When I was a child, growing up on Quitman Street in Newark meant any adult could tell any child to straighten up and fly right, should they observe that child in need of such advice. The neighborhood was like an extended family, and people were thankful to have extra sets of eyes and ears to look out for one another as their days got busier and the world around them became more complicated.
Fast forward to 2020, and, while much of Newark has changed, in many ways it is still the tight-knit neighborhood I remember from my childhood. Though we never imagined our world would become as complicated as it has due to the COVID-19 pandemic, from these challenges, new ideas are born. As the CEO of the Newark Downtown District, I am in a unique position, representing private corporations and businesses that have voluntarily funded a number of initiatives over the past 22 years to enhance downtown Newark, ensuring a strong, vibrant, enticing shopping district within the 110 city blocks the NDD manages.
What we have learned through this pandemic is that it’s time for everyone to see what has been here all along: There is only one Newark. We have shifted energies during these challenging times to use NDD resources to feed families throughout Newark. The NDD is reaching out to all corners of the Brick City, using our connections with small businesses and restaurants to deliver food to people who need it.
Newark, at the moment, is one proud neighborhood. And it is a neighborhood we all need to embrace, no matter where we live or who we traditionally serve.
The NDD has proudly launched the “From the Heart” program, where we are asking for donations of any amount. The money is then given to local restaurants to prepare food, which our NDD Ambassadors are pleased to deliver to shelters and senior homes. The benefit of this program is twofold: Every donation helps to keep these struggling neighborhood restaurants in business, while helping Newark residents receive freshly prepared meals. The NDD is committed to facilitating this program as long as we continue to receive generous, tax-deductible donations.
With Memorial Day almost here, and beginning steps to create plans for reopening the city expected to start soon, our yellow-clad Ambassadors are working hard to keep downtown as sterile as possible. This detailed and necessary work calls for our NDD Ambassadors to repetitively and continuously disinfect every light pole, every trash can, and every park bench throughout their entire shifts. I’m proud the NDD has kept on its full-time staff of 40 Ambassadors, because over 85% of them live right here in Newark, and that type of “hometown pride” is especially meaningful when we’re talking about keeping people safe.
This is our space, and the NDD team takes pride in our responsibility to ensure the streets are broom-cleaned, graffiti is remediated, trash is promptly removed, and plants are watered, among other tasks that beautify the downtown and show how much people care. With our street-level view, we know what downtown Newark needs to thrive, as this entire city begins to heal, once again.
As we begin to prepare for a grand reopening, we are eager to build on our successes, as well as find ways to evolve where necessary in order to meet the needs of what may be “the new normal.” No matter what the case may be, the NDD is ready to take on the challenge!
We are proud of our partnership with the city of Newark. Our government leaders — and their ongoing support — are key reasons why we have been successful and remain a pipeline of permanent jobs for city residents. We appreciate their support of our “From the Heart” program and other ways we work to help the entire city.
One vocal supporter is Council President Mildred Crump, recently quoted saying, “NDD has been true to its purpose to create a network of large and small businesses, public works, traffic coordination and public safety initiatives that would benefit the downtown community.”
While we all continue to adjust to these changing times, we hope our message is clear. The NDD remains as dedicated as ever to maintaining a safe, attractive downtown. We will all be together soon, and I promise our Downtown District will be waiting: as big, as bold and as beautiful as ever.
Anthony McMillan is CEO of the Newark Downtown District.