If you're looking to revitalize a city as historical and cultured as Newark, New Jersey, you really couldn't find a more uniquely qualified leader than Mayor Ras Baraka.
Born and raised in NJ's "Gateway City," the 46-year-old Baraka has a professional background that feels as much "Lyricist Lounge" as it does "city council." Before being elected as Newark's 40th mayor in 2014, Baraka was a spoken word poet and published author. Highly respected by hip-hop powerhouses like Lauryn Hill, he was featured on the enigmatic soul artist's modern-day classic album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998), which paired nicely with the voiceover Baraka contributed to the intro of Hill's group The Fugees' sophomore record, The Score (1996). Baraka's ability to fuse art with social change derives from his late father, Amiri Baraka, an award-winning poet and activist and lifelong Newark resident.
With that hip-hop credibility intact, it's only right that Tribeca and Prudential called on the team behind the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival opener Nas: Time is Illmatic to pay cinematic tribute to both Mayor Baraka's efforts to revive Newark and the community itself. For the city's 350th anniversary, filmmakers One9 and Erik Parker have collaborated on Newark on the Rise, a five-minute documentary short that tells Newark's story through the voices of those who are spearheading the multi-pronged charge towards financial and communal rejuvenation. The film premiered at Tribeca 2016 with a private event hosted by Prudential, during which New York Times business reporter David Gelles moderated a panel discussion between Mayor Baraka; Ommeed Sathe, Prudential's VP of Impact Investments; and Ron Beit, the CEO of RBH Group, one of the top developers currently working in Newark.
Newark on the Rise details the city's storied past and potential-laden present, covering the influx of immigrants out of Ellis Island around 1900, the five-day-long race riots in 1967 that hindered Newark's business growth, and the societal revival that began in the early 1980s and are now at their highest point yet. For One9, who was on hand to introduce the film, Newark on the Rise is a love letter to the people who embody the city's singular spirit. "We wanted to find the human connection, and we found that through the stories that we've told through this film," said the director. "For us, it was about telling those human stories, about what the drive is and what the passion is. It's about community."
In the film, Baraka declaratively states that "change is thick in the air—it's our time," a sentiment that’s echoed with passion and credibility by the city workers featured in Newark on the Rise. Per Prudential's Ommeed Sathe, upwards of $2 billion have been invested into the city’s growth, which will fund, among other expansions, 1,000 new residential units, 300,000 square feet of retail in downtown core, and a "teacher's village" where the city’s education enforcers will receive specialty dedicated "workforce housing."
"If you come to Newark, you can feel that it's different," Baraka told Gelles. "People actually believe collectively. Before, people were trying to convince other people to believe that something was happening, so you had a one-off here and a one-off there. Everybody, from the university community to the corporate community to the city folks, believe that, like I said in the film, it's our time… Finally, people are actually putting their money where their mouth is."
And who can blame them? As Newark on the Rise makes clear, once you've heard Ras Baraka talk about the city's potential, it's tough not to want to take action.
Watch Newark on the Rise below: