NEWARK – Christina Cherry was homeless at 16.
She was from the Bronx, and home for a time was a place under the Brooklyn Bridge.
She was always book smart.
She made her way into the United States Navy.
Spent 36 months serving her country. Inventory management specialist.
It wasn’t a good experience, though, or at least part of it wasn’t great. Disabled, she took what she could.
The discipline. A sense of order.
She found herself in a shelter on Long Island City.
Another job. Eight years at the VA hospital. Another move.
The VA helped.
Then she was homeless again, this time in Florida, and with a son.
She came north once more, this time to the environs of Newark.
She lived in a car.
Catholic Charities placed her and her son in a hotel on Evergreen Street in East Orange.
She lived on $16 a week.
A year later she had enough to buy a house on 17th Street in Newark, and a year later she had enough to buy a second house in Paterson, which she turned into a rental property.
Now, at Cherry Luxe Properties LLC she only takes in single mothers and their families.
Her own financial freedom inspired her to help others find financial freedom.
That’s why she says she’s running for a council seat in the South Ward.
She wants to impart knowledge.
“People are not aware of the processes,” Cherry told InsiderNJ. “I went from homeless to owning a fully successful company in two years. What got me into politics was the house next door. It was an abandoned home filled with garbage. The backyard had dead animals and TVs piled up in it. Drugs dealers parked next door to me. I went to City Hall and DPW came to clean it and in the process knocked down my fence. It was the beginning of standing up for myself.”
She knows the drug dealers. She tries to talk with them, not run from them.
“I’m raising my son here, and what he sees on a daily basis is not normal,” said Cherry.
She hears the chatter.
“You’re not from here.”
“You shouldn’t be here.”
New Jersey is parochial by nature and Newark, the biggest city, in some ways is its most massively parochial city.
“I know how we’re living here is foul,” Cherry said.
She started interfacing more routinely with code enforcement, with politicians, including the mayor’s office (“I didn’t start at the top; I’m military, I know chain of command”), and just generally getting involved, having conversations with youth, advocating for seniors, feeding people out of the back of a car.
She wasn’t going to run against incumbent John Sharpe James.
She was going to run for an at-large seat, but when James announced his retirement she decided to run in the South Ward.
Last night, Cherry participated in the debate forum with her five rivals. She talked about how Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s story inspired her to engage a community that feels abandoned. She outlined her commitment to financial literacy, and to demystifying the language of finance for residents. The world of the past in part consists of power structures standing in front of them, she said, as she strives to embody and teach others about the power of entrepreneurship. “Be your own boss,” she said.
The South Ward of Newark, she said, holds so much more than she can communicate sometimes in a simple rejoinder when people tell her she’s not from here.
At the debate she heard others describe their experience in City Hall jobs as a reason to vote for them and she tried to distinguish herself as someone who hasn’t had a job on the inside, and who has had to scrap and survive on the outside, often on the far side of the outside. When she looked at her house in the South Ward finally, Cherry thought to herself, “Wow. It looked peaceful. I want stability for my son. It gave me a new purpose. I want to fix this for myself, for my son and my tenants.”
She said she sees the council seat as another deeper way to connect, to her neighbors, to the community, and to the rootedness she found in Newark’s South Ward.