NEWARK, NJ - The mural painted at a vacant, dilapidated police precinct in the South Ward by local artists and the Newark Community Street Team is the start of something bigger.
“We're going to beautify this whole space back here,” said Newark Community Street Teams Director Aqeela Sherrills. “We're going to paint all these boards, de-grass all this stuff. We're going to have it pretty back here.
“We're going to put some potted plants and stuff and things and just make it a space where people can actually come and retreat.”
Newark Community Street Team, a violence reduction program started by Mayor Ras Baraka, plans to use the former 5th Precinct building along Hunterdon Street for administrative offices and therapeutic programming like yoga. Although the precinct is now vacant, another opened nearby around 2011.
The organization’s members are mostly victims of crime or people who have spent time in jail. The Street Team has several initiatives, including a Safe Passage program that walks groups of kids to school. Members also help stifle violent conflicts by reaching out to victims of crime and resolving disputes.
So when Kaishon Way, a local Newark artist, and Alpha Studios met with the Street Team during a youth conference at NJIT, they all decided on a fitting theme for the mural: healing.
“A lot of the members gave some insight of what they wanted, just like visually, to see,” Way said. “We just kind of took that metaphorically to see what we could bring to that.”
The project also received funds via a grant from Newark Arts.
The Street Team is already based out of 400 Hawthorne Ave., but Sherrills said the organization has doubled in size since last year. The group is looking to possibly expand into another office in the West Ward too.
Sherrills has some non-traditional thoughts on healing, too. He’s taken members to a spa to teach them the importance of self-investment and care, and initially hoped to turn a property next to the police precinct into a spa.
“I took our whole team there,” he said of the spa outing. “Got them massages and everything. I'm like listen, 'Take advantage of this. You might feel like $75 is a lot of money.’ I'm like, ‘But this you. This is your mental and physical health. Invest in you.’"
Breaunna McCray, an outreach worker for Street Teams, said working on the mural with other people during this week’s heatwave was hard work, but also therapeutic. Working with the organization on the Safe Passage team has also been rewarding.
“Somebody did something to me before and it took one of my friends away from me and it almost took my life,” she said. “Now I just feel like I want to help people before it happens to them.
"When I accomplish something that I feel like is good, it makes me better as a person,” she added. “Even if it's the smallest thing."