"Don't Be Afraid": Coming Out in Newark

50 years ago on June 28th, newspapers reported an unexpected act of resistance at a mafia-run bar on Christopher Street in New York City. The several days of protest and demonstration that ensued are collectively known as the Stonewall Riots. They marked a turning point in the Gay Rights and Liberation Movement. It is also why June is celebrated worldwide as Pride Month. So, what does Pride Month mean? In the words of the Human Rights Campaign, Pride Month is the only occasion where people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, intersex, queer, or any type of sexual or gender minority can be out and proud in their community. Therefore, Pride festivals and parades that occur during the month celebrate the progress the LGBT community has made, but also recognize the distance this community still has to go to achieve full equality.

“Coming out” is never easy. It is almost never a singular act. For many, it is a process that unfolds over a period of time, with different people finding out in different settings. On this episode, our guests, Christian Valentin-Gladden and Bella Filipe, share what coming out means to them, how it occurred, misconceptions about the process, and what advice they have for other LGBTQI+ folks who want to share their truth with their loved ones.

Self-harm and violence come up in this episode. Below is a link to a resource for those who need help and support.

Background & Articles:

  • The Trevor Project Self-Harm Resource Center: here

  • American Experience’s Documentary on the Stonewall Riots: here

  • Amazon Page for “Becoming Who I Am: Young Men on Being Gay”: here

  • Amazon Page for “Claiming the B in LGBT: Illuminating the Bisexual Narrative”: here

  • Emily Todd Van der Werf’s Vox Article on Coming Out as Trans in Trump’s America: here

  • Newark Pride’s Home Page: here


Bella Filipe—Bella is a Newark Native. She is also a former student of the host of the podcast. She currently works at Kessler.

Christian Valentin-Gladden—Christian is a Newark Native. He attended elementary school with the host of the podcast. He currently is a middle school teacher.


“When I was a child in Marshalltown, Iowa, I hated Christmas almost as much as I do now, but I loved Halloween. I never wanted to take off the mask; I wanted to wear it everywhere, night and day, always. And I suppose I still do. I have often used liquor, which is another kind of mask, and, more recently, pot.—Then, too, I suppose if my friends have been playing games with me, they might with justice say that I have been playing games with them. It took me almost fifty years to come out of the closet, to stop pretending to be something I was not, most of the time fooling nobody.—But I guess it is never easy to open the closet door.”—Merle Miller, On Being Different: What It Means to Be a Homosexual

"A Free Public Library": Interview and Conversation with Jeffrey Trzeciak

50 years ago on June 28th, newspapers reported an unexpected act of resistance at a mafia-run bar on Christopher Street in New York City. The several days of protest and demonstration that ensued are collectively known as the Stonewall Riots. They marked a turning point in the Gay Rights and Liberation Movement. It is also why June is celebrated worldwide as Pride Month. So, what does Pride Month mean? In the words of the Human Rights Campaign, Pride Month is the only occasion where people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, intersex, queer, or any type of sexual or gender minority can be out and proud in their community. Therefore, Pride festivals and parades that occur during the month celebrate the progress the LGBT community has made, but also recognize the distance this community still has to go to achieve full equality. This episode is the first of two episodes in our series celebrating Pride Month in Newark by highlighting the achievements and stories of the LGBTQI+ members of the Newark community.

When the Newark Public Library opened its doors in 1887, it did so with the goal of being much more than a repository of books available for lending to the public. Jeffrey Trzeciak, the current director, seeks to continue this mission by furthering the library’s programming and amenities to be more accessible to a wider swath of the Newark community. For example, Jeffrey, as well as the staff at the library, has focused on increasing LGBTQI+ awareness. This has included the opening of the LGBTQ Resource Center at the Library and the holding of Drag Queen Story Hours. and Drag Queen Bingo The library has also increased its services for the homeless, who often frequent the space, by hiring an on-site social worker and updating/renovating its restrooms. This episode, Jeffrey discusses all these changes occurring at the library and more.


Jeffrey Trzeciak—Jeffrey is the Director of the Newark Public Library, which oversees the Main Library on Washington Street and seven branches across the city. Aside from his administrative duties in keeping the system running, he runs the Director’s Blog and has emphasized making the library a more inclusive space. This is no surprise. Jeffrey has spent his 30 year career in library management and information technology focusing on social justice and championing civil rights, particularly in the fields of race and LGBT liberation, as well other issues facing urban libraries. On top of that, he and his husband are active Newark residents, living in the North Ward.

Articles & Background:

  • The Newark Public Library’s Official Website: here

  • The Library’s Calendar of Events: here

  • The Director’s Blog: here

  • Newark LGBTQ Community Center Official Website: here

  • TapInto Article on the Opening of the Library’s LGBTQ Resource Center: here

  • New York Times Article on Drag Time Story Hours Across the Country: here

End Quote:

“Prior: I’m almost done.—The fountain’s not flowing now, they turn it off in the winter, ice in the pipes. But in the summer it’s a sigh to see. I want to be around to see it. I plan to be. I hope to be.—This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come now.—Bye now.—You are fabulous creatures, each and every one.—And I bless you: More Life.—The Great Work Begins.”—Angels in America: Perestroika, Tony Kushner, Epilogue

"From Newark to Cambridge": Newark Students Adjusting to Elite Institutions

This is the podcast’s third episode on education. On the first episode, we discussed pay for part-time lecturers, adjuncts, and grad students at Rutgers University Newark. Last episode, we had a conversation with a newly elected school board member, where she shared her goals and her vision for Newark Public Schools. This episode, we will focus on the most important part of the education system itself: students.

About three months ago, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts filed charges against several parents, admissions officers, and coaches for creating a system of bribery and lying on applications, with the intent of gaining admission for certain young students into elite institutions. Among those charged, most famously, were Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffman. Unfortunately, this story was a bit of a red herring. It is wrong for applicants or their parents to lie on their applications or use money to gain admission. These people, however, represent an infinitesimally small number of college admits. The larger issue lies within the systemic structures themselves (from the help offered to wealthier high school students during the college application process to standardized testing to the quality of public schools).

Admission is only half the battle, however. This story overshadowed the publication of a very interesting book entitled The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Falling Disadvantaged Students. Its author, Anthony Abraham Jack, collected stories at a particular elite institution from students with disadvantaged backgrounds. His stories weren’t groundbreakingly new—at least to the people who experienced college coming from these backgrounds. The importance of Jack’s work lies in the vocabulary he created to describe the experiences of these students. He categorized these students as either doubly disadvantaged—meaning that they came from an underprivileged background and an underserved high school—or privileged poor—meaning that they came from an underprivileged background but went to a high performing private school.

Reading the book was strange the podcast’s host. His own story best aligned with those who fell in the “privileged poor” category, and he saw many parallels between his own experience and those described in the book. Jack profiled several boarding school students who grew up in urban environments and received scholarships from institutions designed to send such students to boarding school. In fact, he profiled several students from the Wight Foundation—the very organization that shepherded me through the boarding school process.

In keeping with the spirit of Jack’s work, I have two current Harvard College students on today’s episode. They shared their experiences at one of the world’s most recognized institutions of higher education and how that university is providing. This conversation, hopefully, will begin a discussion that will continue both on this podcast and in the wider education world in Newark.


Kim Boerrigter—Kim a rising junior and currently majoring in Integrative Biology at Harvard College. She attended Malcolm X Shabazz. She is passionate about science and forensic pathology and has participated in research excursions to the Pocono Environmental Education Center (Dingmans Ferry, PA), a poster presentation at the 2016 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting (San Francisco, CA), and co-authorship of a scientific manuscript published in 2018. A member of the Fund II Foundation UNCF STEM Scholars Program and the Cooperman College Scholars program.

Lucia Couto—Lucia is a rising junior at Harvard, studying Math and History of Science. She attended Arts High School. She is the co-Director for the Deaf Awareness Club, which advocates for equal accessibility for all on Harvard’s campus and beyond. She was also a Peer Advising Fellow, working to help first-year students at Harvard as they adjust to life on campus.

Articles & Background:

  • Official Book Page for The Privileged Poor, Anthony Abraham Jack’s Official Page, Podcast Episode Where Jack Discusses the Book: Book Page; Jack Page; Podcast Episode

  • Harvard University’s Official First Gen Program Page: here

  • Harvard Crimson Article on First Gen Students: here

  • Vox Article on the Ways Elite Institutions Discriminate Against Poor Students: here

  • Wikipedia Article on “Imposter Syndrome”: here

Harvard Term Glossary:

  • Blocking Group—A group of students who decide to live together after freshman year. Not participating with a block group is called “floating.”

  • House—The name for the complex of buildings where upperclassmen live. There are 12 (officially, 13) houses at Harvard. Students are assigned to one with their blocking group at the end of freshman year with limited ability to transfer out.

  • Dorm—The name for the buildings where only freshmen live.

  • Concentration—The equivalent term for “major”

  • Secondary Field—The equivalent term for “minor”

  • Citation—A accreditation for achieving a certain amount credits in a particular language. Similar to a “minor” in a language.

  • Expos—A required expository writing class, where students learn how to write persuasively for college. There are two classes: Expos 10 and Expos 20.

  • Dorm Crew—A work study job for students where they clean other students’ bathrooms

End Quote:

“Too often we think about those youth who make it out of distressed communities and into college—especially elite colleges—having already won. These young people, we assume, hold a golden ticket. Yes, making it into an elite college almost guarantees that you’ll graduate. Renowned, like its peers, boasts a very high graduation rate. But graduation rates do not tell us of students’ experiences in college, their trials or their triumphs. After all, it is one thing for students to graduate. It is another for them to do so whole and healthy, ready for whatever the next adventure brings.” Anthony Abraham Jack, The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students

"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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


(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.


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.”


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