From a child in arms of Newark’s first African-American mayor, here’s Ras Baraka’s own mayoral journey

Photo of former Newark Mayor Ken Gibson holding current Newark Mayor Ras Baraka as a child via @AlumniNJIT

The Akans of Ghana say, if the play will be a hit, its shows signs early on. This adage couldn’t hold more meaning for current Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Ras Jua Baraka.

In the profile photo, we see little Baraka in the arms of the first African-American Mayor of Newark NJ, Kenneth Gibson. And some argue that encounter set him on the path of also becoming mayor years on.

Gibson was a Democratic Party politician, who served as the 36th Mayor of Newark, New Jersey from 1970 to 1986. He was the first African-American elected mayor of any major city in the Northeastern United States. He passed on March 29, 2019.

The current mayor, Ras J. Baraka, is the son of poet, educator and activist Amiri and Amina Baraka.

Born on April 9, 1970, he is an educator, author and politician, who became the 40th mayor of Newark. He won the Newark mayoral election on May 13, 2014 in a keenly contested election winning re-election in the 2018 mayoral race. He was previously a member of the Municipal Council of Newark and the principal of the city’s Central High School.

But Baraka had his sights set on the mayoral seat as early as 1994, when as a 24-year-old, he ran his first campaign for mayor albeit unsuccessfully.

With his late sister, Shani Baraka being fatally shot in 2003, it appears Baraka’s resolve for his city to be safe, productive and competitive was heightened.  He dedicated his collection of poems Black Girls Learn Love Hard to her.

As one whose family has lived in the city for more than 70 years, Mayor Baraka’s progressive approach to governance has won him accolades from grassroots organizations and other bodies.

In his first term, he was hailed for reducing crime to its lowest levels in five decades, lowered unemployment and returned local control of schools after more than two decades.

He also collaborated with partners in rolling out a new communications network of sidewalk kiosks that provided residents and visitors with free gigabit Wi-Fi, free phone calls, and access to municipal services and real-time local information on city streets at no cost to taxpayers or users.

Mayor Baraka’s plan to transform Newark’s economy by combining employment, procurement, and residential strategies has been hailed by many organizations.

When he defied the president’s directive targeting immigrants by opening up Newark as a sanctuary city, it solidified his status as one of the country’s most progressive elected officials.

Ras J. Baraka.jpg
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. Photo courtesy of Tony Turner, Montclair Film Festival

In addressing the threat of novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the City of Newark, Mayor Baraka announced a series of sweeping measures including minimal staffing at City Hall, and offering services by appointment only, as well as banning of crowds of more than 50 people.

While police, fire, sanitation, healthcare, WIC, water and homeless services continue to function normally, all public, private, and parochial schools have been closed indefinitely.

“Newark is strong – we will get through this – but we must work together,” Baraka stated.

He is also a published author and well-regarded in the entertainment industry for his appearance on the Grammy-award winning album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” as the narrator of several interludes on the album.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: April 19, 2020


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