NEWARK, NJ - Of the 13 people interviewed for Newark’s Equitable Growth Advisory Commission, none faced tougher questions from city council than 17-year-old Bradley Gonmiah.
“I just want to know what experience you have in economic development,” said Councilman At-Large Carlos Gonzalez. “...This board is supposed to be for growth in the City of Newark - [for] business promotion in the City of Newark. So what is it you bring to the table to that board?”
The Science Park High School senior leads the Newark Students Union and is outspoken during council and school board meetings. Mayor Ras Baraka nominated Gonmiah and he stood before the council on Tuesday to be confirmed.
Standing with his backpack on and speaking into the microphone, Gonmiah told Gonzalez the ordinance which created the commission said members should include people from the community and academia. What’s more, his family has experienced residential displacement the commission hopes to prevent.
“Every time we've moved it's mostly because - every time has been like an eviction. So I've experienced what a hard renter's life is like,” Gonmiah said after the meeting, adding that he’s lived in just about every ward of the city.
The Equitable Growth Commission is charged with listening to residents’ concerns about economic inclusion and giving advice to the city on planning and land use laws, housing policies and business development. Members serve two-year terms.
Other nominees who were considered by the council included those from Prudential, RBH Group and the nonprofit sector. Several were professionals who reside in Newark.
None were as young as Gonmiah though.
Gonmiah heads to the prestigious Harvey Mudd College in California on a full scholarship in August with hopes of becoming an astronaut. Although proud of his accomplishments, Gonzalez demanded to know how Gonmiah would participate in the commission while he’s away.
"I won't be away for the entire time,” Gonmiah said. "But then there's also technology. There's nothing in the ordinance specifically that states I have to be here physically. I can do research from outside of Newark. I can work from outside of Newark. But also, my family still lives here. So I'm very well still connected to the City of Newark."
In the end, Gonmiah’s nomination was approved unanimously. Council President Mildred Crump and Central Ward Councilwoman LaMonica McIver said it was important to support young people like Gonmiah before they voted.
"When I started, someone gave me a chance," said Crump. "So I'm looking forward to more young people who are willing to extend themselves and join in this leadership path."
East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador quipped that there were no Portuguese-American nominees. He represents areas that are predominately Portuguese, like the Ironbound section of the city.
“We cannot overlook the contribution that has been given by the Portuguese-American community to this city in the past 15 to 20 years," Amador said. "I fail to understand that we [can’t] have - out of about 10 individuals that are serving in this [commission] - one that is Portuguese-American."
North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, meanwhile, called for commission vacancies to be advertised on the city's website to get more residents involved.
Thirteen people were appointed to board, which can have up to 15 members. David Troutt, a law professor at Rutgers, was on the agenda for approval, but he was out of the country Tuesday. He will be considered by the council on July 10.
The following members were approved by the council for the commission:
Deborah Smith-Gregory: NAACP Newark Chapter President
Bradley Gonmiah: Newark Students Union
Judith Thompson-Morris: Greater Newark Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) Senior Program Officer
Richard Cammarieri: New Community Corporation
Raymond Ocasio: La Casa de Don Pedro Executive Director
Carolyn B. Thompson-Wallace: The Corps Network
Kevin Lyons: Rutgers Business School Public Private Community Partnership Program Director
Staci Berger: Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey President and CEO
Aisha Glover: Newark Alliance President and CEO
Al-Tariq Shabazz: Newark Office of Affordable Housing Program Manager
Antonio Valla: RBH Group
Ommeed Sathe: Prudential's Impact Investment Vice President
Joseph Della Fave: Ironbound Community Corporation Executive Director