Millennials Will Help Turn a Broken Newark Around

ByRashawn Davis

More than half of all Newark children under the age of five live in poverty. Only 69% of Newark students graduate from high school. And 13% of all Newark births were to mothers ages 15 to 19. These facts are highlighted in a new report by Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ), a non-profit organization that focuses on assessing and improving the prospects and realities of children across New Jersey. Although ACNJ studies point to several areas in our state that need improvement in terms of child welfare, their most recent study focuses on Newark, and the unsettling truths about the state of Newark’s young people.

These statistics are alarming and should demand the resolute attention of everyone at Newark City Hall. Instead, our elected officials have their minds elsewhere: focusing on upcoming elections, erroneously inflating a divide between Hispanic Newarkers and African American Newarkers, and doing Sunday morning talk shows. Undoubtedly, there is blame to be had by every elected official in Newark.

Fortunately, there are Newarkers around the city who are rising above the petty politics and working to improve their communities and alleviate the chronic problems our city faces. The purpose of our campaign is to join these people in their fight.

Although our campaign is fairly new, the issues my ward and my city face are by no means new. From public safety to education, the problems our city faces are intimately connected to young people. The main perpetrators and victims of gun violence in our city are young African American males, and the largest demographic of Newark’s 14.7% unemployment rate are men and women of color. These statistics are only aided by the fact that only 13% of all Newarkers hold a bachelors degree or higher.

I say all this to point out that our city cannot solve any of these issues without the support of young people, and yet we have a nine member city council and mayor, none of whom are under the age of 37. Inevitably, there is a disconnect between the decision makers and those effected by the decisions in Newark. As a 20-year-old Newark resident, these truths were something that I could not run away from, and that’s why I am running for city council. It's time Newark had a new voice, it's time we face the realities of our city’s problems, and it'ds time we finally put Newark first.

Admittedly, putting Newark first has been easier said than done. I have raced across my city carrying high ideals and even higher hopes, but from my countless conversations within the Newark political sphere, it’s clear that people simply do not understand the concept of putting Newark first. Anyone from my team will tell you that in most of the meetings we have had with folks, the number one question is always "Who supports you?" They do not mean this question in terms of which community groups, neighborhoods, or committed Newark residents support me. They mean which political power brokers or political machines support me.

Each time my answer is simple: Our campaign does not aim to gain the support of political conglomerates, but the support of the single mother struggling to make ends meet for herself and her children, the support of the football coach acting as both a father and mentor to dozens of Newark boys trying to find their way, and (of course) the support of the Newarker who is not concerned with petty politics but with how to create a better livelihood for themselves and others. When I relay this message to Newark’s politicos, they cannot seem to fathom the reality of a campaign that is fueled by everyday people and not by some political oligarchy. And it is their dismay and confusion which is truly telling of how much work our city has to do if it is to reach its God-given potential.

Nevertheless, I am a man of hope. For every cynic I meet, I meet twice as many citizens who are tired of status quo, tired of the vitriol, and tired of the complacency. Those are the Newarkers that reinvigorate me, and remind my team and myself every day of why we are doing this and most importantly, for whom we are doing this.

I am proud of the work my team members have done, despite the notion that our generation is full of politically apathetic people. Young students such as Kiermoni Aliison, David Price, Seun Oyeowle, and Taylor Doaty all show their commitment to the needs of Newark citizens every day when they make calls to residents, attend meetings, and put up with the foolishness that is Newark’s political status quo.

That being said, I am confident in our campaign. Not only am I proud of how far we have come, but I am even more excited about how far we will go.