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