By Ricardo Kaulessar Photo by Ricardo Kaulessar
Jersey City can sometimes be two Jersey Cities – the city with the tony reputation of being a mini-Manhattan and the city where people are overlooked and living in desperation on the margins.
The second Jersey City is those areas are usually seen as crime ridden and to be avoided as much as possible. However, there have been reminders recently by residents that those sections of New Jersey’s second largest city are deserving of respect and attention.
In July, a group of artists and activists called the JC Peace Traveling Crew did a “peace walk” in the city’s Bergen Lafayette and Greenville sections at the end of a difficult week following the shooting death of Jersey City Police Officer Melvin Santiago to engage fellow citizens to be part of the solution to stop the violence affecting where they live.
In June, members of a neighborhood association took a city official on a tour of several blocks spanning across Ocean Avenue in the Greenville section to point out how this neighborhood is thriving but needs some help from the city to continue in that direction.
‘We Want Peace’
The afternoon of July 19 in Arlington Park at the corner of Ocean and Arlington avenues saw the kind of sight that would not be completely out of place in any other Jersey City park. Adults and children gathering in the gazebo to create signs with color markers and imagination, playing and talking, and getting out into the fresh air.
However, there was a purpose amongst the participants as they were preparing for a two-mile plus walk taking them through areas that on initial glance would be shunned by many only aware of Jersey City as the site of hip new restaurants, home to a young, energetic mayor whose political star is on the rise, and location of some of the tri-state area’s most expensive real estate.
Celeste Ragland, one of the organizers of the walk, spoke about the goal of their movement.
“This is a peaceful movement and that we are not just a presence that [residents] saw and it’s out of mind,” Ragland said.
What the group of over 20 individuals, who encompassed various age groups, nationalities and sensibilities, did turned out to be memorable as they carried banners with slogans such as “SPEAK LOVE. BE LOVE. SPREAD LOVE,” shouted “STOP THE VIOLENCE, JOIN THE MARCH, WE WANT PEACE,” and stopped at various spots to perform spoken word poetry.
19-year-old Rashad Wright performed his piece, “Generation Degenerate,” at the HUB Plaza on Martin Luther King Drive. Wright saw his involvement in the walk as a way of giving back to his hometown.
“This is my city, I’ve lived here my whole life, and I have never had a chance to make change,” Wright said. “I am thinking about all the lives we could be saving now.”
Making Ocean Avenue Better
“This area is not as bad as some areas north of here. There are a lot of things that can be done here.”
Martha Larkins addressed members of the South Greenville Neighborhood Association on June 13 as they gathered at the corner of Ocean and Cator avenues for a walking tour of Ocean Avenue.
The neighborhood group, which formed in the summer of 2013, has made it its mission to address issues in their area that have included bringing about a revitalization plan for a section of Ocean Avenue, one of the city’s main thoroughfares that runs from Merritt Street near the Jersey City-Bayonne border to Bramhall Avenue in the city’s Bergen-Lafayette section.
South Greenville Neighborhood Association members were joined by Brian Platt, an aide to Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, as they toured several blocks of Ocean Avenue from Cator Avenue to Gates Avenue pointing out the various storefronts and residential buildings that have seen better days, some of which are being refurbished.
Larkins, one of the founders of the association, spelled out during the tour: “One of the things we want the city to help us with is to actually engage with the businesses, we could get a letter to them saying that we are undertaking this, we would like your participation.”
During the tour, Platt said Mayor Fulop has his eye on Greenville but did not offer specifics. However, Platt did say that the city is looking to get absentee landlords to maintain their rundown properties, with several of them seen on the tour.
Taking part in the tour was Army Staff Sgt. Ralph Cordero, an 11-year veteran who works as an recruiter, hoped that the revitalization plan would help make this area more eco-friendly, thus putting the “green” in Greenville.