Open Doors Citywide Arts Festival to hit Newark this October with more than 50 events

things to do cardMore than 6,000 people are expected to turn out to the Newark Arts Council’s Open Doors Citywide Arts Festival 2015 this month. From October 15th through the 18th, art enthusiasts will enjoy a gallery crawl, weekend studio tours, parties and a parade across more than 40 venues throughout the city.

Attendees are encouraged to purchase an Open Doors wristband for $10. The wristband enters you to win a hotel stay, Jazz Festival tickets, and a Newark Museum membership. It also gives wearers discounts at local Newark businesses to promote exploration and support of the city’s offerings. Wristband wearers will also be given priority admission to the Gallery Crawl after party at the Index Art Center on Friday night.

The weekend festivities will start early on Thursday, October 15 with the Open Doors Rooftop Party. The benefit event will take place at the Hotel Indigo at 810 Broad St. in Newark.

The party will support the Newark Arts Council’s arts education and community programs. Tickets are $40 and attendees will receive an Open Doors festival wristband.

On Friday, October 16 the festival will feature a Gallery Crawl throughout Newark to spotlight local art. The event will be followed by an after party at the Index Art Center, located at 237 Washington St. in Newark. The party will feature live performances from artists of many genres. It will run from 9 p.m. to midnight, and there is a $5 suggested donation at the door for admission.

The larger Newark community will come out together on Saturday, October 17, to celebrate the opening event of Newark’s 350th anniversary. The festival will kick off the celebration with their 8th Annual Creation Nation Art and Peace Parade, featuring a procession of “Animodule sculptures.”

The sculptures are the works of thousands of Newark children and youth. The parade is part of a free day of family friendly events in Military Park that will run from 11 a.m to 5 p.m.

After a jam-packed weekend, the Open Doors festival will conclude with a free official closing party. The event will be held at 765 Broad St. in Newark from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and feature food, drinks, DJs and live music from local emerging artists.

Festival goes should also download the festival app to unlock promos, prices and other added features at

Wristbands and tickets for events can be purchased at

Featured image courtesy of the Newark Arts Council.

Lessons from one of the most critically acclaimed education films ever, screened at Central High School

education cardStudents, teachers and district officials alike filed into the Central High School auditorium this past Tuesday to view the premiere of a film that questioned the very thing each person watching had dedicated some portion of their life to –education.

Most Likely to Succeed, a critically acclaimed documentary, chronicles the evolution of education from the agrarian schoolhouse model to the multi-classroom industrial system we still have today. Yet, though our economy has continued to shift to an information and services industry, the film contends our school system has done little to mirror this trend. In fact, with mechanisms like standardized testing, we have entrenched our students and teachers in an environment that stifles the most important commodity in today’s post industrialized economy: creativity and innovation.

“In Iowa they have a saying,” said executive producer Ted Dintersmith. “When a cow is hungry, we feed it, we don’t weigh it. We have kids that are starving to learn, but we spend all our time and over $14 billion a year testing and teaching to the test.”

“The program was magnificent,” Eastside High School senior John Bronco exclaimed at the film’s conclusion.

“My initial reaction is that education needs reform,” offered Victoria Davis Sharif, an Eastside High School junior. “I feel like tradition is holding us back. Kids need a real world experience.”

This experience is the complete opposite of what schools today provide. Filmmakers contend that information in today’s world is ubiquitous, so studying superfluous facts in order to ace an exam does not prepare students for the real world. This theory of education holds that knowing a big word or an obscure fact that anybody else can just Google does nobody any good, and is not a true measure of intelligence.

the future project screening

Executive Producer Ted Dintersmith, second from left, and Chief Dream Director Gemar Mills, fourth from left. Photo credit: Peter Asebiomo

“We have children with talent that believe they are dumb because they don’t flourish under our current system,” Dintersmith commented.

But what’s truly telling is that study after study proves that even those that do succeed under this model retain only a minute amount of the information. They study to pass an exam but the knowledge subsequently dissipates, a phenomenon that High School High has built their curriculum to combat by having students apply what they learn to building projects they enjoy.

“As a teenager, the most retention comes from relatability,” said Gemar Mills, former Principal of Malcolm X Shabazz High School and Chief Dream Director of The Future Project. And though there is currently no longterm measure of these students’ success, the film concluded with a thought provoking statistic about what they achieve in the short term: 98% of their students attend college, and though they abhor standardized tests, their students perform 10% better than the national average.

So upon the conclusion of a film that challenges the very foundation of a system that may very well be the foundation of society, patrons questioned how they could realistically apply the principles that guide schools like High School High to an system addicted to testing — an addiction that was evident even at the showing here in Newark.

“The older people here that experienced school from elementary to high school are victims,” said assistant superintendent Brad Haggerty. “It’s hard for us to imagine a different system, but we need one. However, testing shouldn’t be viewed as something we have to work through, or as an obstacle. We can still use testing and simply work around it.”

A paradoxical statement that fittingly summed up the quandary of education’s current plight.

In the South Ward, presence of community-based leaders gives shape to Newark Celebration 350 proposals

newark celebration 350 card“This is a strange country. This is a place where people tend to tear things down as opposed to preserve them.”

So said John Johnson, Jr., executive director of Newark Celebration 350, during the penultimate ward meeting last night, this time at the Donald K. Tucker Center in the South Ward.

Johnson recalled the five-story building on West Runyon Street where he grew up. It’s now a factory. “I remember it,” he said. “But if I don’t preserve those memories, then it will really be gone.”

Memory was again a key organizing principle for last night’s celebration meeting. This time around, Johnson announced that the programming committee had already accepted a proposal from a playwright to interview city seniors, and then produce plays based on their stories.

Quite a number of distinctive and well-formed programming ideas came out of the meeting as well, owing in part to the notable number of community-based leaders and organizers present who proposed programs that leveraged their subject area expertise and positions.

Myra Lawson, for instance, is executive director of Weequahic High School’s alumni association. She proposed filming elderly Newarkers recalling their favorite moments in Newark, then using the videos as preroll during other Newark Celebration 350 events.

Douglas Freeman, president of the Weequahic Park Sports Authority, was also present. He advocated for the celebration to be a truly multi-ward affair. Weequahic Park, he said, would be a perfect location for headlining events in the South Ward, including a golf tournament, which had also been suggested earlier in the meeting by another attendee. (He also playfully retorted that the city should host a “Mister Newark” pageant after attendee Evelyn Cole proposed a Miss Newark pageant, which she said hasn’t been produced since 2012.)

Former city planning director Damon Rich announced that the first ever three-dimensional model of the city had been completed, and that Mayor Ras Baraka had already agreed to display a version in Newark City Hall. Rich put out a call for Newarkers to make quilts as an extension of that project.

The role of younger Newarkers in the celebration was again a hot topic. Poet Breya “Blackberry Molassez” Knight said she could help inject youth and poetry into the celebration. “I can grab up some youth who wouldn’t mind sharing their love for Newark,” she offered.

Another suggestion: offering internships to local students to work on the celebration, which could be a significant line item on a resume.

And Dilettante Bass, a Newark native and graduate of NJIT who ran for the South Ward municipal council seat in 2014, suggested the organizers could attract younger Newarkers and grow the scale of the celebration in one shot by syncing up with some of the biggest event organizers in the city. “If you want to get people to come out, Mission Entertainment has an all white party,” he said, referring to the yearly affair organized by the New Jersey-based event planning company. “Show a video during the intermission. That’s how you get the generation you want to reach: attach yourself to bigger events to make it easier to get the word out.”

Other proposals included highlighting Newark’s criminal justice work, including the pioneering work in alternative sanctions being done by judge Victoria Pratt; encouraging  former Jewish and Italian residents to reengage themselves (“and their resources,” said the woman who made this suggestion) with the city; attracting Newark’s celebrities back to the city; highlighting Newark’s sports history; examining the role of the funeral home business in creating Newark entrepreneurs; looking at the history of media in Newark; commemorating “the true original Newarkers,” said Kevin Newell — the Lenape Indians; and holding a “battle of the bands.”

Upcoming community meetings

  • North Ward: Wednesday, October 7, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., Third Presbyterian Church (395 Ridge Street)

Get tickets now for the Christmas in the City R&B concert this December

Christmas time in Newark will be here before we know it, and the Prudential Center is gearing up to bring a celebratory night of R&B music at “Christmas in the City” on December 18.

“Christmas in the City” will be a “cross-generational concert of R&B legends” such as New Edition, Tyrese, Monica, and local favorite Jaheim. SJ Presents, a music event marketing  company, and WBLS 107.5 FM, a New York urban adult contemporary station, are hosting the concert.

The holiday concert continues the Prudential Center’s tradition of R&B programming, with acts such as Alicia Keys, Usher and Tina Turner having passed through their doors.

Tickets are $149.75, $129.75, $79.75 or $59.75 depending on seating area. They can be purchased on Ticketmaster or by visiting the Prudential Center’s box office. The box office is located on the of the center on Edison Place, near the intersection of Mulberry Street in Newark. It is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and can also be reached by calling 973-757-6600.

The line-up is subject to change. Learn more about the “Christmas in the City” performers below:

New Edition: The originators of the boy band movement in the ‘80s, the group features Ronnie DeVoe, Ralph Tresvant, Michael Bivins and Ricky Bell.

Tyrese: An acclaimed singer, songwriter, actor, author, television producer, former fashion model and MTV VJ. His new single from the summer of 2015, “Shame,” with Jennifer Hudson, became a No. 1 hit from his latest album, “Black Rose.”

Monica: The Grammy Award-winning and 10-million-plus selling singer, actress and entrepreneur returns to the music scene with her very personal and aptly titled offering, “Still Standing.”

Jaheim: A New Jersey native with deep family roots in the music business, he made his return to the R&B scene in late 2013 with his sixth studio album, “Appreciation Day.”

Featured image courtesy of SJ Presents

Newark Celebration 350’s Central Ward meeting was equal parts planning and trip down memory lane

newark celebration 350 cardYesterday the Newark Celebration 350 ward meetings moved on to the Central Ward – or the Old Third Ward of yore, as several attendees consistently reminded the group – and revealed themselves to be as much occasions for remembrance unto themselves as they are a series of citywide celebration planning events.

This time, about 30 attendees gathered in the basement of Abyssinian Baptist Church. As with the two previous planning meetings, celebration executive director John Johnson, Jr. opened the session with brief remarks before handing the reins to celebration chair Junius Williams, who played the role of meeting facilitator.

After a round of familial hugs and salutations among the attendees, Johnson called the meeting to order with a history lesson: the church, it turned out, was formerly a synagogue back when the neighborhood was a Jewish stronghold. Martin Luther King, Jr. had also preached there just before his fateful trip to Memphis in 1968. And Abyssinian had incubated at least three other churches in Newark: Greater Abyssinian Baptist Church, Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, and Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.

Williams then took the floor to a mild spattering of clapping (“thank you for that generous applause,” he quipped) to offer some thought starters before attendees discussed their own celebration programming proposals.

“We have a lot of churches in Newark,” Williams said, picking up where Johnson left off. “That in itself should be celebrated in some way.”

To date, Williams said, the celebration’s online proposal intake process has generated 75 programming proposals. Some had been accepted, others rejected outright, and still others sent back for more detail, and Williams lauded the “breadth and depth” of the ideas that the celebration’s programming committee has seen to date.

Those assembled then took the floor to deliver their ideas, which Johnson dutifully wrote down on large pieces of paper hanging at the front of the room. The overriding theme for the evening was history and memory preservation, particularly in the face of anticipated demographic changes in Newark that will result in much of its history being washed away if Newarkers aren’t intentional about preserving it.

“A lot of the history of Newark is not in book,” said a woman named Dana, who opened the proposal portion of the evening. “I would love to bring seniors and young people to a round table to share stories,” she said.

Most of the attendees’ ideas took history and memory as their core themes, as well. Linden Brown, a parishioner at Abyssinian, said he wanted to see a citywide trivia contest.

A 25-year-old woman named Karshan Ruffin commented that she wanted to commemorate the Newark riots of 1967, saying she knew more about similar conflagrations in other cities than she did about the one that took place in her own hometown.

A woman named Vivian Clark reminded the group that Newark was once an “educational mecca” where recruiters from historically black colleges and universities descended en masse to recruit its high school students, and that companies like Westinghouse and General Electric used to be located here. (“Yep. Right across the street form my house,” cosigned one woman, referring to the site that now houses Central High School.)

Williams then called up a woman named Georgia, who he’d chatted with about her idea before the meeting began. She proposed that Newarkers should intentionally “make memories” by taking pictures of their neighborhoods, because the city will be as unrecognizable 40 years from now as aspects of the Newark of the 1970s are today.

Victor Nicholson, the director of the Newark YMCA, reminded the group that next year will also mark the organization’s 135th year operating in the city. The YMCA will be collating pictures and stories of notable Newarkers who have used, lived in, or served the YMCA over the years. He proposed aligning that exercise with Newark Celebration 350’s programming.

Programming ideas that centered around more diverse activities also had history at their core.

Henry Appiah, program director for Playworks New York/New Jersey, proposed organizing regular “playdates” at local parks in order to “bring play back to the community.” The twist: older Newarkers could teach younger ones how to play the games of their youth, like stickball, tag, and running bases. “We can’t let the dangers of the community overshadow who we used to be,” he said.

And Sean Battle, a professor of English at Essex County College, poet, and founder of arts education startup EvolveNJ, proposed connecting Newark Celebration 350 with a planned poetry conference that EvolveNJ will host next April.

“In order to make it as an artist, I had to experience Newark,” he said. He proposed producing an anthology featuring Newark poets past and present.

Allison Capel, a librarian at the Springfield Avenue branch of the Newark Public Library proposed creating a “Newark Community Cookbook” filled with original recipes by Newarkers. The process would entail online submissions of recipes and live submissions of the prepared dishes. A tasting committee would then winnow down multiple entries (“we can’t have seven different entries for collard greens,” she said), and the winners would be included in the cookbook, which will also feature biographical information about those whose recipes are selected.

As the meeting wound down, Ruffin, the 25-year-old woman, reiterated a point she’d made earlier about a generational disconnect in the city that she said stalled the transfer of oral histories here. She cited to the composition of the room, which skewed older, as a case in point.

“It sounds like you just volunteered to spearhead an initiative to bring more young people into the process!” Brown said with a smile, as the rest of the attendees chuckled in agreement.

As with the previous gatherings, Monday evening’s meeting officially concluded with the nomination of a Central Ward committee chair and a call for volunteers to serve on that committee. But even as Williams tried to enforce the end time, the attendees, energized by what they’d heard posited throughout the previous hour and a half, were still bent on sharing more memories and ideas. They clamored to chat with Williams and each other even as the 7:30 p.m. end time came and went.

Upcoming community meetings

  • South Ward: Tuesday, October 6, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., Donald K. Tucker Center (27 Elizabeth Avenue)
  • North Ward: Wednesday, October 7, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., Third Presbyterian Church (395 Ridge Street)

Make Newark shine at the 13th annual city-wide clean-up

communityThe Newark community will come together to clean up the city at the 13th annual “Gateway to a Cleaner Newark” citywide event on Thursday, October 8.  The public event will focus on cleaning city gateways and neighborhoods, but the organizers say that participants can clean any spot in the city they’d like to. The cleanup will last for about three hours, and site will be assigned unless participants opt to select their own.

The cleanup will start at Lincoln Park on Broad Street at 8 a.m., and will proceed through the city until 1 p.m. The event will conclude with a lunch and the “Golden Broom Awards,” which will be given out based on the amount of litter and recyclables participants pick up. Participants will also receive a “Slam Dunk The Junk” tee-shirt.

Last year’s event welcomed more than 900 volunteers, and this year the City of Newark is seeking more volunteers by encouraging businesses, community organizations, charter schools to have two to four volunteers represent them at the clean-up, in addition to public figures.

“Gateway to a Cleaner Newark” is part of the New Jersey Clean Communities initiative, which is a community-driven, state-wide program to reduce litter. The program is managed by the Environmental Protection and Treasury state departments.

For more information or to sign up to participate, contact the Newark Office of Recycling at 973-733-3681 or email

Featured image courtesy of the City of Newark.

Celebrate the life and legacy of Amiri Baraka at Newark Symphony Hall

things to do cardOctober 7 would have been the 80th birthday of the late Amiri Baraka, and his beloved city of Newark will soon commemorate it. On October 10, Newark Symphony Hall will host an evening of poetry, music and dramatic performances to honor Baraka.

Newark born and raised, Baraka was a dramatist, novelist and poet who used his work as weapons against racism, becoming an influential activist for the rights of African Americans throughout a career that spanned several decades.

“Celebrate Amiri” is sponsored by the City of Newark and Mayor Ras J. Baraka, the son of Amiri Baraka. Other committee members of the event include the host Richard Wesley, Iqua Colson, Adegoke Steve Colson, Leon Denmark and Woodie King Jr.

An excerpt of Baraka’s “The Most Dangerous Man in America” will be performed by Art McFarland, a former ABC news personality, in addition to several other musical and poetic performances.

Some of the featured musicians and poets will include Felipe Luciano, who is also the city’s Communications Director, Jasmine Mans, Jessica Care Moore, James Mtume, Ntozake Shange, Quincy Troupe, the Arts High School Jazz Band, Pheeroan AkLaff, Adegoke, Steve Colson, Iqua Colson, Craig Harris, Oliver Lake, and Rene McLean.

“Celebrate Amiri” will begin at 8 p.m. at the Terrace Ballroom in Newark Symphony Hall, located at 1020 Broad Street. There will be a $5 admission fee.

Featured image courtesy of the City of Newark

Back by popular demand, the City is offering free classes for aspiring actors in Newark

opportunity cardBeginner actors in Newark have the opportunity to take part in an intimate nine week, free acting course with the City of Newark’s Office of Arts, Cultural Development and Tourism.

The workshop begins October 9 and includes monologue training and scene study. This is an intensive workshop “geared toward those who truly aspire to be actors, or are considering it,” according to the city’s website.

The acting classes are targeted to students ages 17 and up. Interested participants are required to apply for an interview by visiting their page on the city’s website.

Candidates will be asked to read from an excerpt of a notable play and must chose from the program’s list of selections, which can be found on the application. The plays include “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Luck,” “A Better Way” and more.

Applicants will be asked to select the excerpt they connect with most and present it enthusiastically, with full voice projection and as much eye contact with the interviewers as possible.

Memorization isn’t required, but it is recommended in order to give the interviewers a better idea of applicants’ acting process. Overall amount of interest expressed in the course will be a contributing factor in the selection of candidates.

The course will be taught by Europe Harmon, a native Newark actor who has appeared in over 35 plays within the New York and New Jersey regional theater arena. He is the co-founder of the Manhattan Performing Arts Collective and has taught acting previously at the Broadway Dance Center. The assistant instructor will be Gwen Moten, former music teacher and current Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Arts, Cultural Development and Tourism in Newark.

Once selected, the acting courses will take place classes will begin on Friday October 9 at 5pm and end at 6:30pm. Classes will be held in Newark City Hall located at 920 Broad Street.


Newark Celebration 350 community meetings continues in the West Ward

Rain pelted the colorful stained glass of the United Vailsburg Service Organization as citizens and city officials alike filed into the church like structure to discuss the impending Newark Celebration 350. This was the second stop of the ward-by-ward community tour geared to not only promote the upcoming yearlong celebration of Newark’s 350th anniversary, but to also gather ideas on what type of festivities the west ward could offer.

As with the East Ward meeting, this one, hosted by Celebration Director John Johnson Jr., illustrated the committee’s plan to envelope Newark’s five wards in a yearlong celebration that will commence in January and host upwards of 100 festivals and events. NJPAC President and Celebration Vice Chair John Schreiber explained this would start with the previously announced family oriented pre-anniversary event in Military Park on October 17th which would act as a preview of sorts for what was to come.

Chair Julius Williams proceeded to open the floor meeting attendees — there were about 40 in all at this one — and many of which voiced their belief the West Ward’s rich history should be the key focus of the events they showcased. “The West Ward’s significance extends beyond just Vailsburg,” Dr. Gloria Harris, a local minister, expressed exuberantly. “Many people don’t know about things like the underground rail road house or the significant black churches in the area.” She suggested this history be displayed on a mural.

The annual International Food Festival that has been held in the west for the past 20 years was a key proposal as well; a consensus arose that the ward should leverage this existing event and expand it to commemorate Newark’s 350th anniversary. Johnson also called out the history of Ivy Hill, which was previously part of South Orange before being incorporated into the West Ward. “It broke off and was eventually annexed by Newark,” he said, underscoring how coveted an area it was.

Later, Williams grabbed the brochure for Newark Celebration 350 and gestured first to a picture of Mayor Ras Baraka, and then to one of a young boy playing a trumpet. “Here, we have the old and we have the new,” he said pointing first to the mayor, and then to the boy. “See the question is, ‘What the future holds for this little boy and the others coming up along with him?’”

The committee representatives said they’re determined to use the high-profile platform of the anniversary celebration to convey a history passed that can act as a foundation for one yet to be realized.

Upcoming community meetings

  • Central Ward: Monday, October 5, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., Abyssinian Baptist Church (224 West Kinney Street)
  • South Ward: Tuesday, October 6, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., Donald K. Tucker Center (27 Elizabeth Avenue)
  • North Ward: Wednesday, October 7, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., Third Presbyterian Church (395 Ridge Street)

NJPAC Spotlight Gala co-chairs look to add their startup spirit to the institution’s largest funding arm

The New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Women’s Association will hold their annual Spotlight Gala tomorrow evening. The event will honor the much-awarded composer Stephen Sondheim, and will feature performances by Tony Award winners and nominees including Judy Kuhn, James Monroe Iglehart, Vanessa Williams and Tony Yazbeck.

But the black tie affair isn’t just about the performances. The event ultimately helps to fund NJPAC’s operations, including its community priorities, most notably arts education. Here, we profile the two co-chairs of the Spotlight Gala about what they’ve learned throughout their careers, and how they hope to imbue the Women’s Association and the event with some of their startup spirit.

Tenagne Jeffries

tenagne jeffriesTenagne Jeffries is the chair of the Women’s Association in addition to being co-chair of the gala. Many Newarkers will recognize her name from the 2014 mayoral campaign: Tenagne and candidate Shavar Jeffries are married, and she played a critical role during his run.

She’s now the founder and CEO of Newark-based development firm The Cultivation Group, but Jeffries began her career in the marketing world, where she racked up experience at an impressive set of firms, including Ogilvy and Mather and Grey Worldwide. It was in the course of creating entrepreneurial initiatives at mainstay companies that Jeffries gleaned some wisdom about making an impact at an established institution, knowledge she ported over to her role at NJPAC, and with events like the gala.

“Learning is an ongoing practice,” she told me. “You can’t just think you’re going to graduate and not have to invest in yourself further, whether it’s going to graduate school, doing certificates, or just being intentional about your experiences. You have to be aggressive in order to stay on top of how your field is evolving.

“I think to myself, ‘Where is the white space where I can add value? You get hired for your mastery, but you take it to the next level by adding value. I had to embrace what made me unique,” she said.

It’s that ethos that she’s bringing to NJPAC’s Women’s Association, an organization whose goal is to support the broader mission of NJPAC through its fundraising and programming.  The Spotlight Gala is a marquee event organized by the association. “The question is what can we do to make sure it’s engaging to everybody, and how do we make it new?” said Jeffries of her approach to this year’s event. “We decided having a diverse group of performers is really great, so they can resonate with the [association’s] different audiences and constituencies.”

In addition to chairing the Women’s Association, Jeffries is busy building The Cultivation Group, a community-minded real estate development firm focused on building in Newark using homegrown resources, and thus circulating dollars many times over within the city. She sought a project in a historical area, used community-based financing and a construction partnership with YouthBuild Newark to develop it, and will be mindful about bringing community-enhancing commercial tenants into the development.

Back at the Women’s Association, her goal is to continue diversifying the ranks of women who care about the arts, arts education, and networking with each other. “The Women’s Association has so many different types of trustees and members, but they all share a similar value of caring about our objectives, and [for] New Jersey,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for people to congregate around shared values. No matter what age you are, it’s a great way to connect.”

Robin Cruz

robin cruz mclearnJeffries is chairing the Spotlight Gala alongside Robin Cruz, an attorney and entrepreneur whose family has a history in Newark, and who came into the NJPAC fold when a friend invited her to a Women’s Association luncheon. The experience opened her up to a channel through which she could round out both her network and her non-work activities.

“I find myself being faced with all kinds of challenges having been working for 25 years, and thought I’d be settled into a routine,” said Cruz, who founded advisory firm East Avenue Advisors, LLC in 2013. “You always have to say ‘yes’ to opportunities when they’re presented to you. I always enjoy it when I take on something new, because one opportunity leads to the next.”

A key opportunity in that vein was to become involved with philanthropy, something she did by first joining the Women’s Association as a trustee back in 2008. “I wasn’t sure what to expect because I’m used to being in charge, but taking on something like chair of an event has led me to meet these wonderful people who are so appreciative and supportive,” she said.

Cruz said she particularly welcomes the opportunity to work with so many women, a demographic that is underrepresented in the legal world. “My female networks are so important, and I’d never give them up. They came from my philanthropy work,” she said.

Also like Jeffries, Cruz is a woman who launches things. Along with her father and brother, she started the Cruz Family Foundation, after the trio sold a previous company and saw an opportunity to “put some money to work and find a way to make an impact,” said Cruz.

The Cruz family launched the small foundation in order to create educational opportunities for children. They set up a special gift to the Trust for Public Land, which creates playgrounds and parks throughout Newark. The foundation has also created scholarships to help students attend Westover School in Connecticut — an effort to help level the playing field for deserving children and families who lack the resources to fully fund a private education. It’s the school that Cruz and her daughter have both attended.

In addition to midwifing her into philanthropy, Cruz touted the relationships engendered by her experience with NJPAC. “It is amazing to be a part of a community like this; we generally lose that ability as we get older. This is a community where everyone has this purpose and these interests, but all come from different experience levels and completely different perspectives. It’s different when it’s not your job and you don’t have to be here.”

Of the gala, which she has been working all year with Jeffries to organize, Cruz agreed that it will hit its objective if it brings younger people into the fold. “I’m hoping that this year has a fresh and young feeling to it. The choice of decor, the food, the colors, and everything else we chose deliberately has a fresh, new palette,” she said. “We have to make this popular for younger people. We have so many members who have been involved for 20 years and contributed so much. So we have to bring those younger members up, and that means making this a fun, exciting event for everyone.”

The Spotlight Gala takes place Saturday, October 3rd at 7 p.m. at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Find out more about the Women’s Association on their website, FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.