Newark has a Dream

"Newark has a Dream"

By Kei-Sygh Thomas

I was honored to be a featured panelist at the Newark City of Learning Collaborative launch at Rutgers-Newark last month. Everyone on my panel grew up in Newark and is now either a student at or a recent graduate of Amherst, Centenary, Drew, Seton Hall, or Rutgers-Newark. We were there to provide advice and encouragement to college-bound students in the audience. 

The Newark City of Learning Collaborative is a new initiative dedicated to raising the percentage of college graduates who live in the city. Currently, 12.5% of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher and 4.5% have an associate’s degree. In other words, only 17% of Newarkians possess more than a high school degree. The NCLC aims to foster collaboration among many Newark organizations to increase the number of four-year degree holders to 25% by 2025. 

Nearly 250 students and representatives of Newark nonprofit groups, businesses, and government and educational organizations gathered to hear about projects designed to help Newark students make the transition from high school to college. The day’s speakers included Junius Williams, Director of the Abbott Leadership Institute, Twinkle Morgan, Executive Director of the Cooperman College Scholars Program, Dale Anglin, Senior Program Officer of the Victoria Foundation, and other city leaders committed to uplifting Newark’s youth. The topics they addressed ranged from after-school college-readiness programs to managing the change from college to the workforce.

Mayor Ras Baraka, the keynote speaker, spoke about how vital education is to creating a better Newark.  For him the future of the city holds promise only if residents, community leaders, and school administrators collaborate to create an environment conducive to safety, learning, and change.  Newark has been known as feeding a school-to-prison pipeline; but he believes that Newark can create a strong school-to-college pipeline instead. With the community, students, and schools working together to forge this new pipeline, Newark may even surpass its goal of a 25% postsecondary degree-holder population by 2025.

What kinds of support do Newark kids need to realize Newark’s dream? Our panel—all first generation minority college students—agreed that emotional as well as financial support are necessary.  We advised college-bound students that they could build confidence in challenging new environments by finding or creating support groups, seeking out mentors, and socializing with other racial and ethnic groups.    

'College access' is a hot topic in the city of Newark. Students and residents are so hopeful and excited about new, positive cultural attitudes toward education. The NCLC is enabling partnerships that will offer more scholarships and college access and readiness programs. College aspirations are growing and spreading. Newark is moving toward its dream.

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Kei-Sygh Thomas is a sophomore at Drew University studying economics and communications. She is an NJ Arts News intern for the spring semester.

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