Residents of Newark and people tuned to Sundance Channel all over the country watched the second episode of Forest Whitaker’s 5-night documentary about the seismic shifts going on in New Jersey’s largest city. West Ward Councilman Ron Rice, a member of the Blue Jersey community, was watching, too, and this column’s a running commentary of last night’s film, which includes the emotionally-charged romance between Jayda, community leader and member of the Bloods, and Creep, community leader and member of the Crips. Tonight 10pm is episode 3. – – – Promoted by Rosi
Tonight, a young man starts off the episode after asking Mayor Booker for a job during a late night “curfew drive” we electeds in Newark do periodically, by stating what the overwhelming majority of our good, energetic and hungry for success young people feel much too often: “I’m tired of this sh#@.”
The two questions we are asked the most in Newark is, can you get me a job, and can you find me a place to live, basics many of us take for granted. The myth is that jobs vanished from Newark in the late ’60s and early ’70s due to the Newark Rebellion and the racial overtones that rippled from that tragedy. The truth is that Newark, like most Northeastern “Rust Belt” urban centers, began losing manufacturing jobs to automation and blue collar industries out West slowly since the ’40s and ’50s. Before we can create jobs, the infrastructure and foundation for job creation and retention has to be created and you see some of that in this episode with our Port Newark Initiative, plans to update a city MasterPlan that has not been updated fully since 1978, and marketing our resources to industries because it is cheaper to build and buy in Newark than NYC or even Jersey City, Newark is the next frontier.
You met Ali Muslim, a man built like Job from the Bible. After having served his sentence and changing his life (he worked his way up from being a laborer because former Mayor Sharpe James gave him a chance – a reason why the former Mayor is still so beloved in our town despite his conviction), he lost his son to violence in 2006 and in this episode another family member he also raised. How does a man deal with his anger, pain, hurt, and loss after turning his life around? Most of us could not forgive much less go on. And he does so without leaving Newark, he stays, he endures and he fights. He does not give up. He is a brick. And brick by brick, Newark grows, rebounds, and we build upon each other.
You see Creep trying to hold his family together in his best Michael Keaton impression from the movie “Mr. MOM,” for you ’80s movie junkies like myself, but you also see Jayda’s step mom, Dave Kerr the indomitable leader of Integrity House – recent recipient of a highly publicized financial contribution from Oprah Winfrey – King Sau and Earl “Street Doctor” Best joining together to fight alongside her. I think we do this more in Newark than any other place I know. Elected officials, community activists, churches, community based organizations, etc. all band together at different times to help each other . I think this is why we can fight so hard against each other, but still not hate each other and continue striving together. It is also why everyone in Newark knows everyone from Newark and maybe why we are so xenophobic about “outsiders.”
You see the catch 22 of fighting against violent crime as the Police Director changes the culture of attacking it: as we dramatically knock down shootings and murders, robberies, burglaries and crimes like prostitution go up, which you heard from a resident at a community meeting as she tells the Mayor, “You have let me down.” Welcome to an elected’s average day in Newark.
Personal plug, you see our new West Ward Abandoned Property Initiative in which we build new housing, rehabilitate bad housing stock, demolish eyesores and construct parks and gardens, expand community centers and create a community clinic within a school – all done by local developers with Newark workers (and it represents my lone cameo in the series). In addition, Jon Bon Jovi building affordable housing with assistance from our Governor Jon Corzine.
And all of this as we battle a structural deficit in our city budget built by years of rising costs and inaction by the last Administration to increase revenues and lower costs, in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Depression in America. Stay tuned to Part 3.