Releases: Great Success for Essex County LGBT RAIN Foundation Appreciation Dinner and Fundraiser

Essex County, N.J., April 30, 2014 – On April 26th, the Essex County LGBT RAIN (Reaching Adolescents In Need) Foundation held its first annual appreciation dinner and fundraiser. The organization offers emergency shelter services to address the emergent need of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) homeless individuals between the ages of 18 to 24.

The event honored four people for their work in helping the foundation form from idea to reality. The honorees were Amir Hashemi of CCI, Councilwoman Andrea McPhatter of East Orange, Brian McGovern of NJCRI, and Elaine Helms Essex County RAIN Foundation founder.

"RAIN is doing tremendous work helping LGBT adolescents & young adults and is a great impact on East Orange and the greater Essex County community," said Councilwoman Andrea McPhatter.

Assemblyman Tim Eustace, an openly gay member of the NJ Legislature, presented resolutions from himself and on behalf of Assemblyman Caputo, Gusciora, McKeon and Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver. "I was proud to join RAIN in celebrating leaders within the LGBT community.  I applaud their work and stand ready to assist them accomplish their goals for individuals in need." said Assemblyman Tim Eustace.  

"This was a proud night for the organization, receiving the support not only from the community but support from political figures." said Tamara A. Fleming, board chair of Essex County LGBT RAIN Foundation. Holly Kaplansky, owner of Minuteman Press, stated, "This is a great organization doing amazing work. I'm happy to be here to support them and I admire Elaine and Tamara for doing this."

The foundation has multiple community sponsors such as the North Jersey Pride organization. C.J. Prince, executive director of North Jersey Pride, said, "We're thrilled to be a community sponsor of the LGBT RAIN Foundation dinner. This organization is working tirelessly to save our youth in crisis; to give them much needed shelter, hope, and the freedom to be just who they are."

Essex County has the highest homeless percentage in the state of New Jersey found in the report done by "We're excited about the recent campaign launch from the National Coalition for the Homeless, this campaign; the National Campaign for Youth Shelter will address the homeless crisis of youth in the United States, including LGBT youth. RAIN will join forces to support this movement and continue to work at bringing housing and support services to Essex County LGBT youth" said Elaine Helms.

If you would like to donate your time or money to the organization you can reach them at 732-707-RAIN (7246) or online at

Here’s an old-timey video of Broad & Market Streets


This video of Broad and Market Streets despicts an incredibly busy intersection not unlike the one we see today. It shows passenger cars and streetcars on both Broad and Market Streets, plus a phalanx of pedestrians crushing the sidewalk and dashing across the street. The video jump cuts a few times and features an unnecessary video reel sound effect, but it's still a fascinating look at what life was like in our backyard nearly a century ago.

Hat tip to Newark Arts Council's Jade Lien, who originally posted this to her Facebook page this morning.


Quiz: Which Newark celebrity are you?

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In the shadow of the Prudential Center, a restaurant row struggles to attract locals

Pictured above: New Jersey devils fans mill around outside Brick City Bar and Grill.

Seven years ago, the opening of the Prudential Center in Newark gave high hopes for the continued revitalization of the city. Instead, local businesses that rely on the arena’s patrons are not feeling the benefits.

Located right across the street from the Prudential Center is a small restaurant row comprised of three restaurants – Edison Ale House, Loft47, and Brick City Bar and Grill. Fans enter and exit the arena almost right in front of all three restaurants. But even with such proximity, both have struggled with a lack of consistent patronage.

“We moved in one year after the arena was built, and have felt the affects of the arena’s NHL New Jersey Devils lockout, [the] New Jersey Nets moving, and lack of events,” said Edison Ale House general partner Ray Levy. “They need to have more concerts and events, because we struggle to attract tourists and locals.”

The 2012-2013 National Hockey League lockout caused troubles for the trio of restaurants after the typical 82-game season was shortened to just 48. For restaurants in the area, hockey night patronage doubles and sometimes triples their business. But on non-game and event nights, staffs are cut and the restaurants struggle to keep doors open.

“When the lockout happened, waiters and waitresses lost shifts, and it was hard to stay in business,” Levy said. “The Nets leaving didn’t affect us that much, but when the lockout hit, then it hurt. We needed local patronage but never got it. I don’t even think locals know we’re here.”

One block away from the Edison Place restaurants is the Gateway Center, an office complex that has many commercial businesses, and connects to Newark Penn Station. Thousands work in and commute through the center daily, but few venture just a block away to restaurant row.

“If there are no events at the arena, we rely on locals to come have a drink after work. But honestly, commuters would rather go home,” Brick City Bar and Grill manager Dan Wasama said. “We make $3000 to $4000 on an average night, but during hockey nights, [we make about] $15,000.“

The nearby Broad and Market Street intersection has a reputation as being a dangerous area in Newark, and that has affected perception of the radius around the intersection. Wasama thought security in the area had been improved by the city, but still felt tourists and nearby employees and commuters didn’t completely feel safe.

Penn Station commuter Amy Stewart echoed that sentiment. “I don’t like to be on Broad Stree," she said, adding that she thinks there's illegal activity going on near the intersection. “I literally come to work and go home. I trust the restaurants in my city to be safer.”

– Loft47 patrons adopt Irishman, who says insults of Newark are "a load of rubbish" –

Wasama spoke about how tourists walk directly to the stadium and then Penn Station, avoiding Broad Street completely. “Newark has a reputation for being a bad and dangerous place to visit,” Wasama said. “New Yorkers don’t want to come over here for anything. It takes literally 15 minutes by train to get here, but people won’t even do that.”

Newark is the last stop on the World Trade Center to Newark Path train, and Wasama’s statement seemed to resonate among commuters in New York. Outside of the World Trade Center memorial, tourist Mark Shilton said, “I’m not making a trip to New Jersey at all, I’ve heard too many negative things about that state and don’t want to get caught up.”

Management at both Edison Ale House and Brick City Bar and Grill agree that the Prudential Center needs to host more events and that the city should continue to revitalize the area, both of which they think will help to improve business and the community.

Sunday jazz brunch takes ‘Center Stage’

This coming Sunday, April 27, the gentlemen of Gentlemen Culture and Center Stage Cuts will be hosting a jazz bunch at the venue, located at 402 Broad Street, about a block from Broad Street station. The brunch will feature a live jazz band, full brunch menu, and bottomless mimosas. 

Tickets can be purchased via Eventbrite.


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Norman Rockwell American Chronicles At Newark Museum Until May 26

The traveling exhibition of Norman Rockwell, America’s most famous illustrator, will show until May 26 at the Newark Museum, before it goes to Italy for it’s next stop. American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell is a traveling exhibition of 363 illustrations and 50 paintings.

Rockwell is considered the best illustrator of the 20th century, and yet you won’t see any of his work at the MoMa or the MET.  In the 1920’s, Rockwell became famous for capturing American life through his illustrations, at a time when the most respected artists were doing abstract art. 

Earlier this month, Dr. Joyce Schiller, a curator of the Rockwell Center for American Art, the institution responsible for the exhibition, gave a lecture on Rockwell at the Newark Museum to a modest crowd of about 30 people.  

“This exhibition is important for Newark because you won’t see the art of illustrators in the museums in New York City,” said Dr. Schiller in an interview after the lecture. “Rockwell was the best illustrator of the time, but he wasn’t considered an artist.”

Rockwell’s illustrations for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, the magazine with the largest subscriptions in the U.S. at the time, could be easily mistaken for real photographs due to his precision and detail. His first cover, “Boy and The Baby Carriage”, which appeared in 1916, has a playful look and feel and vivid characters.  The painting illustrates a well-dressed boy pushing what was considered a fancy baby carriage at the time, and two other boys in less formal clothes on their way to a baseball game. All three boys in the painting were recurring characters in Rockwell’s art.

In his biography, My Life As An Illustrator, Rockwell writes, “The most difficult problem is thinking up the ideas which a majority of the readers will understand and is damn hard to be universal to find some situation which will strike the housewife, the farmer and the gossip and be understandable by all.” For Rockwell, painting the same characters in different situations helped overcome part of that challenge.

In the beginning of Rockwell’s career, he wanted to capture life as he wanted it to be, excluding the ugly parts of it, but his goal changed overtime, especially during the Civil Rights era.

Another high point in the exhibit is Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” paintings, which were inspired by a speech from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  After publishing the illustrations on the Post, the paintings were commissioned by the U.S. government during World War II to raise money and persuade the public to favor the war. The four freedoms paintings – freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want and freedom of fear – were scenes of American life capturing each one of those themes.

After gaining popularity through his work on the post, Rockwell began doing work for other magazines like Lady’s Home Journal and Life magazine, and worked on ads for clients like Colgate.

“All the elements in his illustrations tell the same story,” said Dr. Schiller, in reference to the collection. “He often used furniture and clothing to tell the story about the characters.” 

While Dr. Schiller’s lecture generated a lot of positive reactions from the audience. A man approached Dr. Schiller to ask a somewhat controversial question during a coffee and snack reception after the talk. “Was Norman Rockwell a racist?” asked the unidentified man. It was a fair question given that there are very few people of color in his illustrations.

Dr. Schiller explained that Rockwell had been asked not to paint people of color in the covers for the Post unless they were in service roles, and that he became increasingly frustrated with the Post and their censoring of his political views. 

Rockwell eventually left the Post to work for Look magazine, where he published, “The Problem We All Live With,” an illustration of Ruby Bridges, the first black student to attend an all-white school. The partnership between Rockwell and Look magazine made it easier for Rockwell to express scenes from the civil rights movement. 

The American Chronicles exhibition attracts anywhere between 10,000 to 70,000 people at each location, said Dr. Schiller. The Newark Museum curators declined to respond to our questions about admissions, or why they chose to showcase the Rockwell exhibit work. 

But what is without question is that the exhibition is  one of a kind and won’t be found anywhere else outside of Newark. At least not until May 26. 

Natural haircare entrepreneur Simeko Watkins-Hartley to award scholarships to Essex County teen girls


Natural haircare salon owner Simeko Watkins-Hartley will confer scholarships of up to $200 apiece on seven Newark-area teen girls Saturday at Rutgers University, a culmination of the free, 12-week Born-To-Be A Natural Leader workshop series that she and a small army of volunteers administered for the young women. This is the program's second run in as many years.

Watkins-Hartley, a Harlem native with 20 years of natural haircare experience, opened her Meko, New York salon and spa in Orange, NJ in 2010, bringing a legion of her existing clients along with her. Her storied career includes a seven-year run managing the renowned Khamit Kinks natural haircare salon in Brooklyn. Watkins-Hartley is also a graduate of the Rising Tide Community Business Academy, which boasts 800 alumni graduates in its network.

She said her clientele of women from diverse professional backgrounds is part of what inspired her to create the program, which she currently funds out-of-pocket, and with the help of volunteer workshop leaders and space sponsored by The Center on Spruce Street in Newark.

"My passion is to help women learn to embrace and love their natural beauty, inside and out," Watkins-Hartley said in a phone interview. "This program is extension of that. As a successful salon owner, it's one of my passions to give back to teenage girls that, like myself, grew up in the urban community."

Essex County schools served as the primary pipeline for teen girls to participate in the program. Applicants were required to write essays about why they wanted to participate. The workshops themselves ran the gamut of topics, from natural haircare to scholarship searches, resume writing to vision board creation.

The teens were also exposed to local women entrepreneurs in the area through the program. Pooka Pure and Simple, the new natural body product shop that recently opened on Halsey Street, helmed a workshop about how to build a beauty business. Aleia K. Moore of Moore 2 Life Motivations lead a workshop on self esteem and leadership skills. And Watkins-Hartley herself taught the natural haircare workshop.

"When I look at girls in urban communities, I see myself," Watkins-Hartley said, when asked about her motivation to launch the program. "I'm with the teens on Saturdays, which are the busiest days at the salon," she continued. "To me, it's all worthwhile, because I know the importance of having somebody there that believes in you. Doing this is very worth the time, and I know it'll definitely pay off." She added that she appreciates being able to give back to the community, since people from the community are who make her business a success.

The scholarship gala will take place this Saturday at Rutgers University. Teens will present their essays to a panel of judges, who will award the top three essays with additional scholarship funds, as well as a donation to the charity of their choice. Personal finance entrepreneur Tiffany "The Budgetnista" Aliche will receive a Community Service award during the gala.

For more information about the program, email

Image credit:

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Newark students walk out Thursday in protest of ‘One Newark’ plan


Updated: 1:05 P.M.

Below is a live feed of social media updates from the Newark Students Union walkout.



Originally posted: 8:34 A.M.

Students from the Newark Students Union are organizing a walkout today. The protest is timed to underscore the state budget hearings on education in Trenton.

According to a press release, the group, whose student leadership hails from Science Park High School, Arts High School, Central High School, and East Side High School, will convene on the steps of City Hall before leading what they're calling a "March of Shame" past institutions they insist are underminig traditional public schools. The students are set to meet at City Hall at 1pm this afternoon.

In a video promoting the protest, the students enumerate their reasons for walking out, and call on their peers to do the same.


The student group has previously collaborated on events with the American Federation of Teachers and NJ Communities United, a politicaly progressive grassroots organization (both organizations endorsed councilman Ras Baraka for mayor). The group convened a mayoral forum at the Newark Public Library back in November, when councilmembers Anibal Ramos and Darrin Sharif were still candidates in the race.