Monday, June 18, 2018

"Union County Kids Dig In!" Community Garden Grant Initiative

At Emerson Community School in Plainfield.
Union County Kids Dig In! is a grant awarded by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders to several schools across the county, given to create community gardens on school sites to teach children how to grow garden vegetables and herbs. On Friday, I stopped by Emerson Community School and Jefferson School, both in Plainfield, to see our kids in action. At both sites, the kids really "dug in" to this wonderful project. A special thank you also goes to Jackie Park Albaum, the Farm and Garden Director at Groundwork Elizabeth, who provided fun gardening lessons! 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

In Memoriam

"It is necessary to constantly remind ourselves that we are not an abomination." 
                                                                    --Marlon Riggs

Two years ago, 49 of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters were gunned down (and dozens of others injured) in a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida , victims of hatred and homo/transphobia. We held a vigil on the steps of city hall to offer prayers and support in the face of horrific violence. Let's just take a moment to remember.

Life's evanescence/
Demands that we love wholly/
And with constancy.

Circled are the faces of two of the youngest victims of the Pulse mass murder--Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22, originally from New Jersey, and 18 year-old Akyra Murray. As I stated two years ago, at the vigil, I cannot right now articulate why they stand out so clearly for me...perhaps because they remind me of my students...may they rest...but still haunt our collective conscience as we fight to end gun violence [and homophobia and transphobia]. 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Tennis, Everyone...the Legendary Donald Van Blake (1921-2018)

Plainfield's last WW II "Buffalo Soldier," 2017.
I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Donald Van Blake, a living legend and one of Plainfield's greatest treasures. Donald (he insisted that I call him by his first name) was a multi-talented man--an educator, beloved coach, wonderful singer, and community advocate. Below is an update of a remembrance that I wrote on the occasion of Donald's 90th birthday party, a fun and swanky celebration at the Antique Castle.

 Back in 2011, I wrote and introduced a resolution honoring Donald Van Blake on the occasion of his 90th birthday and for his contributions to the world of tennis; the resolution a but also for his contributions to civic life in Plainfield. Many Plainfielders who went through the school system knew Donald as their former shop teacher at Hubbard Middle School, but many also know him as one of Plainfield's living legends. 

At his 90th birthday party with lovely Barbara Wallace.

I had met Donald very briefly during the formation of the New Democrats for Plainfield grassroots political club back in 2002, when I worked as a volunteer on the successful city council campaign of his great-nephew, Rayland Van Blake, but I got to know him better when I curated an oral history/photo exhibit called "At the March: Plainfield Remembers," while serving as the Educational Program Coordinator for the Historical Society of Plainfield in 2003. As I interviewed him, I learned a great deal about what Plainfield was like for young African Americans growing up in the 1920s and 30s, and about those who consistently advocated for change. 

Donald with Barbara Wallace & Patty Bender, Fall 2017
As Donald reflected on his growing up in Plainfield, he spoke very frankly and very emotionally about the pain he experienced due to racial segregation. I remember one part of the interview where he explained how it was back then...he became very quiet as he reflected on how he was not allowed to use the pool at the YMCA. I stopped the interview for a moment so that he could collect himself--even seven or more decades later, the hurt and rage he felt still brought tears to his eyes. He went on to state that the "old" Plainfield was what got him involved in community activism, and he worked with the local NAACP (along with other notable Plainfielders at the time) to bring buses down to the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Donald remained involved during the intervening years, working on school desegregation and other civil rights issues.

Earlier in the year of the interview (2003), as a member of New Democrats for Plainfield, Donald was elected as a Democratic Committeeman, serving for 15 years. A few years after that initial interview, Donald contacted me with an idea he had for a civic, sports, and educational complex to be built here in Plainfield. We discussed this idea at great length, and he remained committed to seeing it become a reality. When I decided to run for city council later on, I was honored to have Donald serve as one of my Campaign Chairs.

Teaching tennis. Photo:DVBTEF.
But...most folks knew Donald as the greatest advocate for tennis many of us had ever met..."Tennis, tennis,, everyone!" was his mantra. Donald founded (with the help of the USTA) the Plainfield Tennis Council, which organized community tennis programs through the city of Plainfield. 

Donald's exuberance and energy remained unflagging, and folks may remember him at last year's Memorial Day observance wearing his Buffalo Soldier uniform from World War II--it still fit beautifully. I feel like my life in Plainfield has been made infinitely richer through knowing Donald. 

My deepest condolences go out to Barbara Wallace, to Donald's children and family, and to Clare, Rayland, Gentry, and all the other family members. 

All best,


Monday, May 21, 2018

Memorial Day Pool Opening in Plainfield

Once again, the Plainfield Division of Parks and Recreation will open the Hannah Atkins Pool on Memorial Day weekend, as the division has done in the two previous years.
As noted in the flier below, the pool will be open on weekends, starting Saturday, May 26 from 12 noon - 6:00 pm. Kids will meet the pool mascot, "Finn, the Dolphin!" The other pools, at Seidler Field and Rushmore Park, are being readied for their regularly scheduled openings beginning on Saturday, June 23. On that date and throughout the summer, all three pools will be open daily from 12 noon - 6:00 pm.

The City of Plainfield website has the summer schedule of recreation activities and events, including outdoor movie nights, fishing derbies, free yoga, and more. Click on this link, 
Plainfield Division of Parks and Recreation, to be taken to the page of activities--please remember to check back regularly, as more events will be added throughout the summer.

I would also urge those of you who use Facebook to "Like" Plainfield's official Facebook page, where you can find out about all the events and happenings through our city. Click here: City of Plainfield, NJ - The Queen City

Contact the Division of Parks and Recreation at (908) 753-3097 or email to find out more information. Enjoy a relaxing Memorial Day weekend.



Thursday, May 17, 2018

New Jersey State Bicycle Championships & The Taste of Plainfield

This Sunday, May 20, Plainfield will once again host the New Jersey State Bicycle Championships. In addition, there will be bike giveaways for children. The Taste of Plainfield will feature food from several local restaurants for attendees to enjoy, and the will be games and activities for children. The festivities begin at 9:00 am on the steps of Plainfield City Hall, located at 515 Watchung Avenue. I look forward to seeing you there! Check out the fliers for more info!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Donate to The Homeless Period at Livay's Sweet Shop This Weekend!

It's 2018, and Stacey Welch, owner of LiVay's Sweet Shop, will once again be sponsoring "The Homeless Period" collection drive of sanitary napkins and other feminine products for donation to those in need. The drive begins tomorrow, Saturday, May 5, and continues through Sunday, May 6. Complete information is posted below, and on the flier at right. Stacey has led several successful drives in the past, including drives for donations of coats and socks. As I also noted last year, I have written about the issue of the homeless period in the past--as you know, tampons and sanitary napkins are expensive and not usually listed as toiletry items, per se. Yet, they are among the most-needed items by women and girls in shelters. Once again, give thanks to Stacey and her team for being exemplary and outstanding community service partners, and make sure that you donate these much-needed items this weekend! And while you're there, support local business by purchasing some of Livay's delicious confections! Here is the link to Livay's Facebook page: LiVay's on Facebook

Below is more information about the drive:
"For homeless women, it really is that dreaded time of the month. With limited or no access to sanitary products, they're often forced to go without. This initiative believes that tampons and towels should be made available through homeless shelters, the same way the government provides condoms. LiVay Sweet Shop is collecting Unopened Boxes of Sanitary Napkins Tampons and Feminine Wipes Saturday May 5th and Sunday May 6th 2018 All Sanitary items collected will be dropped off at different locations in the city of Plainfield and surrounding areas Drop off at LiVay Sweet Shop Plainfield 104B Watchung Ave Plainfield NJ 07060 908.755.1313 908.322.CAKE (2253)"

Saturday, April 28, 2018

New Resident Bus Tour: Saturday, May 5

The Plainfield Division of Parks and Recreation will be hosting a free bus tour for new residents of Plainfield. As longtime residents already know, Plainfield is chock full of interesting things to do and see. This tour invites new residents to partake of all that Plainfield has to offer, with the tour including our parks and their amenities, our historic districts, local landmarks, and historic sites, including the Drake House Museum (one of Union County's Four Centuries sites), which is administered by the Historical Society of Plainfield.* Although the tour is free, you must call Recreation at (908) 753-3097 to make a reservation, as seating is limited. Gift bags and light refreshments will be provided.

*Disclaimer: I used to serve as the society's Educational Program Coordinator, so I am quite partial to the museum!