By ANGELE ANDRADE
People are always shocked that I’m from Newark and still live here. They tell me to hurry up and get away and say shit like, “Oh no, I couldn’t live in Newark, I don’t know how you do it.” Exactly. If you aren’t from here, you wouldn’t understand. That’s the saddest thing.
You can’t look at me and pinpoint where I’m from—people tend to view me as bourgeoisie. But I’m a Newark native, aboriginal—it’s all in my accent. If I left today, it would still be a part of me. It’s in my blood work.
I started out as a really good kid—an excellent student, an athlete. My mom worked as a home health aide, a job she held down for more than 30 years. She worked double shifts, overnight, so we sometimes didn’t see each other but for 10 minutes a day. I never knew my father. Five months before I was born, he was killed by a drunk driver on Meeker Avenue, a spot I pass by often.
My grandparents started their lives together on Pennington Court. With my grandfather’s salary as a truck driver, they eventually bought a house in the South Ward, the Weequahic section, where I still live. In the 1960s, moving to Weequahic, a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, was seen as a far-fetched aspiration for Black people. But as more Black families moved in, the Jewish families moved out. After the 1967 riots, Newark, including Weequahic, began to deteriorate, spiraling downward. As the crack era hit its peak, I was born, a straight ’80s baby.
I was kept in the house a lot. There was no going to the store. No going to the park. No riding my bike farther than four houses down, if that, and no going to friends’ houses for sleepovers. My mother eventually put me in camps, after-school programs, karate, sports, dance classes, piano lessons, modeling, acting and my church’s peer group. I made friends around the way and had normal “juice and penny candy” summers playing double Dutch, hide-and-seek, red light-green light and freeze tag. But when those street lights came on, you already know—we had to bring it on in for the night, or Ma was coming outside to embarrass you.
September 2000 was a pivotal month in my life. When my grandfather passed away, I was in my freshman year at St. Vincent Academy in Newark, a great school to which I had received a four-year scholarship. In Catholic school no one fought, or you’d be expelled. We went to school every day, prayed together, did our work. Teachers cared about us, they really did.
But after losing my grandfather, who was like my own father, it was hard to balance my emotions and maintain an A/B average. I lost my scholarship and was forced to go to Weequahic High School the following year.
At Weequahic there was garbage in the halls, the desks, and the stairways. Kids fought and threw textbooks out the windows. When you looked out, you could see them on the ground below, destroyed by rain. The student-teacher ratio was ridiculous—40 kids to a teacher. Kids were focused on gang life. Some were trying to get expelled. I felt like I was meant for better than this and couldn’t understand how I had failed so horribly that I ended up here. After attending church every single Sunday for 15 years, I stopped. I started smoking cigs and milds, started drinking liquor from my grandfather’s home bar, popping Ecstasy pills, skipping school and riding in stolen cars. I was hanging in hood houses/honeycombs/trap houses, whatever you want to call them, doing what the homies did while my mother was working.
My hood is majority Grape (Crip). Down the hill, we had Bloods. By the time I was 17 I was hanging around a lot of Bloods, mainly the big homies, who let me learn from their experiences. I learned how to move, how to see through people, who to distrust. I’ll always have love for the homies. But I also paid attention to what they did wrong, their failed ambitions, and I learned what not to do.
At a young age I began to recognize the dark auras that circulate through this city. There have been people who came into my life and I could literally smell death on them. It smells like funeral flowers and embalming fluid. Even so, I’m shocked every time another one of them dies.
I lost a good friend in 2004, shot in the head and set on fire while sitting in his car on Sherman Avenue. Another close friend was shot after a truce with somebody he had an altercation with the weekend before. He shook the man’s hand, turned to walk away and was shot down in the club parking lot. In August 2010, another good friend was murdered on my block, shot in the mouth. He was shot all over his body, but to know his demise most likely came from that mouth shot haunts me. After his death, I spent 10 days in my closet and lost 10 pounds. I couldn’t eat because I felt that to eat would be unfair because he couldn’t. I couldn’t stop the tears, the rage, from flowing. I had bruises under my eyes from crying.
I’ve had nightmares for years, dreams of being shot in the back, feeling wetness, losing consciousness, seeing my lost loved ones, then waking up to the reality of them not being here.
Throughout the years, things have changed for me. But when I go through different hoods in Newark, I see the shadows of homies who are dead or doing life. Others are out here with the new wave of homies, the ’90s babies. Very few made it out the hood.
Newark is in ruins mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, in all ways. I ask everyone I know if there’s hope for Newark, and I ask myself the same question every day. My answer, just like theirs, is no. Sad to say, but no matter who the president is, no matter who’s mayor, the only way Newark can revive itself is through our youth, and through God.
I hate the violence in Newark, the litter, the ignorance. I hate that there’s talent all over this place and it just gets wasted. But I love Newark. Don’t ever get it twisted or misconstrued. I love the children’s voices, the struggle, the accents, the music. I love how we get together and show love. We make the best out of what we have. We look out for each other.
We’re not savages or animals; we’re human beings. We turn on each other because we feel stuck. We become mad at the world because the world turns a blind eye, never helping, just judging. This is all most of us know—Newark. We feel like we don’t fit in anywhere else. But just because you’re born here doesn’t mean you gotta die here. There’s a whole world I’d like to experience. Then I can truly have the chance to know the totality of who I am and what I’m capable of. That goes for all of us.
I’m still here because it’s been hard for me to find a job and my mother needs me. I live with my family, in my grandparents’ house. It’s my favorite place in the city. I’m fortunate because God is giving me this time to get it right. I’ve been healed, saved, loved unconditionally, spared, and guided. I’ve learned from every death, trial, and tribulation I’ve had to endure. I’m proud to be from Newark and to have overcome what could have ended me, because it’s made me who I am, given me character.
I’ve come to realize I’m here for a damn good reason. This city is in turmoil now, but there’s always been beauty in the bad.
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ANGELE ANDRADE is a med school student maintaining a 4.0 GPA. She graduates in April. She also is an artist and manager for the record label Beat Murderaz Entertainment. Connect with her on Facebook.
This piece, originally titled, “Beauty In the Bad,” first appeared in HYCIDE magazine’s Newark issue. It was republished on MyBrownBaby with permission. Check out HYCIDE.com for more great content. Purchase the magazine’s Newark issue here.
Photo credit: HYCIDE Editor-in-Chief, photographer Akintola Hanif