For discussion: Mayor Baraka on Newark development–It’s for us. (Video)

With $2 billion dollars’ worth of development rising out of the ground here in Newark, it’s clear something is shifting in town for real this time.

But for whom? In his latest video, Mayor Baraka rejects the comparison of development in Newark to what is transpiring in Brooklyn, and says we’re going for something a lot more inclusive, equitable and just.

Op-Ed: Will your vote count?

In this op-ed, NJIT professor Reza Curtmola demonstrates his thought leadership on the vulnerabilities of e-voting.

Why we commemorate Juneteenth

Juneteenth is a portmanteau term made of the two words “June” and “nineteeth” used to commemorate the day when Union soldiers marched into Galveston, Texas, announcing that slavery had been outlawed with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.  Now celebrated at the local level throughout the country, American black folks have adopted this day as a day to celebrate liberation, freedom, and self-determination.

However, there is something worth noting: the Emancipation Proclamation went into affect the very first day of 1863. Union troops didn’t get down to Texas until June 19, 1865 – more than two and a half years later.

There are conflicting stories as to why freedom was hidden from these enslaved black people for so long after slaveholders were mandated to release those they had enslaved for nearly 250 years. Some accounts tell a series of unfortunate events explaining the delay, while other, more realistic stories explain that President Abe Lincoln, the man who signed the Proclamation, had little power in the south and little sway with which to order southern slaveholders to do anything. It seems like many slaveholders simply didn’t want to give up the source of labor that had made them rich for more than 200 years.

The chattel slave system, used in addition to big cotton and tobacco business, built the country. The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation is supposed to mark the end of the 250-year old chattel slave economy, but enslaved black men, women, and children were forced to work for more than two years after the document supposedly freed them.

So on this day, the term “celebrate” is a little complicated. It’s true that the Emancipation Proclamation freed all three million southern black people, but the truth of their freedom was hidden from them for so long. It’s stomach turning to think of the amount of deception involved. We celebrate “Juneteenth” as the day of emancipation even though enslaved people had been freed over two whole years prior. How can we appropriately celebrate evidence of the selfishness and cruelty of America against black people?

We can celebrate by learning the true history of enslaved black people and the colonization of the Americas. We can celebrate 250 years of resistance. We can celebrate by learning the names of those enslaved and escaped black people who worked tirelessly for liberation – many of whom were unable to actually see the fruits of their labor. We can celebrate the courage it took for these people to fight for the abolition of slavery in the 1860s and the people who fight for the black lives that matter today.

And we can celebrate by supporting our communities. Many local Juneteenth celebrations, such as the Juneteenth Newark 5th Annual Event, focus on community and self-improvement with guest speakers, awards, black-owned business vendors, and live entertainment. On Juneteenth, we can celebrate all that it took, all that black people have done, to give us the freedom we have today in the face of such a cruel system. We can mourn the countless lives lost in the centuries of the freedom struggle, and we can find love and strength in engaging with our communities today.

Ode to ‘Brick City’: Newark doesn’t have to change its nickname to upgrade its identity

perspectives cardI recently had a spirited discussion with a local gallerist — a Newark lover who keeps an ear to the ground concerning any developments that might bode negatively for efforts to make the city a more desirable destination for business and pleasure.

I learned during that conversation that some who care about Newark are starting to think it’s time to move beyond “Brick City” as its nickname, and that even Mayor Ras Baraka is on board with this view.

Understandably, the mayor and others who are rooting for Newark want to dispel the harmful stereotypes the city has suffered for decades, often the butt of jokes for late night comics and movie punch lines. But I’m convinced that, even by any other name, Newark would continue to be fodder for humorists until they’re given a stronger, more substantial reason to stop laughing.

In 2009, Conan O'Brien made on-air jokes at Newark's expense.

In 2009, Conan O’Brien made on-air jokes at Newark’s expense.

The nickname of a city will only have negative connotations when the inhabitants of that city internalize the criticisms leveled at it by haters, and when they continue on a social, economic and political trajectory that invites scorn from outsiders.

Look at Newark’s municipal sibling across the Hudson. The “Big Apple,” as does Brick City, has no inherent value as a nickname – at least not on its face. The Big Apple has luster and panache associated with it only because of the way New Yorkers carry it. Period.

In the 1970’s and 80’s, during a downturn in New York City that included its near bankruptcy, blackouts and the wild west heydays of Times Square, the Big Apple was a target for the doomsayers. Like Brick City, some were writing its epitaph. The editorial cartoons in the tabloids were depicting apples infested with worms, or sunbaked and wilted, or plain rotted to the core.

nyc headlines

Rotten apple. Left: Long before Conde Nast readers voted Newark “Unfriendliest City,” these “Welcome to Fear City” pamphlets were distributed to would-be New York City tourists by plainclothes police at area airports back in 1975. Right: That same year, the New York Daily News responds to president Gerald Ford saying he wouldn’t bail out a financially wrecked New York City.

Now that New York has successfully rebounded from 9/11, and internalized and reflected that success, its Big Apple image is one of vigor and vitality.

So let’s not be in a hurry to throw out the baby with the bath water. Negativity associated with Brick City may actually be, in large part, negativity internalized by the Newark community and reflected back to the world. “Newark, the perpetual underperforming underdog,” we tell ourselves. Perhaps that statement is true in part because we repeat it so much amongst ourselves. By contrast, I think that if the people and institutions of Newark are positive, upbeat, forward-thinking and industrious, that’s the way the world will eventually recognize this city.

I learned a generation ago, from the generation before me, that Brick City has a centuries-long, illustrious reputation as a bustling, vibrant locale. As a young college kid and native Baltimorean, my virgin brain struggled to absorb the plethora of anecdotes fired at me from the mouth of my employer and mentor, Tony Zangari, about his beloved “Nork.” And Mr. Z, as I called him, was specifically intrigued with Newark as a “Brick City.”

That’s because Mr. Z was a builder.

As a new resident of Newark at the time, I had a distinctly different outlook of the city than most natives, who are already used to the “look” of the city by the time they’re able to grasp their surroundings. What was visually typical, normal and mundane to their eyes was unique, magnificent and wondrous to the eyes of one who’d never witnessed the physical structure of Newark.

Indeed, Newark was a visually stunning city to behold. Bricks, bricks everywhere. The Prudential and Mutual Benefit Life buildings notwithstanding, most of Newark’s downtown office towers in the late 1970’s, when I first encountered Newark, were brown brick – and beautiful.

Several of these buildings still adorn the central business district today – and are still beautiful. There’s also Penn Station, the library, the museum, NJPAC, the brick-lain Prudential Plaza, the historic brick brownstones on James Street, the beautifully architected and brick-hewn Broad Street Station, and lovely brick churches too numerous to catalogue. Back then, even Mulberry Street was made of brick — it hadn’t been paved yet. And as I traversed the city, I recognized the unique character of Newark’s neighborhoods and communities that also lent well-earned aplomb to the appellation “Brick City.”

NJPAC, Newark Broad Street Station, and James Street

NJPAC, Newark Broad Street Station, and James Street

At that time, more than 300 years after the city was born, it was obvious that Newark’s settlers recognized a “brick” as a magical thing. A material on which to build Newark’s foundation, and upon that, all that Newark would be and has become.

Three-hundred fifty years later, the building continues, and a funny thing happened on the way to today’s gleaming glass and steel from the original brick and mortar: Newark built a structural “brick city” while also attempting to build a community, a culture and a commerce. It’s a project that has certainly fallen short over the years, but excitement about finally hitting that trifecta — and in ways that benefit all Newarkers — is tangible, palpable, and electric in some of the initiatives I’m witnessing here now.

A significant level of pride in the Brick City moniker itself is also still on display today. Witness the many ventures that have absorbed “Brick City” into their own names, including this very publication.

Many who disdain “Brick City” disdain Newark regardless of what name the city goes by. Haters would associate any alternative name for Newark with an overgrown ghetto. But if Brick City were held in high esteem by Newarkers, it would stand a much greater chance of being praised and applauded universally, because it would be a reflection of our self-esteem as a city.

Newark has been built up over 350 years. With its geography, infrastructure, institutions and people, it has significant raw assets to boast. Brick City is an organic, homegrown, nostalgic brand, so let’s change Newark’s mindset and fundamental prospects, not its nickname.

Regi Taylor is a Baltimore native, illustrator, sculptor, writer and public relations professional who currently resides in the suburbs of Maryland. He cut his teeth in Newark politics and business development as a young man under the mentorship of Carl Sharif, on the public relations staff of former schools superintendent Dr. Columbus Salley, and as an unofficial apprentice to Balozi Harvey, former United Nations trade liaison on behalf of the City of Newark. Image: a handmade “Newark” wire sculpture by the author. Contact him at

Disclosure: While working in Newark as a young man, Regi Taylor also co-created founder and editor Andaiye Taylor.

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.



3 takeaways from the opening event of The Summit II public safety conference

Nearly 50 years ago in Cleveland, Ohio, NFL Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown hosted “The Summit,” a conference during which Brown and some of the most influential Black athletes in history voiced their solidarity with Muhammad Ali and his decision to refuse enlistment into the Vietnam War.

Yesterday Brown, along with Mayor Ras Baraka, former NFL star Ray Lewis, and other community activists, convened a sequel at Newark’s NJPAC with “The Summit II.” The program included a series of panels during which political officials, policymakers and thinkers, and activists discussed the violence that has plagued communities of color across the nation, with a specific focus on Newark.

The first panel of the day, entitled “The Real Root Causes of the National Epidemic of Gangs/Black on Black Violence,” sought to unpack myths about both the causes of violence and affected communities’ reactions to it. Here are the three key takeaways from that conversation.

Violence is a public health issue and must be treated accordingly

Baraka has been describing violence as a public issue since well before he ascended to the mayor’s office. He’s not alone. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, for example, has endorsed “Cure Violence,” an organization whose aim is to “[stop] the spread of violence in communities by using the methods and strategies associated with disease control.”

Based on data through August, the year over year murder rate has increased significantly in Newark, a trend mirrored in some other locales, including Baltimore and Brooklyn. Baraka posited that conventional violence mitigation tactics won’t work if they don’t acknowledge the longstanding traumas affecting communities plagued by violence.

“The inhabitants of these neighborhoods are suffering from a disease,” Baraka said. He likened it to post traumatic stress disorder — minus the “post”. “[T]hey are still living these circumstances,” he said.

Baraka further explained that many of the people in the most violence-ravaged neighborhoods have experienced the deaths of loved ones, and that when this experience is coupled with the disenfranchisement of institutional racism and poverty, psychological trauma ensues.

Treatment of violence, the mayor added, has been impeded due to a stigma placed on those who have been affected by it – an outcome he compared to the stigmatization that hampered an aggressive public health campaign to reverse the spread of HIV, particularly in its early days. Baraka added further that the lack of broad urgency around treating violence is primarily due to its root cause: inequality.

Communities must be proactive about affirming peace

occupy the city_common

Image: Andaiye Taylor

Aqeela Sherrills is the cofounder, along with Brown, of Amer-I-Can. Sherrills has been personally touched by violence and gang culture: he was once a gang member himself, and lost his first-born son in a 2004 shooting.

In 1992, Sherrills took it upon himself to help broker a treaty between rival gangs in his hometown of Watts, California. People don’t need permission to make a change if they think a solution might work, Sherrills said. Residents anywhere should feel empowered to actively engage in peace-affirming, he added.

Hakim Green, one of the founding members of “24 Hours of Peace,” underscored Sherrills prescription by describing his organization’s policy of gathering on street corners where victims are slain immediately after-the-fact to engage with community members about rooting out violence.

Changing the popular, but misinformed, “black on black violence” refrain often voiced by media

“Over 90 percent of blacks are killed by blacks, but over 80 percent of whites are killed by whites,” Sherrills explained, so the narrative of a phenomenon of intraracial violence as a problem particular to black people is a disingenuous one. In fact, proximity is a major factor in who perpetrates violence on whom. An in the U.S., where de facto segregation is still a reality, that adds up to most murders being committed by people of the same race as their victims.

Baraka went on to critique the characterization of black men and boys by the media. “You have a narrative that you’re either aggressive and prone to violence, or a clown there to entertain,” he said, adding that young men internalize this and proliferate the behavior.

One of the biggest misconceptions of black communities’ response to violence, panelists noted, was the perception black lives only mattered when lost at the hands of law enforcement. High attendance at recent rallies and peace events, vigorous debates about violence mitigation tactics on social media, and the existence of the panel itself all point to an intense passion about intracommunity violence among community members.


Here’s why Newarkers should care about Earth Day

riverfront park visitors

Pictured above: Visitors enjoy Newark’s Riverfront Park

While Earth Day salutations conjure up images of flower-laden hippies hugging trees and one another, the reality of its roots are much grittier, mired deep in political struggle that has created major paradigm shifts of power dynamics.

Conservation efforts to preserve wilderness and keep the plants, animals, land and water that make up an ecosystem intact is still at the forefront of many major environmental organizations. However, the health and well-being of people has been the main focal point of the fresh-faced grassroots organizations that are springing up all over the nation. The movement’s most heated battles in the past few decades have been communities of color — often low-income, working class citizens confronting industry and claiming a stake in the decision-making that directly affects their living spaces.

So where did Earth Day start and why? Forty-six years ago Gaylord Nelson, the founder of the now middle-aged holiday, decided to shift the youthful energy behind the anti-war movement towards the air and water pollution rampant in America’s booming years. The end result was 20 million people taking the streets on April 20th to lift their voices on myriad environment-related issues and rally for a healthier, more sustainable environment. Out of the first Earth Day came the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Act, major environmental legislation to protect our most vital resources.

Fast-forward about 30 years, and we introduce a new facet of environmentalism termed “eco-justice.” The idea behind eco-justice is that environmental racism is, to quote at length from sociologist Robert Bullard’s The Quest for Environmental Justice:

…as real as the racism found in the housing industry, educational institutions, employment arena, and judicial system. Environmental racism in public policies and industry practices results in benefits being provided to whites and costs being shifted to people of color. Environmental racism is reinforced by government, legal, economic, political, and military institutions.

Bullard is an Alabaman sociologist known as the father of environmental justice. He discovered in the 1970’s that in Houston, Texas, 100 percent of the incinerators were located in black communities, even though blacks only made up 25 percent of the city’s population. He wrote the book Dumping in Dixie in 1990 that sparked conversations on the intersectionality between race and the environment, resulting in the “17 Principles of Environmental Justice” being put together at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991. Bullard later assisted President Bill Clinton in formulating the executive order requiring that all federal agencies consider eco-justice issues on their agendas.

Grassroots groups challenge the “business-as-usual” environmentalism that is generally practiced by the more privileged wildlife-and-conservation-oriented groups. The focus of activists of color and their constituents reflects their life experiences of social, economic, and political disenfranchisement. ~Robert Bullard

History has shown that communities of color have the most to lose when industrial endeavors go south. Out of these communities have risen powerful movements of working class folks of color pushing back for the safety and health of their communities.

Today marks the unfortunate anniversary of the BP oil spill that wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast. The worst environmental disaster to date was felt most by the working class community that depends on the water as a source of income. African-American oyster fishermen had their entire livelihoods stripped as contaminated waters wiped out the oyster population almost immediately. A riveting documentary entitled “Vanishing Pearls” by Nailah Jefferson outlines the story of the Pointe à la Hache fishermen and their mobilization to get compensation and restore their way of life.

Across the nation, communities of color are up in arms to keep the integrity of their communities intact. In North Dakota, the Three Affiliated Tribes made up of Mandan, Hidatsua and Arikara people are mobilizing to keep their reservation land at Fort Berthold out of the hands of the fracking industry. In Chester, Pennsylvania, coalitions of faith-based institutions and activists at the DelCo Alliance for Environmental Justice have worked tirelessly to keep incinerators that burn trainloads of trash from New York City at bay.

And here in Newark, the stalwart Greater Newark Conservancy offers job training and student internships, and has built an ambitious central city Urban Environmental Center, while the multicultural non-profit organization Newark Science and Sustainability takes a multidisciplinary approach to educating the community about the environment and healthy living, and creates partnerships to tackle environmental justice issues and their effects. Most of these grassroots groups are volunteer-based, working off of their own resources or little-to-no funding, yet with relentless commitment they are seeing slow but steady victory over industry once thought a formidable and insurmountable foe.

Earth Day has become more than just another day to appreciate the budding flowers or recite “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” ad nauseum. It has become a global day of solidarity, to remind the powers-that-be that communities are wide awake and unwilling to accept the costs of their health and quality of life for the financial benefit of a few.

Joanne Douglas is an elementary science teacher at Jubilee School, an environmental activist, and founding member of EDGE (Encouraging Development of a Green Economy), a grassroots eco-justice arts collective based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She can be reached at


Note to reporters: your Newark clichés are officially played out

There is plenty to report about Newark that is positive and exciting and hopeful. I know because I’ve been personally doing it for four years and counting.

But Newark is also confronted with some of the toughest and most intractable problems a city can face. This has long been a fact of life in our town. Journalists who seek to tell stories about a downtrodden Newark can bring lots of true facts and scores of real and relevant examples to bear on this type of project.

And this is what makes it that much more irritating when reporters pile on by writing off-kilter stories based on their narrow assumptions, or that leverage haphazard reporting. In piece after piece I’ve read about Newark over the years, the same old worn out clichés abound.

As a native and current resident, this habit is at turns amusing, annoying, and maddening. In fact, my frustration with many reporters’ uninformed and dismissive treatment of Newark is one of the primary reasons I founded this site.

The latest illustration of this tendency comes courtesy of a Bloomberg BusinessWeek article about Newark entitled “Baraka Faces Newark’s Challenges in Post-Booker Era.” Embedded in the story is a photograph that depicts the north side of Market Street between Mulberry Street and Broad Street downtown.

market street_bloomberg

The caption: “Downtown, dollar stores and small businesses dominate commercial corridors. Along Market Street vacant storefronts and ‘for lease’ signs are commonplace.” (Emphasis added.)  The photograph and caption are embedded adjacent to a section of the story entitled “Impoverished Community.”

Well it turns out that if the reporter had simply made a quarter turn to the left to get the shot, we would have seen a very different view of that drag of Market Street:

market street development

What’s pictured above are the fruits of a surge in Market Street development that is unfolding directly across the street from the published photograph. In the photo above are the popular restaurant Dinosaur Barbecue; The Columbian, a 22-unit luxury loft apartment building that once sported a lengthy waiting list; The Madison, a second, 48-unit luxury loft apartment building that recently enjoyed its ribbon-cutting; a brand new Chipotle; and the soon-to-open Krauszer’s convenience store, Novelty Burger, Redd’s beer garden (which will be a bilevel, 7,000 square foot space), and brick oven pizza restaurant Mercato Tomato Pie.

It is the construction and “coming soon” signs dotting the block – not “for lease” signs and dollar stores – that have the momentum and are the story on that drag of Market Street. I’ll venture that even a mildly discerning eye could see that.

Reporters: I know it’s not your job to promote Newark. But this city is complicated, fascinating, and textured, and we deserve reporting that doesn’t sand that down.