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)