Newark Forward: An interview with Mayor Ras Baraka
Ras Baraka, the 40th mayor of Newark, was elected in 2014. The son of renowned poet, playwright, and activist Amiri Baraka, the Newark native began his career as a teacher in Newark Public Schools before working his way through various roles to eventually lead Central High School as the principal until he was elected mayor.
How would you characterize the renaissance underway in Newark?
“Newark is on a serious boom. There’s $3 billion worth of development happening in the city now. Construction is happening all over the community and venture funds and startups are coming to our city. We are developing the waterfront, creating opportunity downtown, and turning the city into a destination—something that people have been trying to do since 1970.
We want to keep Newark focused on the future. We don’t want to look to the left, to the right, or to the back, we want to look forward.”
“You’re coming to Newark at the right time. It’s a transformative period.”
Mayor Ras Baraka
What role do Newark Public Schools’ teachers play in this city’s future?
“You’re coming to Newark at the right time. It’s a transformative period. If you want to be the best, then you need to come here and be a part of what we’re trying to do in this community. Use your imagination and creativity to shape and mold kids who aren’t going come to the classroom ready-made. It’s not out of a box, there are no instructions. This is your opportunity to show what you have. Teachers and artists transform communities and diminish crime and violence. They educate the community, engage them in democracy, and lift their self-esteem up. They give them the courage to fight and transform and solve hard problems.”
Describe your perfect day in Newark.
“I would go down to the gym on Broad or run around Weequahic Park. Then, I would go to the Newark Museum and look at some of the displays they have. For lunch, get a good Hawaiian bowl from the poke shop on Raymond Boulevard or go to the health food store on Central Avenue, Blueberry Café. In the evening, I would go to a poetry reading that they have down the street at the bookstore…or, if it’s Thursday night, the Rutger’s, a little jazz club. And then finish it off at Adega—that’s my favorite nighttime spot.”