The Newark Unity Slate – A Symbol for the Whole Country?

We are living in interesting times. Actually, let me rephrase – we are living in scary times.

Like many of us over the weekend, I watched as news developed almost hourly regarding Donald Trump and this embarrassing presidential election.

As I write these words, images of hate that have embedded into our political process are stronger than ever.   It has been very hard for me to shake the video of that defenseless African-American man who was sucker-punched at a Trump rally.   I could not believe my eyes as I saw Chicago in complete disarray last Friday night. And I felt anger, as I listened the next day, to Trump condoning what were obviously racist attacks.

 

While all of this is going on nationally, it dawned on me this week that Newark is taking the exact opposite approach to what we are seeing around the country.

 

Over the last two months, Newarkers have been coming together.

 

During the very moment that our country seems to be coming apart at the seams, Newark seems to be committed to taking a needed dramatic shift.

 

Based on the leadership of three very different Newarkers – Kim Gaddy, Tave Padilla, and Leah Owens – we are witnessing a unifying force in our city, and this is something that has brought great optimism to many in recent days.

When it was quietly announced at the beginning of the year that the Unity Slate was running for Newark School Board it did not garner mass headlines, but now as we quietly inch closer to the April 19th election, the buzz seems to be growing, and momentum seems to be stronger.

Many parents, community leaders and elected officials I’ve spoken with are encouraged and believe the idea of the Unity Slate was the right move, at the right moment.

Specifically in Newark, these parents, community leaders and elected officials believe we are finally taking a new approach to a system that has failed generations.

There is still work to be done – and there is still an aftereffect of what we have inherited – as we saw last week, for years we have not even provided our kids with non-toxic water in our schools!

The infighting of the past, anchored by Newark Teacher’s Union President John Abeigon and Former Newark Superintendent Cami did nothing to address our long overdue issues. The result is that the community and parents are just tired of politics as usual. It seems these sentiments may very well have led to the creation of the Unity Slate.

We love our public schools and want them desperately to succeed – not just some of them, but all of them – traditional, charter, magnet, and the developing community schools idea.

One parent I recently spoke to said it better than I ever could, “People have been more interested in being right and winning political battles. But that has not helped my child get the education she deserves.”

Each of the Unity candidates running together, could have easily created their own Slate and promoted their agenda. But that did not happen. By choosing to come together, it would seem they are intent on sending a message to our community – that the priority is not personal agendas or politics, but finding ways to work together.

This decision was based on three candidates who have expressed a deep understanding of the pulse of the community.

Over the last two weeks, I have reached out to my sources in local education organizations like BAEO and PC2E, public charter advocates like Democrats for Education Reform and Newark Charter School Fund, elected officials on City Council, and my contacts who work for Mayor Baraka. Even though they all come from different political leanings, each has indicated their desire to see this Slate thrive.

It’s clear, the three candidates under the Unity Slate – Kim Gaddy, Leah Owens, and Tave Padilla – have their difference, but instead of focusing on those differences and division, this seems to be a team focused on unity.

The walls of fear and intimidation that has prevented parents from getting involved in the education debate are breaking down. More and more Newark parents are now actively engaging, sharing their voice in op-ed pieces and attending public meetings. The walls that seem to have been built between almost every community organization when it comes to education are breaking down as well. Even the crybaby tactics of Albeigon or blog posts by Elizabeth New Jersey’s very own Bob Braun do not seem to carry the weight it once did.

Speaking with the Unity Slate members and listening to their assessment of the first debate last week, it’s clear they are intent on teaching all of us something we have not seen in Newark for some time – that education does not need to be a political issue, that there is common ground in our city, that this common ground can create results for our kids.

As Trump continues to divide our country, nationally, it is Newark that seems poised to show the whole country that there is an alternative. It is Newark emerging as a symbol for unity and strength.