Mayoral candidate Ras J. Baraka and film maker and supporter Spike Lee.
Ras Baraka has left an indelible footprint on the city of Newark and beyond. Many were introduced to him from Ms. Hill’s seminal work, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, where he played a teacher in a skit on the album. However, Baraka’s legacy started before 1998 and his work in the community has far outweighed multi-platinum albums. The son of revered poet/activist Amiri Baraka, the Newark native has been deep in the trenches of the city’s political and community scene since graduating from Howard University in the mid-90’s. Amid his political ambitions, he’s also managed to transform Newark’s Central High School into a hub of change for the students that attend. In fact, Mr. Baraka gave AllHipHop a personal tour of the school prior to his current run for mayor.
Baraka faces Shavar Jeffries in a heated election for the mayor of Newark, NJ that will take place today, Tuesday, May 13th. Newark remains fertile ground and a number of opposing groups seem to be fighting for the land. Backers of Jeffries have launched an all-out attack on Baraka, flooding the local community with negative campaigns. (Editor’s note: AHH interviewed Jeffries last year as the mayoral race picked up steam. A follow-up interview didn't happen.) Polling shows Baraka maintains a lead over Jeffries, but the race is tightening quickly. The Hip-Hop community has come out in droves to back Baraka. Lauryn Hill, KRS-One, Sean “Diddy” Combs and several other notables like Spike Lee have backed him.
Ras Baraka granted AllHipHop some of this time as he sprinted from event to event, speaking to people in the community his family has lived in for over 70 years. He outlined his plans for the city of Newark, a town that also houses AllHipHop’s home base.
“I think that Newark is an international city. We’re moving out of the Brick City phase and moving into an international city phase and we’re going to leverage the resources of our seaport. I think we have incredible opportunities there. We’re going to reengage Port Authority - get them new capital to get them on our side. Invest in our waterfront. Expand our college community. Build houses and retail for the 60,000 college students that we have downtown. Support the theater/arts district and watch our downtown community blossom and grow and bring more revenue in the circumference of our city. And we’re going to leverage that development to develop in the neighborhoods where we are - the corridors of Clinton Ave, Chancellor, South Orange, Springfield Avenue. Begin to develop the retail that we need…we know its retail deficient (in those areas). Not only that, we are going to invest in these houses to make a new, living and growing town.”
Baraka addressed the millions dumped into ads attacking him.
“You have to look at the folks that are doing that. You have $3 million that is coming from hedge funds guys. $800,000 last week. $900,00 this week. There are 12-16 mailers that talk horribly about me - all kinds of slander. Just making stuff up. And they can do that, because its an i.e. - independent expenditure - so the [Jeffries Campaign] is not on it. Its not paid for by Shavar Jeffries. Its paid for by The Newark Firm or some group that they made up. And this money is coming from bank capital, Bears and Sterns and hedge fund guys on Wall Street..whose money can be traced back to Rupert Murdock. All these folks are interested in the privatization of public schools, vouchers. Newark is an opportunity to move the city in an direction we don’t want to be moved in. That’s what they are doing and nobody knows who my opponent is so they don’t have any other choice, but to demean me.”
The differences between Baraka and Jeffries.
“I think that we (he and Jeffries) ideologically separate on a few key issues. On issues of community empowerment, on issues of public schools, on issues of crime and investing in our young people and not just locking them up and throwing away the key. We are completely different on those issues. I think he has a more conservative view point on those things than I and he aligns himself with other folks who have those same conservative views. He spent a lot of his time outside of the city of Newark. He didn’t go to school public. He didn’t go to school in Newark at all. He worked in the Attorney General's office for two years, came and worked on the school board for three and then ran for mayor. I ran for mayor when I was 24 years old. I’ve paid significant dues, brother. I ran and lost many times. I was the deputy mayor for years for a dollar, I was the council-at-large, ran again - lost, ran again - won in the South Ward. I was a councilman for four years, involved in community activity from South Ward Police Council to PTA’s to after school programming to coaching basketball to all the things this neighborhood tries to improve upon in life for the residents. He just hasn’t been present and accounted for. Because of that, you have to spend all of this money for people to a) know you and b) dislike me. And basically that is what his strategy has been in the last couple of months. ”
Ras Baraka is the principal at Central High School and has had tremendous success with the students there, transforming the school into a model of scholastic excellence. He hopes to implement the strategy throughout the city of Newark.
“Unless you intervene in kids' lives, they are going to shoot or be shot. The average person that shoots in Newark has been molested 4-5 times. These kids are not from Mars. They don’t get on the bus from Canada. They come from our neighborhood. And we gotta engage them, talk to them and get them to put guns down. Some of them are going to lose. Some of them are going to go to jail. Some of them are going to die in these streets. Our job is to interrupt that trajectory and make them prove something else. I know what the kids want, what they need, what they are attracted to, what’s pulling them into the gang life, what’s pulling them into the street life. I know how to provide an alternative to that - we did that at Central with alternative organizations. Provide pathways to give kids positive groups versus negative groups. (I know) how we use art as a weapons, the same same way culture and art is being used to turn our kids into gang members and murderers and drug addicts. Its the same (approach) to teach our kids how to move forward. I know how we begin to do that citywide.”
His thoughts on Hip-Hop today.
"One of my favorite artists, Wise Intelligent (of the Poor Righteous Teachers) talks about gun slingers turned rap singers and Black culture went out. And that’s basically what happened. We’re glorifying the lifestyle of death as opposed to pushing our kids towards life. We need to change that. We absolutely have to change that."
AllHipHop's CEO Chuck Creekmur with Mayoral candidate Ras J. Baraka.