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BRICK CITY – voices


Leaders, stakeholders, movers and shakers weigh in on
Newark’s milestone 350th birthday.

Ras Baraka

Mayor of Newark

We celebrate the 350th anniversary of Newark’s founding as a vibrant community with a rich cultural diversity and heritage of economic innovations and academic resilience. For three-and-a-half centuries—long before the American Revolution and through the Civil Rights Era and beyond—our ancestors built businesses and sustained trades that powered America’s growth. Celebration of our 350th anniversary is a major part of our efforts to attract residents, business and visitors to Newark.

The world is beginning to rediscover Newark, as seen by the high attendance at the Prudential Center, the nation’s seventh-busiest arena. Our restaurants, art galleries, and nightclubs attract visitors from as close as the South Ward and as far as the Cape Verde Isles. Radius magazine is waking up the people of our suburbs, making them aware that Newark is so much more than a place to work during the day and then immediately leave to go home at night.

Today, we are revitalizing our historic downtown, reinvigorating our communities and reimagining Newark as America’s newest Destination City. We are building partnerships as well as structures, empowering neighborhoods and people, transforming Newark into a City we can all believe in. Our challenge is to bring the vitality of Newark’s renaissance to all of our neighborhoods for Newark is poised for great things! This is a time to celebrate!

Shan? Harris

VP of Corporate Giving
Executive Director
The Prudential Foundation

I don’t believe many people in the state, or around the United States, know that Newark is a legacy city, one of oldest in the nation, and how significant its contribution has been to the narrative of this country. This year’s 350th anniversary offers Newark residents—and people from the surrounding area—an opportunity to learn, recognize and celebrate those contributions and reflect on the city’s rich history. More importantly, the anniversary is a time for all of us to get excited about the opportunities, growth and momentum that’s occurring during Newark’s reemergence.

I think that reflecting back into the past actually enables a city like Newark to move forward. Legacy cities have a shared narrative, with similar cycles of economic growth and decline. Understanding how we can leverage the competitive strengths that made Newark strong—such as our location, our infrastructure, our culture of innovation—leads to capitalizing on those strengths and continuing to grow economically.

Prudential was founded 140 years ago right here in Newark. Our founding purpose was, and remains today, to help people and their families become more financially secure while providing peace of mind at the same time. As we have grown, we’ve held true to our legacy of social responsibility. We stayed with Newark through its triumphs and its setbacks and we are proud to call the city our home. As much as we have invested in this city, I believe the city returned that to us by allowing us to grow into a global financial services company. I also believe it gives us an important perspective on what it takes to move ahead and continue to support the ongoing growth of Newark.

Prudential is a values-driven company. And by values I mean taking the long-term view, having a sense of community, engaging in respectful collaboration and—from a corporate social responsibility standpoint—investing in the continued evolution of the city. This permeates our business model, particularly through our philanthropic work. However, one thing we’re very aware of is that, with those values, comes the idea that we can’t do it alone. It takes collaboration. Everything we do, we do in partnership with other stakeholders in Newark. We may be an anchor business, but we need to work in a coordinated fashion to achieve the vision we all have for this city.

John Schreiber

President & CEO
New Jersey Performing Arts Center

Cities are always busy doing, while spending very little time reflecting and celebrating. This is as it should be. Cities are where the best and the brightest come to strive, to build and to make a difference. The beauty of the Newark 350 celebration is that the festival itself—lasting over an entire calendar year and consisting of about 200 events, big ones and small ones—is more a reflective anniversary marathon than a weeklong in-and-out sprint.

We asked citizens in all five wards to create events that honored their history in fun and inventive ways. Newark is a diverse, history- and arts- and education-rich community loaded with countless occasions to celebrate. The chance to take a deep breath and marvel at all that Newarkers have accomplished, and will accomplish, has been a long time coming…and our 350th birthday is the perfect time to do so. It’s been a tough 50 years since our 300th anniversary. We’ve earned this one.

Over the past 100 years a variety of music genres—classical, jazz, gospel, fado, reggae, salsa, rap, hip-hop and more—have provided the soundtrack of our lives. Whether it is a house party where a string quartet performs for 20 folks in a living room in the North Ward, a free outdoor festival for 25,000 kids and families featuring stars of hip-hop in Lincoln Park, a gospel brunch in the Terrace Room at Symphony Hall, or a night at NJPAC’s Prudential Hall with Christian McBride’s Big Band and Dianne Reeves, live music has always constituted the heartbeat of Newark. Newarkers like to gather as a community; music is the joyful thread that weaves our diverse citizenry as one.

Kyle Farmbry

Graduate School Dean
Rutgers University–Newark

The 350th anniversary as a city provides us a time to think about all of the opportunities that this city has had for growth and development—from its early days as a small stopover village that connected major Northeast trade routes to the present renaissance that the city is experiencing, which is positioning it as a hub of innovation. We also have an important opportunity to think about where we will be in the future. What type of city do we want? What do we need to have it represent? How do we use this period to look forward and determine where we might want to be in the years to come, as a broader community that is inclusive of all of the dreams of those who live here, work here, or in some other way consider themselves to be of Newark?

Much of the revitalization that has occurred in the Central Business District (CBD) has been a critical to the next phase for the city’s evolution. However, we must ensure that the revitalization that is occurring in the CBD extends to other parts of the city and that people in all segments of the city get to benefit from the change that is occurring. This means guaranteeing that the economic growth that the city is experiencing in some areas has benefits for people throughout the city. We’ll need to find ways that many people can participate in the benefits of the city’s economic growth and revival.

Newark has tremendous potential to be an innovation hub for New Jersey and the Northeast region of the United States. I believe we are beginning to place the various elements in motion to enable us to realize much of this potential. We have great thinkers in this city, who are coming-up with ideas for developing the enterprises and creative endeavors that will not only advance Newark, but also serve as models for metropolitan regions around the world. I think given the level of creativity that this city has, and can build upon, that there are several critical opportunities that will be developed in the next few years that will benefit those who already see our greatness as a city, and that will help us further engage those who will see our greatness in the years to come.

Vonda McPherson

Duke’s Southern Table

Food and music have a unique way of creating fellowship and linking people to the history and culture of a city. Newark used to be the primary location throughout the country for jazz, so when I opened the restaurant, people loved the fact that jazz was returning to the city. Our older customers remember what it used to be like and felt that Duke’s was giving it back to them. Of course, jazz never really left. WBGO kept it alive in Newark, and many musicians continued to live here and still do. They love that we’ve created an elegant place to call home.

In addition to supporting the jazz scene, it’s really crucial for Newark to have a vibrant restaurant scene. We have great new restaurants opening all the time and wonderful older ones that are raising their games. I think people are really seeing Newark at its best. It’s the hot new place for food. That’s hugely important. Sports and the arts bring people into Newark, but now they are discovering there are a lot of choices for where to meet before and after events—or just to come to town for a great meal.

Joel Bloom

New Jersey Institute of Technology

Taking time out to celebrate our rich history and organizing around the 350th is critically important for the citizens of Newark, and for those of us who work and spend time in the city. We’re seeing some transformative changes. While there have been some constants, such as Prudential and a number of social institutions, now we are beginning to see others stepping up and stepping in. There is a vision going on here.

The number of anchor institutions is at an all-time high and growing. Look at what Radius is doing. Look at Audible. Look at the relocation of Panasonic to Newark. We’re actually working with Panasonic, and IBM, to make Newark a “smart” city. Wouldn’t it be great if Newark were known as a city that applies smart technology?

At NJIT, we have 95 companies in our incubator space. We’re full. We’re searching for more space to place incubator companies. And Newark is now recognized as one of the country’s premier college towns—we need to celebrate that along with our business and culture.

When you wrap this all together with the additional housing and office space coming on line—and with the fact that people are increasingly coming into the city from the surrounding suburbs—the 350 celebration has a great story to tell to both the internal constituency and the external constituency. We have many, many assets. This is a great time to celebrate those assets and to continue building a strong city. And NJIT is ecstatic to be part of the 350th celebration.

Christian McBride

Jazz Bassist
NJPAC Artistic Adviser

A city’s lifeblood is its artistry, its music, its visual art. A city’s creative pool has nothing to do with the money that you can generate or the corporations that are built in a city, because I think those things come and go. Corporations can move and money is something that does not guarantee health, happiness or sophistication. But art does. Music, to me, has been the backbone of the existence of Newark and its history. It means everything to this city.

There has been so much culture in the city of Newark over the course of its history. Speaking as a jazz musician, I’ve always felt that Newark has somewhat been in the shadow of New York City because it’s so close. Somehow, the Newark legacy sort of gets lumped in with the New York legacy, but they are two vastly different entities. When you think of the musicians that have come specifically from Newark, and who have spent time in Newark, it’s very distinct. I know a lot of these musicians and it is sort of a rite of passage that we all have to go across the Hudson River to New York to be able to become “worldwide,” so to speak. But there have been so many great seeds planted here, and that should be celebrated.

Father Edwin Leahy

St. Benedict’s Preparatory School

The monastic life I lead in the community of Benedictine Monks of Newark Abbey to which I belong encourages frequent reflection on one’s own life and the community’s life. So we don’t typically rely on “milestones” to think about how we are doing. But this milestone for our city has prompted me to consider our history here, as well as the remarkable life of the city that has been our home since 1841. We’ve seen and lived much of Newark’s past and present. And we are committed by our special Benedictine vow of stability to Newark’s future. As befits our religious perspective, at this historic moment, I think I can speak for my confreres and say we are “moderately optimistic.”

My brother monks and I have hung on long enough to appreciate some genuine signs of renewal all around our own expanded and renewed abbey grounds. The beautiful restoration of the Historic Essex County Courthouse, the explosive growth of Essex County College, NJIT and Rutgers-Newark, the changing features of the Newark downtown landscape in Teachers Village and new office towers…all speak to large commitments to the city’s people and confidence that the future can redeem the long-suffering decades following 1967’s cataclysm.

Yet a prophet would also note that, in many homes and neighborhoods and schools, so much more must be done to restore hope to many families and children. Ridding our city of the plagues of violence and poverty and joblessness that afflict so many will remain the needed work of many more decades for those committed to a vibrant city that can realize some of the promise that our civic heroes—Bob Curvin, Clem Price, Gus Heningburg among them—have wished and worked for so many years.

Angelo Genova

Co-Founder & Chairman
Genova Burns, Attorneys at Law

Milestones such as Newark’s 350th are like birthdays, graduations, confirmations and bar mitzvahs. They offer an opportunity to reflect on what once was, what is at present, and what hope and potential one has for the future—a time for self-critical analysis and celebration, to be happy about what you’ve achieved while exploring what has kept you from reaching your maximum potential.

What makes 350 years a nice milestone is that it allows us to consider Newark’s rich history over a continuum of time. We can celebrate our status as a pioneering city and as a key player in the Industrial Revolution. We can also revisit the effects of the racial disturbances of the late-1960s. Did it contribute to the dialogue of America? Are we still living with the vestiges of it, or have we overcome it? There is a whole generation of Newarkers who have no connection to that time. They bring fresh eyes to what Newark can be.

Today, Newark is not that different from other urban areas, with its various constituencies and stakeholders. It’s hard for the entirety of a city to act as one. But I think the fact that Newark has different leaders and agendas is a healthy thing—it makes for the creative tension that comes with differing opinions.

The key to leadership is to find common ground so that people can move collectively toward a common purpose. There should be more opportunities and platforms for dialogue between the various constituencies in Newark. We need to identify the bridges. No one has a monopoly on what’s necessary for Newark. We have to create the kinds of partnerships that make a city strong. We need people to be listened to…because we have the collective intelligence to bring Newark to a better place.

Anthony Avent

Real Estate Developer &
Seton Hall Basketball Legend

The sports culture of Newark has been a galvanizing force stretching back more than a century. For many decades, that’s how kids from different wards got to know one another. Some of the most dynamic people I know laid the foundation for their future success in the youth sports and high school sports programs in this city. Through their coaches and teammates, and through competition, they developed lifelong skills they were able to apply off the courts and playing fields: organization, communication, commitment, accountability and a sense of honor. I had the privilege to play for the NCAA national championship and compete in the NBA Finals, but for every person like me, there were thousands for whom sports opened doors and provided a roadmap to their true passion and their ultimate success.

There are countless stories of men and women recalling how their coaches were great mentors and responsible for their current success in life. Looking forward, I believe sports can play an even greater role in the city’s future. We need to surround the young people of Newark with role models who reinforce constructive messages and positive behavior. I’m leading a group right now working to establish a cutting-edge sports and education center that connects with kids through their passion for sports—a place that provides structure, exposes them to the world beyond sports so they can find their passion at an age where they have the freedom and energy to pursue it. It will provide a platform to create events where city leaders and mentors can give of themselves, talk about what they do, and help shape the goals of Newark’s youth.

When I drive through this city, I see future engineers, athletes, artists, political leaders and doctors and firefighters all just waiting to discover the thing that they’ll be great at some day. It’s our job to create engaging new ways to broaden their perspective and tap into that potential.

Susan Penrod Villapiano

Descendant of Newark’s
Founding Families

My paternal ancestor, Abigail Blatchley Ball, was one of the first people to step off the boat after it sailed up the “Pesayak” and dropped anchor off “New Ark” in the spring of 1667. I can only imagine what was going through her head. She had traveled from the relative safety of Branford, Connecticut, where she was born, into an unknown and unpredictable wilderness to build a new Puritan community according to rules laid out by the Bible. Her husband, Edward Ball, and her father and brother—Thomas and Aaron Blatchley—were among those who had signed the document that purchased the land the previous October from the native people who lived there. Her father and maternal grandfather were founders of the New Haven colony. But now that colony had to seek a new home, for it had been accused by King Charles II of harboring the judges that had condemned his father, Charles I, to death.

If I could be transported back to that day in 1667, I would whisper to Abigail that it was going to be okay. The New Ark founders would find the soil less rocky and easier to farm than Branford’s. The Passaic River would be more navigable than the Quinnipiac, enhancing opportunities for trade. Abigail was a tough and determined woman who would raise six strong children with Edward on their six-acre property—the approximate area today where McCarter Highway and the NJPAC are located. Ed would become the High Sheriff of Essex County. Newark itself would grow strong, as well.

I would let Abigail know that her descendants would not only fight bravely to win independence from England—serving under their cousin, George Washington—but that they would go on to start a business that literally helped Americans preserve the fruits of their labor (Ball Jars), and later, they would share that success by establishing Ball State University.

Consider the extraordinary faith, trust and courage it took to embark on this bold plan. I like to think that Abigail passed these same qualities down to me. So when my father tells me I am “tough as nails,” now I know where it comes from. And although many generations have passed since my family called Newark home, I still feel a powerful connection through those same qualities—the ones that helped to build the city and, I believe, still define it now, 350 years later.

Next: It Happened in Newark – Summer 2016

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