March 22nd was a long day on the campaign trail, but I want to take a moment to write a special blog for the Huffington Post. After receiving encouragement from Arianna Huffington to participate, I decided to share some blogs from my web site. However, I realize that in doing so I failed to give folks proper context for my campaign or even a good idea of what our team is working on and working for in Newark.
I am honored to be working with a cross generational group of community leaders in what we believe is a value driven effort to make our city live up to its tremendous potential. We all see Newark as a profoundly special place but understand that our city has not fulfilled its potential for the children and families who live here. Every member of the team I work with, from union leaders, to clergy, to neighborhood block captains has a different individual story. Yet, we share uniting common values and goals for our city that are drawn from, and rooted in, the larger American story. All of us believe that we are part of a larger and equally urgent American movement for justice.
To give you a better understanding of my story and why I am personally consumed by this struggle in Newark, allow me to share a little about my life and the lives of some of those who have molded and shaped my values and ideas. My family history in Newark goes back to the 1950s with my aunt and uncle running one of the first Black-owned dentist offices in Newark's South Ward. I was raised by Civil Rights activist parents (and grandparents) who taught me and my brother, Cary, that we had an obligation to participate in a continuing struggle from which we have so richly benefited. My family taught through example, from my grandmother's leadership in The National Urban League to my grandfather's work as a UAW organizer. After attending historically black colleges, my parents fought a court case to integrate a suburb in New Jersey working with a sting operation set up by the Fair Housing Council which my mom eventually helped lead. From those young years to even these recent years, our parents have not yielded from their commitment. In my last trip to visit them in Atlanta, during my few precious days off to rest, my mother took me on a tour of the homeless agency she runs that keeps families intact and transitions them to permanent housing.
My brother and I have tried to live up to this example. Cary is in an Associate Dean at Rutgers Newark where he is in charge of their Academic Foundations and runs their outreach to minority and disadvantaged students. The roots of my professional career lie in East Palo Alto, where I began doing youth organizing as a college student. By the time I left Yale Law School, I was helping to run legal clinics that focused on housing issues and community empowerment. I began, in my early years, to view American Cities as the front line in the fight for America - the front line for the fight to make real on the American promise.
I moved from Yale to the Newark neighborhood where I currently live around 1995. That's when the residents in the Brick Towers community and I began fighting for change: we got a slum lord convicted in federal court, convinced Prudential to adopt our local public school and establish a health center right in the building, started job banks and even succeed in pushing out the bulk of the local drug trade. Through these challenges and successes, in this community, I've met some of my favorite American heroes and greatest personal teachers who have sacrificed so much for the larger community good.
I write this rather rambling blog today from my apartment in Brick Towers. Today, as was reported in the New York Times, the Housing Authority continues its efforts to demolish this building. The city's low income housing advocates and I have been fighting for over a decade now to preserve this building and other affordable options for low-income tenants. As part of my commitment to this community, I moved into this building - now public housing - in 1998 to fight along with the residents. We have been without heat or hot water since January, today the elevators went out again (hello,16 flights of stairs), but we who fight this fight believe that Newark can't succeed by simply forcing the city's most vulnerable people to leave by reducing, by thousands of units, the places where poor folks can live.
We have a chance in Newark. I believe we can demonstrate in this amazing city that the power, hope, and promise of America can be made truly manifest.
I believe we can make decisions that empower people - all people - and not simply benefit wealthy developers who are exploiting our city for quick profits with the cooperation of the political elite.
I believe that we can create safe communities and end the ravages of violence and gangs through vigorous policing, reforming the criminal justice system and being there for our children before they get in trouble.
I believe that we can create a public school system that serves and empowers our children by giving educators the tools and resources they need to succeed, and then, by holding schools accountable for the outcomes they produce.
I believe that we can create economic abundance in Newark by focusing on the empowerment of local and minority businesses, the creation of jobs that, at the very least, pay prevailing wages and quality benefits, making sure that labor unions open doors to local minorities and that city leaders open doors for more union opportunities and helping men and women who come home from prison to find job openings and not door closings.
I believe that America can be made real in Newark and that the people here will demonstrate to this nation what is truly possible in our cities. Newark, in the next ten years, will emanate an increasingly powerful light of hope, opportunity and strength that will demonstrate that even America's most persistent problems can be solved. It is not a matter of capacity or ability; it is simply a matter of collective will.
This will be an exciting journey.
As I promised Arianna, I will make contributions here through my blog on my website and hopefully, on occasion, write some special notes (or responses) for the Huffington Post. If you are interested, please look at both The New York Times Blog and the Star Ledger Blog. I tend to give both Damien Cave and Katie Wang, those papers' principal reporters on this race, a hard time, but thus far they have been giving fair coverage of the election.
Most of all, I hope you will follow our efforts in this election and beyond. I believe the story of this city is the story of America. I believe Newark speaks to our Nation's strengths and her unfinished business. And I believe the team of leaders we have here in Newark, working hard on reform, innovation and progressive change, will make important contributions worth watching.