More than plowing snow: Here’s the bigger lesson from the Jonas cleanup in Newark

perspectives cardWe now have a little distance from winter storm Jonas and Newark’s issues with snow removal in its wake. And after looking back and assessing the response, there is no way to sugarcoat this: the storm showcased some of the habits that hold our city back. Not only did it show how unprepared we were for managing natural disasters, but even worse, it showcased the immense amount of vitriol that has plagued Newark for far too long. The days after the storm were one giant master class in finger pointing. From City Hall to the media, everyone else was to blame for the chaotic and crippling cleanup effort.

In the end, it was residents who were left picking up the pieces. Heroic stories emerged across the Internet of Newarkers banding together to dig one another out, caring for the sick, and rallying together through the storm. While those stories of selfless neighbors are important, and are a fundamental reason why I continue to call this place home, those stories should not have had to happen. They didn’t happen in Jersey City, they didn’t happen in Montclair, and they didn’t happen in dozens of other places that were blanketed in snow.

Time and time again, Newarkers have to be the exception. Newarkers must constantly overcome in spite of something, and while that has contributed to our resilient character, we cannot continue to function as a city of exceptions. Moreover, we cannot thrive as a city of exceptions.

What makes winter storm Jonas so important has less to do with the actual snow, and everything to do with how we chose to react to it. If we can’t clean up snow, if we refuse to come together when people need us the most, how can we ever rise to be the city of our parents and grandparents’ dreams? Newark has high hopes, and rightfully so. Our downtown is reshaping itself in a beautiful way, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel in our education reform effort, and people are beginning to sincerely believe in Newark again.

But Newark has been on the brink and the precipice of change before, and we have fallen short before. If we want this time to be different, then it’s up to us. The future of Newark rests in our hands, not Trenton’s, not Washington D.C.’s, and not in the shortcomings of past leaders. Those who care about Newark, right now, native or transplant, no matter what their race, are all that matters in this fight to push this city forward.

Change is difficult. It requires a sort of soul searching and self-evaluation that we have often shrugged off as being the stuff of outside agitators, or a rejection of Newark. But in reality it’s quite the opposite. Snow cleanup debacles, physical altercations at so-called peace rallies, and a city that has become accustomed to less rather than more: we have work to do, Newark. Serious work. We need greater accountability, we need unified communities, and we need to push for a culture of excellence not mediocrity. Undoubtedly, each of us plays a part in reaching these goals.

President Lincoln once wrote he who has a heart to help has a right to criticize. I believe in Newark. I believe in its ability to be the greatest city in America if only we have the resolve and fortitude to make tough but necessary adjustments. If Newark has taught me anything, it’s to speak up when necessary. I’m imploring our leaders and communities to get it together and put the divisiveness behind us, because what is at stake — our future — is much too great and far too important to do otherwise.