sound business plan.

Finally, if elected councilman, how are you going to bring in new revenue to Newark? 

We will attract new revenue. There is a Visa program (AE5) for foreign investors, and it’s sanctioned by Congress. The stipulations are for a foreign investor to create 10 jobs in America by investing $500,000 to to $1,000,000 in the states. In addition, Newark’s seaport is a reservoirof resources. We can direct freight from oversees to create more jobs. Logistics and warehouses shipping and receiving will create more job opportunities for Newark citizens.