Baraka Jumps Feet First into May 10th South Ward Battleground

NEWARK – Amid an uptick in visible South Ward activity with 43 days until the election, Mayor Ras


Baraka, running for his third term and paying attention to the candidacy of his friend and ally here,  demonstrated this morning why his clout counts, maybe especially in the South.

His administration’s actually doing exciting and visionary things, like cutting the ribbon – and more than one person made the point today that this was indeed a ribbon cutting, not a ground breaking – on the Gant-Gilbert Arts Collective at 505 Clinton Avenue, smack in the heart of the South Ward, home to Baraka, and home to Recreation Director Pat Council.


Long the dominant edifice in the vicinity of a skid row of slatternly corrugated iron fronts and a clutch of bodegas, the police precinct towers over the intersection of Clinton Avenue and Bergen Street. But now, just a block up on Clinton, state of the art housing will provide the community of Clinton Hill and the City of Newark with a new cultural art, education, residential and social center.

Baraka said he feels a foundational closeness to the area. 

The son of the late poet Amiri Baraka, he grew up around here, walked the streets, did the poetry jams


and grooved to the back beats.

“It’s going to help transform this neighborhood,” the mayor told the crowded room of artists, politicians and community types in the classic old stucco building, which looks like a bank, converted now into a bohemian Bertolt Brechtian fortress.

“This neighborhood has been this way for a very long time, right across the street from the precinct,” said Baraka, reflecting on the area’s less than charming properties, suddenly rerouted and riveted. “It’s proof the neighborhood will never change unless the artists change it. I don’t care how many cops you have all over the place, helicopters hovering over it. It’s been abandoned my entire life. A place for trouble. It took a long time. I thank God we are here.”

A $9 million dollar project under the auspices of Invest Newark, and developed by an African American contractor, the building is named for two late Newark artists: Jerry Gant and Rodney Gilbert, respectively a painter and visual artist and theater presence and poet.

“This is an opportunity to detox the ghetto,” Baraka said. “This property’s fire. There’s going to be some stuff happening here, and it’s going to pour out on the street.”

A celebration followed additional remarks by Deputy Mayor/Director of Economic and Housing Development Allison Ladd, Interim President and CEO of Invest Newark Roy Southerland, South Ward Council Member John Sharpe James, Central Ward Councilwoman Lamonica McIver, At-Large Councilman Larry Crump, and At-Large Councilman Carlos Gonzalez, and members of the Gant and Gilbert families. Guests toured the center’s ground-floor units (the place contains 27 live-work units for artists), cafe and performance center, and an exhibit to showcase local artwork. The on-site cafe, Rhythm N’ Food, will be owned and operated by local Newark entrepreneur Rashena Burroughs.

Fayemi Shakur, the city’s arts and cultural affairs director, told InsiderNJ that Baraka wants to create more spaces of this kind around the city.

“It’s a pivotal examples of what artists can be in the community,” Shakur said.

“This place is the bomb,” said Baraka, who faces an opponent, Sheila Montague, in the May 10th election, but not what insiders consider a stiff citywide tests. Instead, Team Baraka wants to make sure it consolidates power in key wards, starting in the South. The retirement of Councilman James at the end of his term creates the

From Roy Southerland: “The property is owned by the City of Newark, with Invest Newark as the developer. Invest Newark manages the general contractor. Once fully completed and lease up starts, the property will be owned by a nonprofit entity. The nonprofit entity will run the operations of the property. Invest Newark is the developer of the property.
There were city grants and a federal loan involved with funding the project.”

opportunity for a race, with the mayor standing alongside Pat Council, as opponents try to make the case that the South, in the words of Terrance Bankston, “needs a political beast.”

In the street, Baraka told InsiderNJ, “What we need right now is teamwork. There is a natural check and balance between the mayor and the council. Just because you’re on the team don’t mean you always agree. Don’t lose sight of the larger goal. My father used to say, ‘Unity in struggle.’ We fight each other, but we know we have to unite around something bigger. My first day in office I said I wanted to do something with this building.

“I’m always going to have a love for this area of the city,” the mayor added.

In addition to the 27 affordable homes, the building will provide a performance space, 10 on-site work studios, and community and public space that will serve as a creative hub for artists and their families. The Collective will also feature programming that will focus on the following essential areas for the success of the artist housing, including:

●       High Quality Artistic Venues Special Event Programing

●       Stage Performances: Music, Dance, Theater

●       Recitals

●       Special Events: Private and Corporate

●       Access to Affordable Art Discipline, Education and Training

●       Individual and Community Capacity Building, Promoting Artistic Expression and Creativity

●       Strengthening Community’ Socialization and Wellness through Effective Engagement and Creative Collaboration

●       Building Strategic Alliance, Partnerships with the Greater Newark Arts Community, Area Businesses, Corporate and Foundations

●       Nutrition, Health and Fitness

●       New Works Platform for Artistic Ideas and Presentation

●       Social Awareness: Lectures, Readings, Panels and Roundtable Discussions

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