"Local Control": Interview and Conversation with A'Dorian Murray-Thomas

Newark Public Schools, known sometimes as “NPS”, is the local authority for public schools in the City of Newark. NPS is administered by the Newark Board of Education, which itself is comprised of nine elected members, each serving staggered two year terms. The Board sets policy for the school district, selects the superintendent who oversees the schools, and performs general oversight functions. This was not always the case.

In 1995, the Commissioner of Education for the State of New Jersey, under a state law that authorized state intervention of several school districts, removed control of the district from the Board of Education and put it under the control of the state. The Board of Education still existed but its role was purely advisory, with no ability to select the superintendent or effectively veto decisions made by the state. This period of “state control” lasted for 23 years, until 2018. After meeting a set of benchmarks in five areas—Instruction & Program, Fiscal, Governance, Operations, and Personnel—power was completely devolved back to the district, and the residents of Newark elected a new Board of Education with actual power.

This spring, we had our first election where incumbent members of the newly reempowered Board of Education ran against a new slate of candidates. One of these new candidates was A’Dorian Murray-Thomas. A’Dorian ran on a ticket with two other candidates, a ticket that was supported by the Mayor of the City. She won that election, with the highest vote total of any candidate that ran in the district. In this episode, A’Dorian shares her role of a member of the Board of Education and her policy goals for her term, as well thoughts about the state of public education in Newark and her background in this city.

Clarifications:

Manny Antunes (host) was a student in Newark Public Schools system for nine years, from kindergarten to eighth grade, and then a high school teacher in it for two years, all of which occurred during this period of state control.

Manny (host) has known A’Dorian for several years. Both participated in a Newark-based program called the Wight Foundation. The Foundation assists in connecting students from the Greater Newark Area attend boarding schools in the Northeast.

Guest:

A’Dorian Murray-Thomas—A’Dorian is a member of the Newark Public Schools Board of Education, serving the 2019–2022 term. A lifelong resident of Newark, she recently graduated from Swarthmore College and is the CEO/founder of SHE Wins, Inc., a leadership and social action organization for middle and high school girls in Newark.

Articles & Background:

  • A’Dorian’s Board of Education page: here

  • The main page of the Board of Education: here

  • TapInto Article on 2019 Election Results: here

  • ChalkBeat’s Guide to the 2019 Candidates: here

  • Newark Public Schools’ Official Press Release on Local Control: here

  • NJ.com Article on Return of Local Control: here

End Quote:

“In the winter of 1919, when Ida Mae was trailing her father out to the field, George and Pershing were learning to crawl, and the first wave of migrants were stirring to life, an astronomer made a startling discovery. The astronomer, named Edwin Hubble, working out of the University of Chicago, looked through one of the most powerful telescopes of his times.—What he saw would eventually become the most significant astronomical find of the century and would come to parallel the awakening of an isolated people in his own country. It would confirm what for generations had been whispered of but dismissed as impossible. It occurred near the start of a long pilgrimage of Americans seeking to escape their own harsh, known world.—Hubble identified a star that was far, far away and was not the same sun that fed life on Earth.—It was another sun.—And it would prove for the first time in human history that there were galaxies other than our own, that the universe was much bigger than humans had ever imagined, that there were, in fact, other suns.” Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

"RU Paid?": The Fight Over Educator Pay at Rutgers-Newark

It’s May, which means it’s the time for commencement and graduation celebrations. Graduations speeches by politicians and celebrities will permeate social media; faculty will bestow celebrated individuals with honorary degrees; parents will take any chance to share the accomplishments of their children. At the center of these celebrations are the students, and rightly so. Many of them have spent years working towards their degrees. This is their chance to appreciate the fruits of that hard work. Behinds all these scenes of joy and accomplishment, however, are the educators who make up the academic apparatuses of the university. They work day-in and day-out to ensure that their students receive the quality education associated withe American universities. Without the faculty, often made up of tenured professors, part-time lecturers, adjuncts, and graduate students, none of this would be possible.

An ever increasing drum beat of articles and thinkpieces over the last few years has revealed the disparity in pay between these different educators and has highlighted the difficulty many of them face in providing for themselves and their families. In some cases, some have even been overwhelmed with debt that they have resorted to declaring bankruptcy.

Some have begun to demand better compensation, including the faculty of Rutgers University-Newark. Buoyed by a near-strike by some of the faculty in April 2019, the part-time lecturers, adjuncts, and grad students of Rutgers-Newark have staged protests on campus and begun negotiating with the administration for an increase in pay and expanded benefits. Today’s episode, we have some representatives of one side of the dispute to describe what it is like to be in academia, the challenges facing these educators, and their demands in the negotiations.

Guests:

Alexandra Adams—Alexandra is a PhD candidate in the Biological Sciences department and Department Representative to the AAUP-AFT Newark chapter.

Lauren Barbato—Lauren has taught in The Writing Program at Rutgers-Newark since August 2015. She started teaching while a TA at Rutgers-Newark, and have served as a full-time adjunct since August 2017. She teaches English 101 and 102, which are core classes typically reserved for college freshmen and transfer students. She also works as a graduate writing tutor in The Writing Center, and previously served as a tutor for the Community Writing Workshop, held at the Newark Public Library. She received my MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers-Newark in May 2017, and in the fall, she will be starting a Ph.D. in Religion at Temple University. She also works as a freelance journalist and most recently completed a book for the nonprofit Catholics for Choice. 

Robert Snyder—Robert is the AAUP-AFT chapter president at Rutgers-Newark, a professor of Journalism and American Studies in the Dept. of Arts, Culture and Media, and the former director of the Graduate Program in  American Studies. He has been teaching at Rutgers-Newark since 2000.

Clarification:

In the episode, it was mentioned that a student/faculty walkout occurred at Loyola-Chicago. It was, in fact, the University of Chicago. here

Articles & Background:

  • Alexandra Adam’s Opinion Piece in the Star Ledger, detailing her bankruptcy: here

  • The AUPP-AFT’s (Rutgers Chapter) Website and FAQs on the Dispute: here; here

  • Articles on the Grade-In Protest Held at Rutgers-Newark: here; here

  • Vox Article on Hours Worked by University Educators: here

  • Article from The Atlantic on “Academia’s Permanent Underclass”: here

End Quote:

“In the drawing—completed at the age of nine and smacking inadvertently of Soviet poster art—Sandy envisioned her miles from our house, amid a joyous crowd on the corner of Broad and Market. A slender young woman of twenty-three with dark hair and a smile that is all robust delight, she is surprisingly on her own and wearing her floral-patterned kitchen apron at the intersection of the city’s two busiest thoroughfares, one hand spread wide across the front of the apron, where the span of her hips is still deceptively girlish, while the other she alone in the crowd is pointing skyward to the Spirit of St. Louis, passing visibly above downtown Newark at precisely the moment she comes to realize that, in a feat no less triumphant for a mortal than Lindbergh’s, she has conceived Sanford Roth.”—Philip Roth, The Plot Against America

"Reclaiming Space": Noelle Lorraine Williams and the Creation of the Frederick Douglass Athletic Field

On Wednesday, April 17, 2019, Rutgers University (Newark) rededicated Alumni Field as Frederick Douglass Field. Frederick Douglass looms large as figure in history—in fact, the Pulitzer Prize Committee honored Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight with its 2019 Prize in History. Beyond the movement for emancipation in the Nineteenth Century, Douglass is associated with the movements for equal rights for African Americans, women’s suffrage, temperance, and even Irish independence.

This episode’s discussion focuses on this legacy and the act of renaming a space in recognition of that space’s history. The field was once the site of an African American and is associated with abolitionist meetings in Newark. Noelle, this episode’s guest, discusses this history, as well as the history of other movements in Newark, including that of the American Colonization Society, and the conflicts that arise in renaming spaces.

UPDATES:

(1) In the episode, it was mentioned that Sharpe James was the mayor during the change of the name of High Street to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. He was in fact a member of the Newark City Council at the time.

(2) It was mentioned that Richard Stockton founded Liberia. His name was Robert Stockton.

Guest:

Noelle Lorraine Williams— Noelle is an artist whose life's work exemplifies her continued interest in engaging people in conversations using art, history and contemporary culture, as well as writing about spirituality in the United States. Noelle is also pursuing a Master’s Degree in American Studies at Rutgers University. She is also a resident of Newark.

Articles & Background:

  • Link to the Rededication Event on April 17, 2019: here

  • Rutgers University Newark Official Article on the Renaming: here

  • Pulitzer Prize Official Page on Frederick Douglass Biography: here

  • Noelle Lorraine William’s Official Page: here

End Quote":

“Whatever lies still uncarried from the abyss within me as I die dies with me.“—Frank Bidart, Homo Faber, published in Half-light: Collected Poems, 1965–2016

"Obsessive": Interview and Conversation with Adam Bergo

For this episode, we will explore a format which we will return to from time to time. Instead of our usual practice of hosting a panel discussion on a particular issue, we will instead focus on one person’s story and perspective on Newark. We hope that these interviews and conversation provide a fuller view of the kind of people who inhabit and frequent Newark. It’s these people that make this city great.

Adam Bergo (who records music as Cevn) runs Black Swan Espresso on Halsey Street in Newark. In the summer of 2017, Laura Mashtaler, Adam’s mother, opened the coffeehouse and entrusted Adam with not only setting Black Swan’s high coffee standards but also with overseeing its day-to-day operations. Since that opening two years ago, Black Swan has garnered its place amongst downtown Newark’s most beloved institutions. Lines run up to the door on weekdays as Prudential workers run in to get their caffeine fix, and, on the weekends, a variety of residents of the city hold court while sipping on nitro brews and chewing on artisanal doughnuts.

Your host is one of those people who holds court on Saturdays and Sundays. You will usually find him in the corner seat along the bank directly abutting the espresso machine. The idea for this interview grew out of the many conversations between Manny and Adam at that machine. Over the two years, Manny was able to piece together these tidbits of info and create a picture of Adam, which he found fascinating.

Adam’s story represents a larger struggle faced by many young professionals in Newark: the tension between running a successful business and maintaining a unique and meaningful artistic vision. While Black Swan is a major part of Adam’s life, it is certainly not the only thing that drives him. In today’s episode, Adam will explain he reconciles both parts of this life, how he came into the coffee business, and his expectations for Halsey Street.

End Quote:

“Bisogna adunque essere golpe a conoscere e’ lacci, e lione a sbigottire e’ lupi. Coloro che stanno semplicemente in sul lione, non se ne intendano.” (“Thus one should be a fox to recognize the traps, and a lion in order to scare away the wolves. Those who simply want to be the lion do not understand this.”) Nicolo Macchiavelli, Il Principe

"Hold the Line": Newark's 2019 State of the City

Last Tuesday, March 12, 2019, several thousand Newarkers gathered to watch Mayor Ras Baraka’s State of the City for the year 2019, while thousands more listened or watched at home. Unlike it’s better known cousin, the State of the Union, which is given live before an audience of elected individuals and their invited guests in the grand marble of the Capitol, the State of the City is given publicly to an audience of residents of the City of Newark in the city’s largest performing arts venue. Also, unlike its federal cousin, the State of the City included not only a speech by the chief executive of this city, but performances by Newarkers and video testimonials on what’s going on here in our city. The entire program included: an introduction and welcome by a young Newarker; an invocation by a member of the clergy; a rendition of the United States national anthem by what seemed to be the youngest singer ever; a singing and interpretative dance of the classic Lift Every Voice and SIng; a poem; a video entitled “We Are Newark”; a speech by the mayor; and, finally, a closing benediction by another member of the clergy. The entire presentation clocked at over two hours.

By far, the crux of the State of the City was the speech given by Mayor Baraka. He began with an all-too-prophetic quote by Martin Luther King, Jr., admonishing us that “[h]uman progress never rolls on an inevitability.” He then shares his personal narrative of how and why he became mayor (something that would become a recurring theme throughout the speech). He migrated from topic to topic, beginning each section with a video testimonial. The sections could be broadly described as: Economic Development; Jobs; Education; Youth Leadership; Public Safety; and Quality of Life. He ended with an enthusiastic and climactic exhortation to the crowd to “Hold the Line.”

Guest:

Halashon Sianipar— Halashon is a Newark resident, engineer, and former Newark Public School math teacher. He holds a BS in computer science and MAT in math. Currently, he is a board member of the Urban Cooperative Enterprise Legal Center and a member of NJ Communities United. He is dedicated to creating opportunities for people to express themselves and has written several articles on Newark.

Articles & Background:

  • A YouTube video of the State of the City presentation: click here

  • A transcript of the speech as published by the Mayor’s Office: click here

  • Halashon’s author page on Brick City Live, with links to his pieces Dear Ras Baraka and Dear Cami Anderson: click here

"Alexa, Is Amazon Coming to Newark?": Amazon's Second HQ and Courting Businesses to Newark

A few days ago, I asked my brother to do me a favor. I asked him to pose a question to his Amazon Echo. He asked, “Hey, Alexa, is Amazon coming to Newark, New Jersey?” This was her dulcet-toned response:

Amazon selected Arlington, Virginia as the location for its second headquarters. The company will invest more than $2.5 billion to create more than 25,000 jobs. In addition, Amazon selected Nashville for a new “center of excellence” for its operations business which will create more than 5,000 jobs. Amazon will also continue to grow and hire across its 17 corporate offices and tech hobs across the U.S. and Canada.

Not quite the answer I was looking for. What was missing from that response was the fate of Amazon’s bid to open a second headquarters in New York City. Last week, in a very subdued press release, Amazon announced that it would no longer pursue the construction of the second headquarters in New York City. All of this came at the end of a year long courtship between Amazon and several cities and states, including Newark and New Jersey which submitted a joint bid, where cities competed to vie for Amazon’s attention with tax incentives and, in some cases, colorful video presentations. Immediately after Amazon’s announcement about New York, almost every media outlet offered its own autopsy of the situation. Some said the push to prevent Amazon from establishing the new HQ there arose from a groundswell of grassroots activism, primarily from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and State Senator Michael Gianaris, specifically decrying the special tax incentives offered to Amazon, its anti-union stance, and its relationship with ICE, among other things. Others argue that these were merely the loudest voices in the room and didn’t represent the views of the actual New Yorkers on the ground, which some polls suggested were in favor of Amazon coming. Either way, within a few days, Mayor Baraka published a piece (not surprisingly) in the Washington Post seeming to say that the administration wanted Newark to be in contention for the second HQ offered to Amazon. Its unclear whether Amazon is still searching to place this HQ, after its experience within New York.

Guests:

Jorge Santos—Jorge is the Vice President for Economic Development Policy at Newark Community Economic Development Corporation. Jorge has worked in a variety of government offices and political campaigns including the Office of the Governor, the legislature, federal, state and local campaigns. At NCEDC, he focuses on the Riverfront Park expansion project, Newark Fiber and attracting real estate and business development to the city. Jorge attended The Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy at Rutgers University where he received dual master's degrees in Public Policy and City & Regional Planning. He has held fellowships with the Eagleton Institute of Politics, New Leaders Council and currently Leadership Newark. 

Rory MacQueen—Rory is a software engineer who currently works Uber. Prior to his current role, Rory worked at a number of startups in San Francisco and abroad in Brazil. He has lived in NYC for over a year and takes a keen interest in the intersection between politics and technology.

Christian Dean Smith—Christian is a technical problem-solver at Impact in NYC. Originally from Newark, Christian spent years in product management and sales engineering in Seattle & Silicon Valley.  He is passionate about music, education, and uplifting the human voice.  Christian is an alumnus of Stanford University and a Newark Wight Foundation Scholar.

Articles & Background:

  • An article by Matt Yglesias explaining the downsides of Amazon’s HQ bidding process: click here

  • An article by guest, Christian Smith, on the “Amazon Sweepstakes”: click here

  • Mayor Ras Baraka’s Article in the Washington Post: click here

  • The official website of Newark’s Amazon bid: click here

  • An article arguing why Newark was the “socially responsible” choice for Amazon: click here

  • An article detailing the six sites in Newark that would host the HQ: click here

  • An article explaining why Amazon pulled out of New York: click here

"12 Stories High and Developing Fast": MX3 and a Developing Ironbound

In October of 2017, the Newark City Council adopted an ordinance amending the Newark Zoning and Land Use Regulations, establishing a new type of zone within the City’s Master Plan known as MX-3. This new area, located right outside of Penn Station in the Ironbound, would not allow for buildings of up to 20 stories in height, up from the previous restriction of 8 stories. The change was not without controversy. Many people and groups showed up to the council meetings to protest and make their opposition to the change known. One group of residents went so far as to file a lawsuit against the City Council, saying that it violated the City’s Master Plan rules as well as notice requirements under state law. A state judge ruled in favor of the residents on the lack of notice. A few weeks ago on January 9, 2019, the City Council revisited the issue and voted in favor of creating the zone with higher height restrictions.

Guests:

Lillian Ribeiro—Lillian is an activist, artist, and community organizer. Born and raised in Ironbound Newark, with a long history of fighting for social justice with local national grassroots and community organizations. She has been fighting MX3 for over a year with residents of her neighborhood and the Ironbound Community Corporation and was the lead organizer of “Newark at the Intersections: Who is the Renaissance for?,” a curated art exhibition including film documentaries and performances throughout the Newark community, summer and fall of 2017 at LIPS with co-curate Daniel Joseph and other Newark artists.

Lisa Scorsolini—Lisa is a founding member of PLANewark and currently serves as its Treasurer. She is a practicing municipal attorney and has been a resident of the Ironbound since 2004.

Drew Curtis—Drew is with the Ironbound Community Corporation, which a 50-year old, community-based organization delivering early childhood education and youth development programs, family services, and workforce development programs, as well as environmental justice and community development initiatives, in line with its stated principles of justice and equality.

Articles & Background:

  • A video article from NJTV documenting the January 9, 2019 City Council Vote: click here

  • Two stark videos by Myles Zhang of what the Ironbound would like under the proposed height restrictions: click here & click here

  • An article from TapIntoNewark describing the litigation between the residents and the City over MX3: click here

  • An article from BrickCityLive describing the lead up to the December 11, 2018 City Council meeting: click here

  • A city generated map outlining the current zoning restrictions: click here

  • The complaint and the summary judgment order from the PLANewark v. Newark Municipal Council litigation: click here for complaint & click here for summary judgment

End Quote:

“A man in himself is a city, beginning, seeking, achieving and concluding his life in ways which the various aspects of a city may embody.” William Carlos Williams, Paterson

Podcast also available at Newark.FM