New Catholic High Brings Hope to Newark Kids

New York Times: Eager to Learn, Newark Teenagers Embrace Lessons in Perseverance. The Times follows the path of a Newark student attending Christ the King Prep School, a new school opened by the Catholic diocese in a revitalized effort to bring education to the inner city

After every cataclysm had struck — after his father had died and his mother had fallen ill with heart disease, after one older brother had gone into jail and another into a psychiatric hospital, after exhausting the welcome at a sister’s home and moving into a shelter, after shuttling through 13 schools by the eighth grade — after all of that, Bukhari Washington clung to one vision.

Somehow, he would still attend Christ the King Prep.

By last spring, he had been admitted to the school, the first new Catholic high school to open in this epically troubled city in half a century. Come September, he was to enter with the first 100 freshmen. Donors had put forward not only tuition for Bukhari, but also money for his school uniform of blue blazer, pressed trousers and striped tie.

Then, over the summer, came the latest twist. Bukhari’s mother, Yvonne Washington, decided to move to North Carolina. She had found an apartment there and planned to get Bukhari’s older brother out of the hospital to live with them.

From the first mention of the plan to leave New Jersey, Mrs. Washington could see the effect on Bukhari, she recalled in a recent interview. His head drooped. His springy walk slowed to a trudge. When they did their nightly Bible study, together in that spare shelter room, Bukhari brought up the lesson his mother had taught so often out of their favorite psalms, the need for perseverance.

“This is something I want to stick out,” he told her of Christ the King. And if going to the school meant remaining in the shelter, forgoing their own apartment safely away from Newark’s mayhem, then he would do it.

“There is no good education in Newark,” Bukhari, 14, remembers having said. “We found a school that for the first time in a hundred years is helping students find their dreams. I have to get to this school. I have to strive for it. This school is a miracle for me.”

‘That White Girl’

From time to time, Black Americans become entangled in lively discussions about what makes a person ‘black’. The conversation is inevitable, and on Sunday morning I came across the realization that not enough has changed in the way we relate to each other.
I volunteer as a Sunday school teacher at my church in Montclair. It’s a large nondenominational church that pulls its members from the Newark area as well as two neighboring states. Although the church is predominantly black, the congregation is socially, economically and ethnically diverse. That morning, the lesson called for the kids to work as teams. One group included a dark-skinned boy with pretty eyes and a sweet girl whose very light skin and dark, straight hair hinted at a mixed heritage. Well, the little boy took one look at his teammate and declared: “I am not standing up with that white girl!”

Of course, the teachers (there was one other aside from me) quickly and gently corrected this kid. He didn’t know that he was being insensitive. Obviously, he picked up his misguided sense of racial identity from the adults in his life, whose own warped ideas went unchecked for too long. As for the girl, the remark clearly saddened her, but she did not crumble to pieces. Good for her! She, and other light-skinned children like her will need that fortitude as they navigate the often-treacherous social scenes at middle school, high school and college.

By coincidence, I came across an interesting story in today’s newspaper about a canceled nightclub promotion in Detroit. That situation involved similar “colorism” issues, but was focused on some of the complexion-inspired rivalries between black women.

All adults who interact with children have a responsibility to show them how to treat others with fairness and respect. One would think that message is a given within the black community, and that we’ve all had enough intra-racial experiences to dispel that kind of lazy thinking. Sadly, some of us continue to highlight insignificant identity traits – complexion, facial features, hair texture and eye color – and use them as excuses to put our own brand of plain meanness on display.

Who knows why that boy said what he said. He might have taken a fancy to that little girl. She was cute in her braids decorated with white beads. Ladies, we all know that little boys typically express the first flutterings of love by taunting and vexing the objects of their affections.

Whatever the case, someone in that boy’s life should take better care to guide his thinking. It is human nature to find common traits and values in others, then group ourselves into tribes, but we should avoid sowing animosity among people who are different. Black Americans used to adhere to those abhorrent “brown paper bag” tests for admission to social events and organizations. We no longer practice that nonsense. That is progress, but the work never ends. Let’s take every opportunity to dispel “colorism” from black boys and girls, and teach them not to devise new methods of being divisive and cruel.

In the Country of Last Refuge at Gallery Aferro, 10/27

In the Country of Last RefugeA Mashup curated by Emma Wilcox and Evonne M. Davis

October 20-November 17, 2007
Opening Reception Saturday October 27, 6-9:30 PM

Gallery Aferro 73 Market Street Newark NJ 07102

Gallery Aferro proudly presents the third annual urbanism exhibition in a series titled after the Paul Auster novel In the Country of Last Things. Themes in exploration this year by 36 local, national and international artists are geography, communication and, explicitly for the first time, violence. Global violence and local violence, and the effect of each on the urban community, will be addressed.

A fully illustrated color catalog, with essay, will be available here and at the opening. Gallery Aferro is a participant in Newark Open Doors 2007.

The artists: Bami Adedoyin, Becca Albee, Scott Andresen, AWG, Ryan Barone, Michael Paul Britto, Lori Brown, Alexander Conner, Patricia Dahlman, Peter Feigenbaum,
Asha Ganpat, Dana Hanmer, Travis Hanmer, Michael Itkoff, Katarina Jerinic, Maureen Kelleher, John Maters, Sarah McCann, Stephen McKenzie, Traci Molloy, Lucas Monaco, Owen Mundy + Joelle Dietrick, Leah Oates, Deborah Orloff, Joan Pamboukes, Mike Pare, Jean-Gabriel Periot, Elisa Pritzker, <a href=“”>Sara Ross, Anne Schiffer, Calla Thompson, Joe Waks, Barbara Wallace, Michelle Wilson

Normative Behaviors: New Video by Michael Paul Britto, 10/27

Normative Behaviors: New Video by Michael Paul Britto

Aferro New Media Room

October 20-November 17, 2007
Opening Reception Saturday October 27, 6-9:30 PM

Gallery Aferro proudly presents Michael Paul Britto’s solo show, Normative Behaviors, in the New Media Room. New and unseen work will be premiered, in addition to acclaimed works such as Ghetto Games, Authenticity of a Smile, and Super N Word.

Britto says that he has “always been fascinated by the creativity spawned from not having, or being deprived. Ghetto Games explores such resourcefulness: the ability to modify one’s surroundings to be more conducive to one’s amusement.”

“I like to challenge the viewer to remember the past, and pay close attention to what we accept in our everyday lives as being acceptable behavior from popular culture.”

Britto’s work has been shown internationally, including in Uncomfortable Truths -The Shadow Of Slave Trading On Contemporary Art & Design, Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, London, Frequency, Studio Museum of Harlem, New York, NY, Black Panther Rank & File, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA, and S-Files, El Museo del Barrio, New York, NY. He is also a 07 Smack Mellon studio recipient.

Prudential Center Continues to Generate Buzz

We’re just days away from Bon Jovi;s opening night at the Rock, and Devils owner and Pru Center dealmaker Jeff Vanderbeek is gladly showing the press through the arena in this piece by the New York Times: Devils Win the Race to be First.

It was Jeffrey Vanderbeek, the Devils’ owner, who was giving a tour yesterday of the $375-million Prudential Center, nicknamed the Rock, in Newark six days before its opening Thursday with a Bon Jovi concert. The arena includes an austere and capacious white concourse; slick $222,000 to $285,000 luxury suites; restaurants and club lounges that overlook the ice; intimate seating (17,625 for hockey, 18,500 for Seton Hall basketball and 19,500-plus for concerts); displays of New Jersey high school hockey jerseys; hockey-themed artwork; and an enormous outdoor L.E.D. screen that will emit high definition images allegedly visible in Manhattan.

This is clearly the Devils’ building, built by the Devils (with $210 million in Newark money) for the Devils. There is no N.B.A. team (there is an indoor soccer club, the Ironmen) to deflect attention (or to add revenues) from the Devils. As Vanderbeek skillfully gave a tour for dozens of reporters, it was difficult not to think of McMullen. He loved this team. He hated the Continental Airlines Arena (now the Izod Center) and only considered migrating to the country music capital of Nashville to make the money he couldn’t make in the state-run Meadowlands. Heck, he was an owner, but a delightfully cantankerous and bluntly candid one. He would have loved to have beaten Steinbrenner to the finish line with the first arena or stadium to open in this market since the Continental Arena in 1981.

Instead, it was Vanderbeek, the former Lehman Brothers investment banker, who opened his building before the Yankees and Mets, whose new ballparks are to open in the spring of 2009; the Giants and Jets, whose joint, $1.3-billion stadium beside Giants Stadium is scheduled to open in 2010; the Nets, who haven’t broken ground near downtown Brooklyn on a Frank Gehry-designed arena that is still expected to open in 2009; and the Red Bulls’ $140-million soccer stadium in Harrison, N.J.

“I’ve always felt it was important to be first,” Vanderbeek said, not the least because of the edge it gives him in selling luxury suites and club seats before the other teams flood the market with the elite seating from their new arenas and stadiums.

“This is different than anybody in this area is used to,” he said.

The Conversation Has Changed

The Rock’s First Light
Originally uploaded by asterion1

Have you noticed it? The not-so-subtle change in conversation about Newark in the past few weeks?

Two months after Newark’s worst tragedy in recent memory, conversation about Newark has taken a hopeful tone towards the launch of the new Prudential Center — one week away. There’s an open house this Saturday if you’re interested in checking it out.

On the way home from a meeting in University Heights, I walked past the arena. It’s just immense. Asterion’s other photos do the massive complex justice. I stood for a moment, observing the changed cityscape, taking in Newark’s optimism. It’s amazing to see how this place has changed in a few short years.

Don’t get me wrong: Newark still has its problems. Many still question if the city development will help its largely impoverished and disenfranchised community. Violent crime continues to be an issue as this year’s murder rate falls just short of last year’s ten-year high. Quality of life still continues to be a problem. Kelly at’s Jersey Blogs pulled together a largely pessimistic set of some observations about the coming arena from bloggers around the interwebs. Craig Shoonmaker is, I think, a glimpse of optimism from a native Newarker.

Within hours of the arena’s opening, written accounts, digital photos and videos of many concertgoers’ night in Newark will go flying across the Internet. This promises to change the way the world views Newark. And just as with NJPAC, we can expect the performing-arts portion, not just the sports portion, of the Prudential Center experience to play a major role in reshaping perceptions. This is a very exciting time to be in Newark.

Maybe Craig was listening to last week’s Newark Today with Cory Booker on WBGO. During the show (audio below), Booker was asked point blank about the safety of the arena and, interestingly, whether events at the Prudential Center would sap the resources of the NPD and compromise the surrounding neighborhoods. Booker addressed the question directly, indicating that the police have been working on how best to manage their resources. The number of questions Booker fielded about the arena alone showed just how important this opportunity is for the city, and his administration seems to be doing their homework.


Walking to the arena also gave me the opportunity to go past cafes, restaurants and retail I hadn’t realized was there before (much of which around the universities and the Prudential headquarters, and get an opportunity to see the overhaul of Broad Street, which is well underway.

Conversation is starting to change about this city — you can feel it in the air.

Setting an Example

New York Times: Newark Mayor’s Other Role: Big Brother. The Times has a great article about helping out in Newark by following the city’s most influential Big Brother: Mayor Cory Booker. For almost a year, Mayor Booker has been spending time with three youths under the age of 18 on a weekly basis to hang out, play video games — and occasionally share a stern life lesson from the city’s headlines:

Once relentless in criticizing their tangled syntax and baggy trousers, Mr. Booker has come to realize that he cannot change the boys by hectoring them. “I realized that I just have to be there for them, whether they are good or bad, and let them know they have unconditional love,” he said.

At Applebee’s two Sundays ago, Mr. Booker did not appear to be bothered as Anthony unleashed kung-fu moves on a mayoral bodyguard. He held his tongue when he noticed much of Sean’s underwear glaringly visible above his drooping pants. But when Sean evaded questions about his plans and then proclaimed that he hoped to move out of his parents’ apartment soon to live on his own, the mayor turned parental.

He grabbed a napkin and proceeded to write down all the bare requirements of independent living — rent, utilities, car insurance and food — and came up with $24,000 in annual expenses. His question, “How are you going to make money?” was met with a shrug.

It’s frankly amazing and inspiring that the Mayor makes time for these kids for mentoring — and he appears to be in it for the long haul, successful or not. Newark’s children suffer so disproportionally to the ills of crime, gangs and drugs. Residents looking to take up the fight might do well to give the local Big Brothers and Big Sisters program a call.

Fairmount Cemetery Tour

Hello, this is just a reminder that I’m offering a tour of Newark’s beautiful Fairmount Cemetery this Sunday, at 1:00. Come see one of the most attractive green spots in all Newark and learn more about Newark’s rich history. The forecast for Sunday is sunny.
The price is $5, if this is your first Newarkology tour. Children (younger than high school) can come free. If you have been on a tour before, the price is likewise free. Larger donations will be humbly accepted.

Fairmount’s address is 620 Central Avenue. We are going to be meeting just within the main gates. Parking inside the cemetery is allowed.

More information is available at:

Lincoln Hotel Comes Down

The New York Times reports to day on the demolition of the Lincoln Hotel: Newark Loses Unwanted Landmark as Lincoln Motel Goes. And a great sigh of relief rolls across the neighborhood. We actually looked at an apartment in the James Street Historic District. The site was nearly ideal: easy commute options to both Broad Street and Penn Stations; near NJPAC, the Library and the Museum; a small park nearby, and a community of people who care about Newark.
We ultimately declined, though, because we just couldn’t figure out where to shop for food. There are few commercial prospects within walking distance of James Street other than a few bars. I actually spoke to another James Street resident and asked how they get their shopping done — they, like many, many other Newarkers go out of town to get what they need.

The demolition of the Lincoln Hotel — and, hopefully soon, the Westinghouse factory across from Broad Street Station, should be a huge boon to an area with shocking underuse and disinvestment.

St. Louis has its swooping arch, San Francisco its bright red bridge and New York that copper-clad lady who stands sentinel in the harbor.

Redevelopment efforts around Broad Street Station include the former Westinghouse factory, at rear; apartments may replace it.

Since the 1970s, the northern gateway to this city has been graced by a giant, back-lighted profile of Abraham Lincoln, or at least a rough approximation of the 16th president, imprinted onto plastic.

But unlike the landmarks gracing entryways to other great American cities, the yellow sign over Broad Street honoring President Lincoln advertised an establishment best known as a hot-sheet motel and an incubator for prodigious amounts of crime.

“A blemished, rat-infested drug-haven eyesore,” is how Marc E. Berson, a local real estate developer, described the building, which sits next to Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium, where the minor-league baseball team of which he is a co-owner, the Newark Bears, plays to thin crowds.

The motel, which hugs Interstate 280 and the train tracks that connect New York to a strand of leafy suburbs, also faces New Jersey Transit’s Broad Street Station and the terminus of a new light rail line that wends through downtown Newark.

On Wednesday, Mr. Berson joined a group of elected officials and neighborhood residents to bid adieu to the Lincoln Motel. Following a rather unflattering eulogy, Mayor Cory A. Booker climbed into the cab of a giant excavating machine and, after a few misses, ripped a crowd-pleasing gash into the motel’s ashy-white brick facade with the machine’s jaws.

“One small blow for man, one giant blow for Newark,” the mayor said as a plume of dust drifted toward the Passaic River behind him.

Although there are promising signs of revival on the blocks south and west of Broad Street, it remains to be seen whether the demolition of the Lincoln Motel will spark the long-awaited resurgence that officials have been promising for generations. In the decade since city and county officials poured $30 million into the construction of Riverfront Stadium, the sports bars and restaurants conjured up in promotional material and architectural mockups never arrived to replace the parking lots and adult theaters that are there now.

In 2000, Miles Berger, the Lincoln Motel’s longtime owner, closed it for good and announced grand development plans for the site. Since then, the only activity at the moldering motel involved junkies and prostitutes who made use of its rooms. This time, however, things may be different.

The Tucker Development Corporation of Chicago, a builder of shopping centers, has said it is planning a mixed-use project on the four-acre site. Rutgers University is building a new $83 million home for its business school one block away. And the Westinghouse factory, an asbestos-drenched beauty that looms over the Broad Street train station, is undergoing decontamination. In its place, city planners envision a high-rise offering market-rate apartments that would appeal to those working in New York, a mere 20-minute train ride away.

The quad, as the area is sometimes called, is also a brief stroll from the Newark Museum, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the Newark Library and Washington Park, a gracious 18th-century greensward that adjoins a stretch of restored brownstones known as the James Street Commons Historic District.

75 Murders in Newark! The Last Victim is 16 Years of Age and No One Cares!

Are we crying still? Are we again outraged? Do we even still care? In July of 2007, 3 promising college students were gunned down behind Mount Vernon in the Vailsburg section of Newark, NJ. A part of town where ghastly murders usually do not occur. As a city we got angry, cried and rallied against violent crime and even called for the resignation of the mayor, because his promise of making Newark a safer city has not yet materialized. We thought Iofemi Hightower, Dashawn Harvey, and Terrance Aeriel would be the wake-up call. Yet, two months later we’ve experience 15 more murders and at least 3 of the victims have been under 21-years-of-age.
Marquis Shoulders, a student at Westside High School, who many said was good kid, had his life ended after an argument with someone in a car that pulled up on the street where he stood, in front of a middle school in the Vailsburg section. But what is so much colder than the way in which he was killed, is the aftermath of his death. There are no protests down town on the steps of city hall. There are no calls for the mayor’s resignation. There is no increase in county or state police presence. No one is crying any more. No one is angry. Newark has fallen back into its complacent feeling about violence, and has once again come to accept that murder is simply apart of our lives.

I remember talking to someone during a conference in March, in Minneapolis Minnesota with someone who was from Chicago. He asked me, “is it that bad in Newark”, and I replied without hesitation, “yes”. Someone who was with me, who is an older guy who loves Newark, and never likes to speak about it in a negative light, sounded much like Police Director Gary McCarthy. He replied by saying, “that its not random killings and little children, but its gang members, drug dealers; people who are involved in crime”. However, my assertions and beliefs have been validated all year. And that is that bullets have no names, crime is random in Newark, and much of the city is in chaos. An 8 year was shot, a 3 year old, a 70 year old woman, the 3 gruesome murders behind Mt. Vernon, the 20 year old on Elizabeth Avenue and Meeker Street, the 16 year old boy on Pennington Street, the man who was killed by his son, the man shot to death on Smith Street the same weekend as the Mount Vernon incident, and the woman who was stabbed to death by her step son. There are so many being shot and killed and its a shame that I can name this many instances without looking into the newspaper, or knowing any of the inviduals personally. Many of these individuals weren’t involved in violence, or drugs, or gangs, or general crime, but they live in a city where they struggle and simple disputes turn deadly, as quickly as the second-hand on a clock turns.

My hope is that someone sees the light, and politicians stop making heavy handed speeches about what it is that they’re going to do and speak honestly to people. The honesty should be that without the help of the community at large, nothing will take shape. Not to mention, in one term as mayor, Cory Booker couldn’t hope to stem the tide that has been rising murder for the past 5 years. With 3 months left in the year, we could easily see 105 murders again this year. How do we make sure that doesn’t happen?