Ellen Harris serves as the acting director of the Newark Housing Authority. She addressed children attending the opening of a new center at Pennington Court Housing Complex in Newark’s East Ward, the city’s seventh Center of Hope.
“We don’t want to lose sight that this is our hope right here, and to these children, I want to say you have a voice, you have opinions, you have thoughts and at the NHA you will never be ignored on my watch,” Harris said.
Mayor Ras Baraka started the initiative in 2015.
“These kids are beautiful,” said Baraka. “They’re innocent, they have the opportunity to grow up and do incredible things. It’s really up to the adults that are around them and in their life to help sculpt them and craft them so they can grow up and be productive.”
Kids can go to the center for healthy meals, tutoring, athletics, arts, computer training, among other things. Kween Moore is an art teacher at the center.
“It’s changing someone’s life on a larger scale. They’ll remember this. At some point in their life when they get older,” Moore said. “They’ll remember, ‘I remember that lady from the community center.”
Some of the kids showed off their pictures during the opening. Attendees say the activities that will be offered at the center will help to create a family-like environment.
“It’s got to be a participation with the parents and the kids and whoever is sponsoring the organization. We have to bond together,” Newark resident Annie Boyce said.
Representatives from other organizations on the same mission as Centers of Hope attended to support the opening. Hassans Kirby, a crisis intervention specialist, started the organization Hope, Love and Kindness. He recalls traveling to the ward with his aunt when he was young.
“It was more of a community-type development where you had the cookouts, you had the people out here playing together, it was more family-oriented,” Kirby said.
He said back then kids were able to be kids, and that is what they are trying to get back to now because the community has changed dramatically.
“That’s what’s needed in a lot of communities that are at-risk like this, high-crime areas, poverty-stricken areas, they need people around with centers where they can go do computers,” he said.
Kirby said this center is the beginning of bringing back a community feel that’s been missing for a while.
“Believe in yourself, believe in yourself, hope love and kindness. Stop the violence, stop the violence. Believe in yourself.”
Earl Best is the founder of an organization called Believe In Yourself. He said the children represent the future.
“There has got to be more love,” he said. “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Best has been working with teens every day for 17 years to show them they don’t have to go down the wrong path – a path he once took. That’s why he mentors the younger generation.
“I was in a gang way back. I did time and I asked God if he gets me out of this that I would not look back,” he said.
Best told NJTV News he sees himself in the kids at the center.
“That’s why it’s even more important. More important, and it’s a connection and they’ve got greatness in them we just have to tap into that.”
One generation looking out for the next.
“I’m going to stay here until they do it, I’m going to try to help them,” said Boyce.