An Ode to Newark

“For me—a writer in the last quarter of the twentieth century, not much more than a hundred years after Emancipation, a writer who is black and woman—the exercise is very different. My job becomes how to rip that veil drawn over ‘proceedings too terrible to relate.’ The exercise is also critical for any person who is black, or who belongs to any marginalized category, for, historically, we were seldom invited to participate in the discourse even when we were its topic. Moving the veil aside requires, therefore, certain things. First of all, I must trust my own recollections. I must also depend on the recollections of others. Thus memory weighs heavily in what I write, in how I begin, and in what I find to be significant… But memories and recollections won’t give me total access to the unwritten interior life of these people. Only the act of the imagination can help me.”

Toni Morrison, The Site of Memory

Vladimir Mayakovsky by Alexander Rodchenk

Finding the rhythm of Newark has always been a challenge for me. While I am bonded to Newark by blood, as my father was born and raised here, I lived with my mother up until the sixth grade in Trenton, NJ, so I was often a step behind in my visits and interactions. During one of my weekend visits up North, my sister, cousins, and I decided to go skating Saturday night at Branch Brook Park. This adventure took the entire day to prepare for and we begged my Uncle Kenny to take us shopping for new outfits. When we packed in his car for a night of excitement, I worried about how it would end for me—being that I had only been skating once before. I was a tall, lanky, ten-year-old black girl, who was from Newark, but knew no one there but my family. When we got our skates, my sister and cousins immediately hit the rink and joined their friends from school. Too afraid to go out from my lack of experience, I stood by the wall and soaked in every moment.

As the DJ changed the music in and out from hip hop to what we called club music, the crowd roared, danced, and glided in sync. The laser blinking lights painted a beautiful scene amongst a myriad of laughter, rhythm, and coolness. Desperately wanting to join, I took the risk of skating in a sea of strangers. Failing to find my balance and a familiar face, I paced myself to just a few rounds to experience what it felt like to revel in this newfound flow of black joy. At peace with my findings, uncoordinated, and a bit offbeat, I decided to hop off and just reflect on the excitement.

The party ended, we packed the car to head home, and I left with the strange comfort of feeling like an outsider. On the one hand, I struggled deeply growing up feeling so far removed from a beautiful, talented, and intriguing city. I dreaded the Sunday nights when I had to pack my bags and leave the inspiring and alluring Newark. Yet, I always feared I would never fully appreciate the totality and weight of its greatness if I tried too hard to paint myself permanently into what I saw as a masterpiece.

Growing older and navigating more foreign spaces, including predominantly white institutions such as private boarding schools and college, this memory became more difficult to process. I found my position as an outsider moving further out, as the things that separated me from the larger group morphed into my gender, race, and socioeconomic class. As I stood on the very outskirts of what seemed to be normal, the wavering moments when my ability and value were questioned frequented, leaving me to rely on home for resolve.

In these moments, I chose to see and remember the beauty of Newark. I journey back to the bumping music, rhythm, and style that hooked me to step curiously into the rink. As I recollect the short yet pivotal moment, I feel empowered to transform the moments where I feel like an outsider, into my perspective and voice as a black woman. Now in sync with the vibrational energies resonating throughout the city, I claim my space and power, primarily through my memories and truth built by the force that is Newark.

As I experience land: reflections on space & power, I journey back to my ten-year old self. Reading the city anew through the eyes and hearts of my fellow collective members, I am compelled by their vulnerability and honesty in documenting their truths and shared experiences. Now as my present self, I embrace the color, style, and harmonic flow of images and stories. Fearlessly accepting my part in the makings and history of this city, a deep urgency and commitment to see, believe and appreciate the proud and gleaming city of Newark takes over any doubt of exclusion or erasure.

Although an underlying discomfort emerges as we power through the socio-political pitfalls that come with the legacies of racism, misguided power, and discrimination, the possibilities of what Newark can be are endless, especially as we all join in this dance of proclaiming and honoring the truth and power that is Newark.