"Beautiful" Day (29 pix)
Yesterday, "Beautiful Newark" held its one-day kickoff to a three-year campaign to make clean a habit of mind in all Newarkers. I hope the project sponsors aspire to make Newark the cleanest large city in the Nation. Sounds ridiculous? Not to me. The beginning was so wonderful that one can sensibly hold out hope of wonderful results.
Roman Catholic Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the sacred heart of the Archdiocese of Newark, the grandest building in New Jersey, and one of the grandest in the Nation. The elevated area south of the Cathedral Basilica is the highest point in the city. So that is where the opening ceremonies of "Beautiful Newark" Day were staged.
Granted, Newark is far from the cleanest place I've ever been, but, then, it is also nowhere near as dirty as comparable neighborhoods in New York. I'm getting ahead of myself. Settle in, and I'll give you a sense, with many fotos, of what it was like to participate in that wonderful event. Yes, I know that schools superintendent Marion Bolden said it wasn't an event, but it assuredly was an event, let me tell you!
We begin at the beginning. Insil Kang, a staffer of major sponsor The League, gave me a heads-up as to the schedule of events, which included a gathering around noon at the Roller Rink in Branch Brook Park and the formal opening ceremony atop the mound south of the Cathedral at 1pm. The Roller Rink is down inside what used to be a reservoir (see foto at this fotoblog's entry of April 3rd, 2006), and I wasn't keen on climbing down stairs, given the condition of my surgically mended knees. Moreover, I have worked evening or graveyard shift for some 30 years, and was up until after 8am yesterday morning, so could not get up early enuf to get to the Roller Rink at noon. When I did find my way to the general vicinity around ten minutes to one, I went directly to the mound (to take my 'pitchers'). It turns out I could have gone to the Roller Rink after all, because things did not start promptly. No matter.
I looked around and saw this flatbed trailer filled with flowers provided by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
After a half hour or so, Marion Bolden, an Assemblyman (Payne? brother of our Congressman Donald Payne?), and some members of the City Council arrived at the flattened hilltop. Cory Booker did not attend. I don't know why. You'd think that the Mayor of Newark, a co-sponsor of this project with Ms. Bolden, would have made a point of being there, but he didn't. On Thursday he was in Richmond, Virginia. The day before, in Jersey City. Shouldn't he, as Cheerleader-in-Chief of the City of Newark, have been at this inaugural event? He apparently did not think so. I beg to differ. Had my write-in campaign for mayor succeeded, I assure you I'd have been there. Oh, wait. I was there! And I'm not even mayor. (Presently.)
In any case Ms. Bolden spoke first, welcoming people and explaining the twofold purpose of the project. First: give outsiders a positive impression of Newark when first they enter our city. Second: give insiders a sense that all is well with their world, and the future is brite. The "Beautiful Newark" project is intended most importantly to make Newarkers feel that their future, in Newark, is beautiful. Here she is expressing these thoughts.
She did not want to speak long, because the intent of the project is to induce Newark's kids to invest themselves in the city's success. So she turned over the mike to the one male member of the small, student coordinating committee.
Then one of the girl leaders spoke.
A second of the girls then spoke. I think some of the guys in suits near the microphone are public officials, members of the City Council or such, but don't recognize them to identify them for you.
I'm not sure if the third female leader spoke, because around then the kids from three nearby schools started to arrive at the site. Up from Victoria Avenue from the right came tiny little kids, from the Franklin School. Down Clifton Avenue came a horde of mid-sized kids from another school, the name of which I did not see plainly in the banner they carried, which was tossed by the breeze to the point of illegibility. And down Victoria Avenue from Barringer on the left came high-school kids. Cameras don't see what people see, and this foto does not capture the scene. The people seem more scattered and inconsequential than they do in person, but you may nonetheless get a sense of the scene.
The organizers stage-managed that beautifully. Alas, there were no TV cameras to capture the convergence in all its excitement. The Star-Ledger, a sponsor, might publish some pix, but stills do not do justice to the drama.
The kids climbed up a central stairway.
You can see plant pots in their hands.
Some members of that little group seem to share a family resemblance. As the little kids had approached the hill, Port Authority people handed them flowers of their very own to plant. The kidlets then stormed the hillside a level at a time. Here, the first kids wrap around to their right.
Here's a closer view.
Once on the second level, they wrap to their left.
Here we see the grade-school kids walking on the second level of their ascent to the hilltop, with older kids beyond, waiting their turn.
Some of the grade schoolers wore globe-adorned headdresses for Earth Day, tomorrow.
Here are zoomed views from the larger picture, to show more detail. First, two little girls.
Now, two boys in the foreground, other kids behind.
Some kids carried signs with slogans about making/keeping Newark clean.
Here we see somewhat older kids coming up the stairs, bearing a banner.
All the while kids conquered the hill, speeches went on above. Here we see Superintendent Bolden and the League's videografers traced in tree halos.
Then the high-school kids arrived, bearing their own banner hiliting the message of the day: "From One Day to Every Day". As Ms. Bolden said, this is not an event but the beginning of a new era for Newark, when the energy of this exciting gathering — cheers rang out many times, mostly from the high-school kids, who brought the enthusiasm of a football game to the rally — focuses on "Beautiful Newark", to make the city clean and keep the city clean. Woe be to him (or her) who makes a mess where THOSE kids clean.
The little kids were very happy to have flowerpots in their hands, but some needed to sit.
The big kids were last to storm the hill, and were fotograffed by the League's people, and by me.
I think the shaved-head guy on the left is a councilman or something, but I can't place him.
And let's not forget the guys who make it possible for us to live free of garbage in our lives, the sanitation workers who haul that stuff away so we can live a streamlined existence in a clean environment, and not be buried in trash.
I looked down toward the street as the kids started to return to their schools and saw the flatbed flower trailer just about empty. Good.
I was a little concerned that the patch of park we had occupied might have been damaged by our feet, and looked down to see these tiny little flowers in the grass.
They seem to have survived the onslaught of many little shoes quite nicely. Hey, they're Newark flowers! They're tuf.
My friend Joe from Belleville (whose guided tour of Newark when I lived in Manhattan persuaded me to think about moving here) had joined me well before the kids went back to their schools. As we headed out ourselves, he spotted a plant that some kid, probably a grade-schooler, had dropped out of its pot. I picked it up and resolved to see to it that it was planted.
I spotted some litter on the ground and picked it up, but didn't have a trash bag with me, so asked a kid ahead of me if I could put it in his bag. A woman nearby drew his attention to my request and I added my little cache to his store. It turns out that that woman was the principal of the Franklin School, Ms. Taylor. We chatted briefly about my interest in this project and I mentioned that Joe had induced me to consider Newark when I was thinking of leaving Manhattan, and that I ended up buying a house in Vailsburg. She said she used to live in Vailsburg herself, and when I told her the block my house is on, she knew exactly where I meant. I gave her my card and told her I would be putting up fotos of the day's events on my "Newark USA" fotoblog. She introduced me to the Franklin School's two vice-principals, Messrs. Cullen and Mitchell, and I asked where the kids were headed from there, and what they were going to do. She said they were going back to the school, where they would do some cleaning and planting. I decided to follow and take pix there too. Joe headed off for the cherry blossoms.
As we walked to the school, some of the kids took seriously their responsibility to pick up litter along the way. One, a long-haired boy who looked like an American Indian with his smooth black hair gathered back into a ponytail, asked if I could hold the two plant pots he was carrying so he could concentrate on chucking litter into his trash bag. I added those two potted plants to my one potless plant and followed along. That kid is some dynamo. I wish I had his energy.
We got to the school and I asked Vice Principal Mitchell if there is someplace on school grounds where the kids will be planting their flowers, and he directed me around the corner to their garden, which has won recognition in recent years. Here's what I saw. First, a wider view.
Now, a closer view of the kids planting their flowers.
This is what one tree area looked like when the kids were thru for the day.
I hope the kids water these plants (including my little pansy that lost its pot somewhere along the way) and they survive the "Beautiful Newark" experience to briten the lives of the kids who planted them and who have every right to take pride in having done that.
Finally, let me show the student organizers of this event. I don't have the names at the moment, but if they see this picture and would like to supply identifications, I will be more than happy to add them later.
I know that kids alone could not do all this, but neither could adults alone. I am a single gay man, never married, no children, so almost never spend any time with kids. The day was a joy for me. I won't say that the kids were adorable. The fotos say that.
As I hope the pictures above show, the three most beautiful things about "Beautiful Newark" were on display yesterday:
No. 3, the spirit of possibility. Newarkers believe in Newark (as well they should).
No. 2, the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, a world-class architectural and religious masterpiece, 23 feet taller than Notre Dame in Paris.
And, No. 1, head and shoulders above the others, our kids.