Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Silence STILL = Death: Be Vocal About HIV/AIDS in Plainfield

There were several moments during the Plainfield City Council’s agenda session and special meeting this past Monday evening (December 27, 2010) that puzzled me—including Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs’s two attempts (in violation of the law) to have the videographer stop the recording of the meeting/edit the record. 

I want to mention just one of those moments. At one point during the meeting, the mayor stated that her reason for wanting the camera stopped was so that she could provide those of us in the room with the statistics on current rates of HIV/AIDS infection in Plainfield. Why this public information would be deemed too delicate for the sensibilities of Plainfielders who watch the meetings on PCTV is beyond me. 

Remember the “Silence=Death” slogan from the 1980s and 1990s? It was very effective—the focus was on being LOUD about HIV/AIDS. What the mayor should have done, in my view, was not only make her comments ON CAMERA, but put those stats on the city’s website, sound the clarion, and even record a PSA on the alarming rates of infection among our population—frankly, it’s not too late to do so.

The time for delicate sensibilities is over—we need to be vocal, especially since Plainfield is one of the top ten cities in the numbers of HIV/AIDS cases reported in New Jersey. I work in Newark, where the rates of HIV/AIDS are astronomical; indeed, in the United States,it is the leading cause of death of black women aged 25-34 years. At Essex County College, where I teach and also serve as a member of the Urban Issues Institute’s Steering Committee (along with Plainfield’s own Christian Estevez), the Institute hosted an HIV/AIDS Awareness Week during the first week of December (World AIDS Day is December 1). 

Folks got tested, educational materials were distributed, we screened documentary filmmaker Cyrille Phipps’s Seen But Not Heard: AIDS, Sexual Politics, and the Untold War Against Black Women, and seminars and forums were held at the college throughout the week. We have done similar events at ECC in the past, partnering with other organizations located in Newark and Essex County.  

In Plainfield, it would have been great to have at least held an observance of World AIDS Day, some sort of acknowledgment of the suffering, and a commitment to increasing awareness, especially among our young people, among whose population we have seen the fastest rising rates of infection.  Well, although World AIDS Day has passed, we have another opportunity to get it right in Plainfield. 

Monday, February 7, 2011 is Black AIDS Awareness Day—observed during Black History Month—but certainly not precluding the idea of raising awareness among all ethnicities in the nation. I would like to propose that the city and the school district hold a formal observance of this day, and educate our young people on prevention, as well as offering information for those who are living with HIV/AIDS, as well as those who are or will be caregivers. 

Here are the statistics on HIV/AIDS in Plainfield, New Jersey from the state’s IMPACT (Intensive Mobilization to Promote AIDS Awareness through Community-based Technologies) Initiative (as of December 31, 2009). The IMPACT Initiative is “… a city-by-city community mobilization initiative designed to galvanize and support African American leaders to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in cities with the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS.” (from the NJDHSS web site)

If the mayor has numbers/statistics more alarming than these, I think it behooves her to disseminate them as widely as possible and as quickly as possible. Silence still equals death.
Below are some links to additional information on HIV/AIDS.

All best,


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Help Those in Need This Holiday Season

The Soup Kitchen, ca. 1937
Norman Wilfred Lewis (American, 1909­1979)
Lithograph; Sheet; 21 1/2 x 17 1/4 in. (54.6 x 43.8 cm)
Image: 15 1/2 x 11 1/8 (39.4 x 28.3 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Gift of Reba and Dave Williams, 1999 (1999.529.118)

Dear friends,

This promises to be an extra-tough season for those who are finding it difficult to make ends meet. We can help. Here is a list of food pantries in Plainfield--it is only a partial list, as many other organizations also provide food for those in need. In addition, as you can see, there is a need for other kinds of assistance--providing toiletries, transportation, and so forth. Please try to help as much as you can. Click on the link below for more food pantries in Union County. 

All best this holiday season,


New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition - Food Pantries - Union County



Site: 600 Cleveland Avenue, Plainfield, NJ 07060
Phone: 908-756-1520
Hours: open last five days of every month (except Sundays): 11:30am-1pm
Contact: Mary Jo Buck
This site provides a soup kitchen.
Food Needs: any kind of food
Volunteer Needs: driver with car to pick up supplies, occasional help in food preparation and serving
Volunteer Requirements: age 15 and over
Special Needs: toiletries, laundry soaps, used clothing


Site: 905 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, NJ 07060
Mail: P.O. Box 569, Plainfield, NJ 07060
Phone: 908-753-4001 x13 (Ellen McGovern, Executive Director)
Phone: 908-753-4001C x16 (Brenda Myrick)
Phone: 908-753-4001 x12 (Amy Van Pelt)
Phone: 908-753-4001 x20 (Susan Oldroyd-Laffler)
Hours: Office - Mon-Fri: 9am-5pm
Contact: Brenda L. Myrick
This site provides a shelter at a network of congregations in Union County, transitional housing, rental assistance, child care, a camp, education, budget management, and advocacy.
Volunteer Needs: committee members - Call Amy Van Pelt for details.
Volunteer Requirements: Call Amy Van Pelt for details.
Special Needs: funding and other needs; Call Susan Oldroyd-Laffler for details.


Site: 518 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, NJ 07060
Phone: 908-756-6060
Hours: Office – 9am-4pm
Shelter - 24/7
Contact: Teresa McCoy
This site provides an emergency shelter.
Food Needs: breakfast and dinner foods
Volunteer Needs: need for churches and other groups to prepare meals and serve to residents
Volunteer Requirements: Contact site.
Special Needs: Contact Teresa.


Site: 615 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, NJ 07060
Phone: 908-756-2595
Hours: some holiday closings – Contact site.
Office – 9am-4pm
Food Pantry: Tues & Thurs: 9:30-11:30am & 1-2:30pm
Soup Kitchen: Mon-Fri: 12-12:45pm
Contact: Captain Henry Thibault, Donald Nichols
This site provides a food pantry, a soup kitchen, church services in English and Spanish, and referral to alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs.
Food Needs: non-perishables and perishables
Volunteer Needs: office assistance, servers, clean-up, packers
Volunteer Requirements: age 18 and older
Special Needs: storage space, monetary donations, restaurant supply equipment, microwave, paper goods


Site: 631 East Front St., Plainfield, NJ 07060
Mail: P.O. Box 2822, Plainfield, NJ 07062
Phone: 908-755-8888
Contact: Lynda Stanbach or Edna Shanok
Food Needs: non-perishables
Volunteer Needs: food packers, drivers
Volunteer Requirements: license for drivers
Special Needs: cash donations for perishables and transportation for food

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Once More, With Feeling

To Whom It May Concern:
"Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by the thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be lied to. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery."
--Octavia E. Butler
No more room for cowardice, equivocation, or avoidance.
Stand and deliver. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My Pledge to You: Ethical Leadership for Change in Plainfield

"Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by the thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be lied to. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery."--Octavia E. Butler
The above quote was re-posted as a special request!
I am writing to offer my humble thanks to the Rebecca Williams for Council Campaign Team, to the New Democrats for Plainfield, and to the Second and Third Ward voters of Plainfield for your support in this year's election. Unofficially, I received 4,426 votes compared to my Republican opponent, who received 780. Once the official results are posted by the county clerk, those numbers may change a bit.  

OFFICIAL RESULTS (Union County Clerk): 
Rebecca 4,590
Jim           842
I want to thank Jim Pivnichny, a gentleman and a scholar, for being a worthy opponent. Jim lives in my neighborhood and, although we do not share the same political ideology on many issues, he has demonstrated his love for our city time and time again through his community volunteerism and continued advocacy for ethical leadership and transparency in government. I know that he will continue to be speak out on the issues of most concern to Plainfield and, now, as one of my constituents, I am beholden to him as well as the rest of the Second Ward and Third Ward residents of our great city. 

I want to congratulate my friend, Freeholder-Elect Linda Carter, on winning her seat on the county freeholder board. Linda bested the other freeholder candidates, due to Plainfielders coming out and supporting her. I directed Linda's very first campaign back in 2003 when she successfully ran for the 1st and 4th Ward At-large council seat running off-the-line as a New Democrat for Plainfield. It was fun being on the ballot with her this time around--go, Linda! I also want to congratulate First Ward Councilman William Reid on his re-election as well. I look forward to working with Bill and the other councilors to move the city forward.

Sincere thanks go as well to Second Ward Councilman Cory Storch and Third Ward Councilman and New Democrats for Plainfield President Adrian Mapp. These two councilors stood firmly behind me from the day I announced my candidacy, through the rigorous primary campaign, and on through to the general election. Their strong, unwavering, and sincere support clearly illustrated their commitment to moving Plainfield in the right direction. I look forward to working with them drafting progressive legislation for the benefit of our city.

I want to thank all my neighbors and friends for your help during the fall campaign season. Those of you who know me know that I LOVE knocking on doors and meeting residents. Unfortunately, with the shortened days of autumn, along with a very demanding fall teaching schedule, I was unable to canvass as much as I did this past spring. However, I remain committed to grassroots activism, and I will continue to visit block association meetings, events, and as many other community activities as I can, as well as to advocate on behalf of my constituents from my council seat beginning in January of 2011.

I want to thank my campaign team, especially Paul, Carmencita, Dorothy, Donald, Nat, Frank, Liz, Dan, Inez, Christian, Rick, Jeanette, Kieran, Carol B., Carol A-L., Siddeeq, Amelia, Linden, Carrie, Bobby, Shep, Nat B., Joylette, and the other dozen or so volunteers who helped canvass the Second and Third Wards on behalf of myself, Column A, and especially Congressman Frank Pallone.

I also want to thank ALL the folks who came out to vote last week. Plainfield DELIVERED on November 2, on the local, county, and state level! Plainfield delivered the plurality of votes for Congressman Frank Pallone in this year's election. Out of a roughly 15,000 vote victory over his Republican (so-called "Tea Party") opponent, Plainfield ALONE contributed about 8,000 of those votes--we must make sure that our representatives keep that bit of information in the forefront of their minds! 

Finally, I want to make sure that everyone understands that my service on the Plainfield City Council will be focused on good government. We are all aware of the issues facing Plainfield, and my pledge to you is that I will do my best to make sure that Plainfield residents receive a proper accounting of where our tax money has gone for the past few years; that Plainfield passes the strongest municipal pay-to-play reform ordinance possible; that Plainfield ends political cronyism and opens true competitive bidding for all public contracts--which will save taxpayers money; and that I will offer honest and ethical leadership. I take my role very seriously, and I hope to prove that in the coming years. Thank you again--I have great confidence in you, Plainfield, and I hope that I can inspire your confidence in me as your new elected official in 2011.

All best,


Sunday, October 31, 2010


Tuesday, November 2nd, is Election Day. President Obama is under attack, and he needs our help. The so-called "Tea Party" Republicans are trying to derail the Democratic reform agenda. Our Congressman, Frank Pallone, is one of President Obama's strongest allies in the House. We have to keep Congress Democratic, but we can only do this if YOU come out to vote. Plainfield is crucial to Rep. Pallone's victory, as we all know. We need folks to come out. Our great city showed its support for the President two years ago--this year, your support for our congressman is how you can show that you still support President Obama.

I am urging you to vote for Frank Pallone for Congress--he is at the top of the Column A ticket. I am also on the ballot, running in Column A for the 2nd and 3rd Ward At-large city council seat. 

Please don't forget to read and vote on the ballot measure, the "New Jersey Wage Assessment Amendment," (Public Question 1). I am urging you to vote YES on this question!

I would also like to invite you to join me, along with my campaign team, friends, and supporters, along with my special guests Councilman Cory Storch and Councilman Adrian Mapp, at the New Democrats Headquarters (110 East 7th Street) as we watch the election returns come in. We will be gathering at about 7:30 pm with food, drink, music, and camaraderie as we await the election results.

All best,


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fall Library Grounds Clean-Up: Community Service

On a beautiful autumn day last weekend, a group of community volunteers got together and performed a clean-up of the Plainfield Public Library exterior grounds. We met on the steps outside the library and focused on the parking lots at the 8th and 9th Street entrances and the rest of the grounds surrounding the building. With the help of many community volunteers, we were able to get the area cleaned in a little over an hour. Below are photos of some of the folks who came out to help.

In addition, I want to make another plug for the "Library Champion" initiative--here is the link once again:

Many thanks to Cricket, Jim, Julie, Shari, Tom, Tressa, Adrian, Craig, Jon, Lamar, Tony, Cory, Joan, Piv, and Carmencita and the girls! 


Monday, October 4, 2010

Library Grounds Community Clean Up Saturday, October 9

Library Grounds Community Clean Up

Saturday, October 9, 2010, 10 am – 12 pm

Volunteers Meet on Library Steps at 9:45 am

Gloves, rakes, bags will be provided

Contact: Rebecca Williams
Tel: 908-447-6268; Email:
Hey, Plainfield residents! It's that time again! The Community Service Team of the New Democrats for Plainfield club will be leading the fall volunteer library grounds clean up this coming Saturday, October 9th, beginning at 10:00 am.* All interested residents are welcome to join as as we beautify the grounds by removing the litter, raking, and and sweeping. 
We will meet on the steps outside the library at 9:45 am to clean the areas around our wonderful library--the parking lots at the 8th and 9th Street entrances, respectively, and the rest of the grounds surrounding the building. If enough folks join us, we should have the areas spic-n-span in just a couple of hours! 
In addition, if you haven't already done so, you can sign up to be a "Library Champion" and show your support Here is the link to the Plainfield Public Library's new initiative:

Come out and support YOUR library!
All best,
*It's supposed to be a beautiful autumn day, but in case of heavy rain, we will reschedule!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cory Storch, an Exemplar of Public Service in Plainfield's 2nd Ward

Just one day after making a plea for unity and asking that “we all work together,” words from Assemblyman Jerry Green at the vigil marking the 2nd anniversary of the closing of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, he published yet another blog post attacking Second Ward Councilman Cory Storch, both as Executive Director of Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services and as a councilman here in Plainfield. It is characteristic of Assemblyman Green to smear his political opponents (as he apparently characterizes Cory, a fellow Democrat!), but this time, he has gone too far in his attempts to distort Cory’s excellent record as a mental health professional by publishing a letter from a constituent whose course of action would be better served by contacting the EEOC with claims of unjust treatment by a former employer.

I have known Cory for about 10 years, and he is honest, ethical, and caring. I served as his campaign manager in his first successful general election back in 2003, and I got to know him very well. His insights and knowledge of Plainfield, along with his desire to serve, are what gave me the impetus to work with him and try as hard as I could to get him elected.

Cory and other New Democrats (myself included) are used to these specious, baseless attacks by the assemblyman, but I feel the need to set the record straight on the Cory Storch that I know. Cory has often been lauded for his work as Bridgeway’s ED, and rightly so. The supportive housing that Bridgeway promotes is the kind of housing that works—I know this because I know many mental health professionals. The lame attempts by the assemblyman at racial and class divisiveness are so transparent that I cannot imagine why he would continue to make them in the age of Obama.

Cory’s dedication to making Plainfield a better place for all of us is clear in his former service on the school board, in his community work and support for many of Plainfield’s boards and commissions, and in his role as the Second Ward council representative. When my constituents (I am an elected Democratic committeewoman in the Second Ward and serve also as Second Ward Leader of the Plainfield Democratic City Committee) and other Plainfield residents have an issue—code enforcement, speeding, trash pick-up, dead trees, crime, etc.—Cory has been accessible and helpful in directing them to the right city agency to correct their problem. He is reform-minded and progressive, and that is why I continue to support him.

Cory is the councilman who brought the visioning study to Plainfield—in addition, he is the one who continues to advocate for LEEDS, and he is very involved in improving the quality of life for Second Ward residents—regardless of political persuasion (including those who are not voters). The assemblyman ought to take a look at the demographics of the Second Ward—I have—like the other wards, the Second Ward also contains a majority of black residents. When Cory and I were out canvassing this spring for my primary election campaign, we once again spoke to many of these residents, many of whom Cory has known for a couple of decades. They support him, and with his endorsement, they also supported me.So, when Assemblyman Green uses coded words to appeal to race, he is demonstrating profound ignorance of his own ward—yes, Assemblyman Green lives in the Second Ward as well and, ironically, he, too, benefits from Cory’s leadership in our ward.

I am excited at the possibility of joining Cory and the other progressive voices on the city council—if he chooses to run for re-election next year, he can count on my support once again, along with the support of our fellow Democrats in the Second Ward.

All best,


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Remembering Octavia E. Butler, and "Speculations" on Leadership in Plainfield

"I have a huge and savage conscience that won't let me get away with things."      --Octavia E. Butler
June 22 was the birthday of the late  Octavia E. Butler (1947- February 24, 2006). In addition to being a brilliant writer and one of the first African American authors to make a name for herself in speculative fiction (aka science fiction), Butler was also a feminist, a lesbian, and a humanist. I know that many of you have probably read her most famous works, The Parable of the Sower, The Parable of the Talents and, of course, Kindred, among other works. If you have ever read Butler, you know that she is truly unforgettable. The above quote is my MOST FAVORITE quote by her, and one that guides my life (or at least I would like to think so).
In the wake of the recent Democratic primary election and of what some also are viewing as an ongoing crisis of leadership in Plainfield, I also have been thinking about what it means to be a leader--Butler's writing on leadership seem particularly apropos--I hope that as we all move into what Oswald Chambers would call "the invincible future" together (this year, next year, and beyond!), Plainfielders will keep these words in the forefront of their minds:
"Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by the thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be lied to. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery." 
--from The Parable of the Talents
I will be out canvassing again (for the fall general election) after the July 4th holiday weekend to catch up to the 2nd and 3rd Ward voters I missed during the primary, and I will keep the above words in mind.  I am excited about continuing the conversation about Plainfield with you and sharing my ideas about how to move our city forward.
All best,

Friday, May 21, 2010

Relay for Life: I Am Walking with a Purpose

Tomorrow, Plainfield will be participating in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life annual event at Hub Stine Field (Woodland Avenue and Randolph Road). I will be relaying as part of the New Democrats for Plainfield Club Team, along with many other residents. I will be walking on behalf of three individuals who lost their lives to cancer. 

My dad, Richard Williams, lost his life to renal cancer back in 1985 at the age of 54. He suffered tremendously, albeit briefly. To honor his battle, as well as the struggle of my family and his other loved ones to carry on is spite of such a great loss, I will be walking for him. Although my dad died 25 years ago, and treatments for the type of cancer he had have improved since then, renal cancer is still devastating and deadly. I miss him every single day of my life. 

My dad was a jazz musician, a trumpet player, who played in a number of bands--he was a member of Mingus's innovative band in the early 1960s, as well as the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, and those of Clark Terry, Lionel Hampton, Yusef Lateef, and others. He made over 500 recordings--but only one under his own name, titled New Horn in Town, considered a classic by jazz buffs. 

I treasure the fact that his legacy lives on today. I have captured video of his playing days in vintage clips on YouTube, and many recordings he played on are available for download. In addition, just the other day, as I was out canvassing for my political campaign, I met a jazz musician in the Second Ward who had played with Lionel Hampton for ten years--he knew my dad! I have provided a link to the Wikipedia entry on my dad: Richard Williams, Jazz Trumpeter

I will also be walking for Al McWilliams and Jo-Ann Sloane, two dear friends who were very well known to Plainfield, and who were loved and are missed by us all. I will be walking and remembering Al the friend, husband, father, and Jo-Ann--friend, sister, aunt,  daughter.

In addition to the walk, I have partnered with GreenFaith, a non-profit interfaith organization whose mission is to inspire, educate, and mobilize people of diverse backgrounds for environmental leadership.  GreenFaith has a strong environmental justice focus as well, believing that "all people deserve a healthy environment, regardless of their race or income." Partnering with other groups and organizations that focus on sustainability is part of what GreenFaith does. 

President Obama has asked us all to do what we can to lower our carbon footprint, and toward that end, we will be giving away FREE energy-efficient light bulbs under our tent on behalf of GreenFaith. These 60-watt light bulbs last for nine years and use four times less energy than standard light bulbs, so I hope you will stop by our tent to pick up your free light bulbs. These bulbs are one way to help the city--Plainfield can show its commitment to sustainability! We will have light bulbs for everyone who stops by, and those in attendance will also be invited to sign up for a free energy audit of their homes. Here is a link to GreenFaith's web site so that you can learn more about them. GreenFaith: Interfaith Partners for the Environment

I hope to see you all at the Relay--we all know that "cancer never sleeps," but all work hard to put it to rest permanently!

All best,


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Plainfield Public Library Clean Up

Yesterday, a bunch of us got together and picked up, raked, and swept the exterior grounds of the Plainfield Public Library--we collected about 15 large bags of trash and debris from the hedges and parking lots--food waste, paper garbage, bottles, cigarette stubs, fast-food containers--you name it, we found it! The library belongs to all of us, my dear Plainfield family, so we must treat it with the respect, care, and concern that it deserves. Library Director Joe DaRold sent this message of thanks to us yesterday afternoon: 

Dear Rebecca, 
Please thank your hard-working crew (including yourself) for the fabulous job they did on the library clean up. I can't tell you how much I appreciate the support from all of you.



Many thanks to Will, Cricket, Dr. Lewis, Adrian, Jim, Gabby, Carmen, Paul, Genevieve, Lamar, Carrie, Gigi, Amelia, Alan, and all the other volunteers who came out last weekend and this weekend to help with the cleanup of the Plainfield Public Library, our city's MOST TREASURED resource! On Sunday, May 15, our collective efforts over the course of 3 hours resulted in a cleaner, more attractive welcome to the library. Here are just a couple of photos--I will post more in the coming days!

3rd Ward Councilman Adrian Mapp works with two of Plainfield's youngest volunteers to clean the Plainfield Public Library's exterior grounds.

Rebecca, Adrian, Cricket Cardozo, and Genevieve work on the front grounds of the Library.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Happy Birthday to Dear Jo Jo

Today, May 7th, marks the birthday of our dear friend, Jo-Ann Sloane, known affectionately as "our JoJo," who passed away a little over two years ago, on February 3, 2008. For the past three years, whenever this day arrives, I take an extra moment to reflect on JoJo. I think she is smiling down right now at the fact that I am now in the midst of the Democratic primary fray myself--I am sure she would have a lot to say, with her amazingly sharp wit.

This past March,  the lobby of the Plainfield Area YMCA was renamed in JoJo's honor, and a dedication ceremony was held at which her commitment to the Y(where she helped coordinate homeless services) was honored. In addition, Jo-Ann worked as a patient advocate at Lyons VA Hospital, where she was much-beloved, and she contributed tirelessly to grassroots activities and events in Plainfield.

JoJo was also a founding member of the New Democrats for Plainfield, where she worked to help build our grassroots movement, becoming a "sister" in the extended political family of New Dems throughout our city. She also served as Al McWilliams's longtime treasurer, and helped coordinate all our political events, as well as other community events. 

Another side of JoJo was her artistic, creative side. Back in May of 2005, JoJo, Carol Anderson-Lewis, Will Jones, poet Hubert Reeder, and I, along with some other volunteers, got together to produce the hugely successful Plainfield Poetry Festival (Young Voices in Verse), co-sponsored by Plainfield United and the Plainfield Area YMCA. Al McWilliams delivered a proclamation commemorating the event, and nationally-renowned poet Eugene Redmond (Poet Laureate of East St. Louis) came and read some of his work. Afterward, Professor Redmond had all the young poets sign a huge (about 3 feet long!) birthday card that he would be presenting to his dear friend, Dr. Maya Angelou, whose birthday it was.

After the prizes were awarded in the various age categories for the students, JoJo presented flowers to our own guest poet, Taraka Gilbert, whom we named as "poet laureate" of Plainfield for that year. JoJo, who also wrote poetry (and recited spontaneous verse on occasion), was  incredibly pleased at the turnout for the event, where young poets from the Plainfield Public Schools read their work while their parents looked on proudly. That was a shining moment in Plainfield.

When Dan Damon wrote a blog post back in March about the dedication of the Y Lobby to Jo-Ann, I posted a comment, which I would like to re-post here. It captures well, I think, the compassion that Jo-Ann extended to all her friends, family, co-workers, and political family. 

I also attended the YMCA dedication to our dear Jo-Ann. As the guitarist sang "You've Got a Friend," I remembered back to November 2004 when, the day after the re-election of George W. Bush, Jo-Ann took me out to dinner. I was emotionally drained by the joy of seeing Ray Blanco (whose political campaign I managed) elected as the city's first Latino and first openly gay councilman, as well as the despair about the re-election of George W. Bush. I was quite teary and emotional about the escalation of the war in Iraq, and was just inconsolable, or so I thought. 

Jo-Ann, whose life work was dedicated to veterans, talked to me soothingly for a couple of hours over dinner, giving me an insightful perspective on the awful suffering of the soldiers and veterans, and the challenges that they faced upon their return home. Her compassion and deep sense of caring was evident, and it made me understand why she was so loved and esteemed by her VA compatriots. 

Of course, later on in our own friendship, the old Jo-Ann kicked in, and she called me a crybaby forever after when we recalled it. I didn't mind it, coming from her, because the affection and warmth that accompanied her teasing still came through. It was wonderful seeing her dear friends like Cookie, Carol, Roni, and others at the service. 

I miss her every day.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Going Back, Back, Back to My Roots!

African American girl, full-length portrait, seated on stool, facing slightly right. Photo by Thomas E. Askew. From Types of American Negroes, compiled and prepared by W.E.B. Du Bois, v. 1, no. 59. Part of the Paris Exposition of 1900.

Today, I want to get back to "my roots," so to speak, in terms of blogging on humanities-related topics. In addition to my primary campaign activities, many of you know that I am also teaching a summer literature course titled "Major African American Writers." For the summer session, we will be examining the black intellectual tradition of radicalism, rebellion, and protest through the writings and speeches of authors such as David Walker, Henry Highland Garnet, Frances E.W. Harper, Lucy Parsons, W.E.B. Dubois, Richard Wright, Ralph Waldo Ellison, Paul Robeson, Lorraine Hansberry, Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Marlon Riggs, Angela Davis, and others. 

In addition, we will be reading a total of four novels--two from the 19th century antebellum era, and two from the 20th century: Frederick Douglass's 1855 work, The Heroic Slave (the only novel Douglass ever published), Harriet E. Wilson's 1859 novel, Our Nig, 1929's Passing, by Harlem Renaissance era author Nella Larsen, and Toni Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye, published in 1970 during the height of the Black Arts Movement.
The two antebellum works are available as e-texts--here are links to each:

At the end of this month, when we read Nella Larsen's Passing, which deals with racial passing and cultural identity, among other things, we will be watching selected scenes from relevant films as part of our discussion.

What follows are two scenes from the film adaptations of novelist Fannie Hurst's Imitation of Life (clip misspells "imitation"). The first version, made in 1934, stars African American performers Louise Beavers (Delilah) and Fredi Washington (Peola) as the mother and daughter, respectively. The second adaptation, filmed in 1959, features Juanita Moore (playing the Delilah character, here named Annie) as the long-suffering mother, and Susan Kohner (renamed Sarah Jane) as her daughter. Interestingly, Susan Kohner is a white actress passing as a black woman passing as a white woman in this version.

Imitation of Life, 1934. Delilah (Louise Beavers) and Peola (Fredi Washington).

Imitation of Life, 1959. Annie (Juanita Moore) and Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner).

All best,


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Why I Love Plainfield: My Community

May Day, 2010 - Hanging out at Opening Day of the
Queen City Baseball League!

Rebecca with Amelia Mapp and Queen City Baseball League supporters
Genevieve, & Gabrielle

Rebecca with Nancy Jordan at Queen City Baseball League Opening Day
"A League for All"

Not quite 92 in the shade, but close!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Library Park and Grounds Community Clean Up Saturday, May 8

Library Park and Grounds Community Clean Up

Saturday, May 8, 2010, 10 am – 3 pm

Volunteers Meet at Fountain at 9:45 am

Gloves, rakes, bags will be provided

Contact: Rebecca Williams
Tel: 908-447-6268; Email:
The Plainfield Public Library is a community treasure, and many of you know that I champion the library and its resources all the time. Unfortunately, those of us who regularly use the library and who are its advocates remain dismayed by the lack of concern on the part of our elected officials regarding its exterior grounds. In addition, unprecedented funding cuts have been made at this most critical time for Plainfield’s residents, who depend on the library for Internet access and community meetings.
I used to live right up the street from the library, as you know, and although I no longer use it as often as before (3-4 times a week--lol!), I continue to be a regular patron. I think that the poor condition of the exterior grounds provides a clue to the city's ill-thought priorities. In addition, the disproportionate cuts to the library's budget demonstrate this even more so. The library is at the center of Plainfield, and those of us who use it regularly champion its resources to all of our friends both inside and outside of the city. The Friends of the Plainfield Public Library volunteer organization does a great job as well at raising charitable contributions.
The real problem, in my view, is that not enough pressure has been brought to bear on the powers-that-be in the administration and on the council to redirect their priorities toward protecting and enhancing the cultural institutions that are the life-blood of any city.
When I went to the last two events at the library, the performance of "The Meeting," and the Jean Mattson photo exhibit, I was struck by how great the interior of the library looked (under the direction of Joe DaRold and staff) in comparison with the exterior.
Residents pay for services here—I know that I expect that my taxes go to pay to keep our parks clean and free from blight—gang tags, broken lights, beer bottles, empty cigarette packs, and other litter. Aside from that, though, there is a larger problem of community involvement in not allowing this kind of deterioration to occur in the first place.
The lack of concern for the area around the library speaks to a larger problem having to do with our city's overall appearance. To that end, I will be leading a community clean-up of Library Park and its grounds on Saturday, May 8th, from 10 am to 3 pm.  Volunteers will gather at the fountain at 9:45 am and we will get to work!  
I would caution, however: our grassroots efforts to beautify the city should not be viewed as a way for elected officials to abdicate the responsibilities of their respective offices, as many have done with regard to the appearance of the city outside of their own comfort areas. The larger question of community apathy is a more difficult one to address—I will be posting my thoughts on that topic over the coming weeks.
All best,

Monday, April 19, 2010

BOE Elections: Thoughts

I have been thinking about this year’s school board election all weekend. Some of you already know that I have resigned from my officer role on the League of Women Voters of Plainfield, as well as from my service in helping to prepare forums. I will remain a member, but I can no longer constrain myself from openly supporting the individuals whom I think will best work on the issues facing our district. My choices may not win, but they are my choices. 

I have shared my thoughts on this election with all the candidates collectively as well as individually, and I have told them that I look forward to working with everyone on the goal of making the schools and the city better. I figured, though, that I would pull everything together and do a little blog post for my tiny subscription base (I think there are 35 of you—lol). I will also make a personal phone call on behalf of those whom I support, as is the right of every citizen. Here are my thoughts, edited and modified from the correspondence and commentary from this weekend:

During this election, I served as a volunteer to fill in for the vacant "Voter Service" seat by taking the lead role in organizing and putting together the forum. I remained impartial throughout, in observance of league protocol. I am a private citizen again, and am happy to have my life back. I had hoped that the league forum would allow all interested voters to focus on the issues, not on the personalities.

The climate of this year's school board campaign is unprecedented--actually, I do remember that when one candidate was running a few years ago, a really nasty anonymous flyer appeared attacking him and another candidate—it was really ugly stuff. I thought I had seen it all.

This year, too, my character has been attacked--hate mail is ugly and frightening, and if any of you have ever received it, you know what I am talking about. One candidate did share with me that she had been verbally attacked and has also received hate mail. Another candidate said that this has been quite a learning process, but that she is committed to running again.

I don't know completely where all this anger is coming from, but we need to bring it all down a level. I know that candidates cannot control everything that their partisans do on their behalf and perhaps without their knowledge, but they all bear some responsibility for the overall tone of a campaign. Plainfield resident Alan Goldstein likened the invective to the "tea party" attacks on our president and his supporters.

In all my years on the league, I have only been publicly (verbally) attacked once, by someone for whom the words "New Democrat" are anathema. Aside from that, I have been able to just delete the vicious and anonymous commentary I have received for taking my positions.

I was not originally planning to publicly advocate on behalf of any candidates, but when I see people whom I respect (and with whom I have worked for years on other issues of dire importance to our city) smeared and dragged through the mud in a local school board election, I simply have to set the record straight. I refuse to be intimidated by vicious, anonymous individuals.

Some of the candidates who are running this year have never run for local office before, and I have a feeling that if they knew that they would be the subject of anonymous attacks on their character, they would not have filed petitions--and that is a sad commentary. It will be harder for folks to want to get involved next year.

I requested that the candidates let their supporters (some of whom may have been responsible for the comments directed at me) know that, as a private citizen, I can support and advocate for whomever I'd like. For those who win, I hope that civility and collaboration will reign. For those who don't prevail this year, I hope you will run again next time. I have met some candidates who should certainly consider running next year for one of the 3-year seats.

In the end, though, please know that my choices should not serve as an impetus to demonize me, nor should any of the choices of any of the voters in our city serve to demonize them. We all simply have our own ideas and opinions about which candidates we feel will best serve our children at this very critical juncture. That said, I fully expect to receive more commentary. I will simply delete it, as I have done before.

Many of the BOE candidates whom I have observed over the years don't agree on every issue, nor should they, in my opinion. However, on the core issues that make up their platform, they are able to find common ground and work together to bring their shared vision to the BOE table. 

Whatever happens, however, on Wednesday, I am willing to lend support in whatever way I can to the new board configuration. I will be focusing on my city council run after tomorrow, and if I am elected, I would like an opportunity to serve as the BOE liaison--as an educator, I think I can bring some perspective to the schools (even though I teach at the college level).

All that said, the only incumbent I am supporting for another three-year term this year is Christian Estevez, who has served on the school board for one term. He and I have worked together on a number of local community, labor, immigration, and political initiatives over the past number of years here in Plainfield and in Newark (with the Latino Action Network and the Urban Issues Institute, which operates out of Essex County College, where I teach). Having worked with Chris, I know that he is a good collaborator and that he can be effective. Therefore, I think he deserves an opportunity to serve again. I am also supporting BOE newcomers Mary Burgwinkle and Carmencita Pile—I have worked with them as well. My final vote goes to one of the newcomers to the process. There are other candidates running this year who certainly deserve consideration, and I hope that you will review their respective records and make your choice. Again, I feel that all candidates should be applauded for stepping forward to serve our city.

All best,


P.S. As far as my other affiliations, I am also a member of the New Democrats for Plainfield Democratic Club, the Plainfield Democratic City Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey Education Association, the League of Women Voters of Plainfield, the Newark-based Urban Issues Institute Steering Committee, the Modern Language Association, and the American Studies, Africana Studies, and English Students Association at the Graduate Center of the City of New York. And now I am off to Elizabeth!