PATERSON, NJ- “The message is clear,” city activist Victoria Oquendo told TAPinto Paterson on Saturday. When it comes to enjoying Barbour Park everyone is welcome she said, “you’re deviant behavior is not.”

As children poured over books, ran across the grass, and climbed on and off recently installed playground equipment, the transformation of the park, once a hotspot for drug use and other illicit activity, was on full display.

The gathering was the first “Books & Breakfast” event of the new school year, an effort launched by Paterson Cares that offers children a full breakfast, which on Saturday included fresh pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, bagels, cereal, and orange juice, and a chance to pick up books to take home.

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“We want kids to always have a chance to read, not just in school,” said Nancy Grier, one of the founders of Paterson Cares. “Children also need a nutritious meal,” she continued before sharing that the organization plans on hosting similar events monthly. 

Looking out at the children at play Elder Donald Curtis of St. Augustine Presbyterian Church, who often hosts the breakfasts in their community room, said that the gatherings “just make sense.” 

The successful work done to take back the park from drug dealers, he continued, “shows the difference of what it can be when the community takes charge,” and is something they hope to replicate in other city parks.

“When drug addicts overtake an area where children are, and we accept that because ‘it’s always been that way’” Oquendo continued, “that’s a poor excuse.”

It was also an excuse, a committed group of volunteers, all with an unyielding passion for making Paterson stronger, wouldn’t accept.

Bilal Hakeem, himself an activist in Paterson’s ongoing transformation, who recently hosted New Africa Family Day in the park, told TAPinto Paterson that it was the community that “replaced drugs with love” and that thanks to their efforts “goodness is on the rise,” on the lot that was left to the city by the Barbour family specifically so that it would be used by local children. 

Councilwoman Ruby Cotton, whose 4th Ward contains Barbour Park, was also on hand Saturday saying that “the community needs to be involved in making Paterson better,” before adding optimistically, “the community wants to be involved.

”For those frustrated by the sometimes slow pace of change Cotton urged “don’t give up.”

“See the joy on the children’s face,” Oquendo asked, seemingly directed at those that still want to use the park for less than noble purposes, “how can you take that away from them?”