Building Community Power in Newark, NJ

Jennifer Made started organizing at 13 and began feeding her community at 19, an effort that grew into the organization Newark Community Action Network.

Jennifer Made is a Newark, New Jersey, native who formed the Newark Community Action Network, an organization that provides warm meals and resources to the community at large.

Jennifer started organizing at the age of 13, and formed Newark-CAN years ago after she made a couple of meals for a woman in need. During each of the organization’s “Community Servings,” Newark-CAN provides meals to up to 175 folks.

The following is a lightly edited transcript of the video:

Jennifer Made: Our family definitely has a culture where we, you know, you can come over anybody’s house and you will have some food.

My name is Jennifer Made. I live in Newark, New Jersey.

Travis Scott is one of my favorite artists. I went to his concert in April of 2016. And when I was coming back, it was about 2 a.m. and the McDonald’s was changing shifts.

So they weren’t serving any more food. But there’s a lady had asked me to buy her food. I told her that the next day I would come and I would give her a meal.

I decided to cook and I made a couple of meals. It was beans, rice, and just basic baked chicken. And I took it down there.

I’ve never seen her again, but I did start doing the Community Servings because of her.

Man in video: Y’all, look at the turnout for today. It’s a great turnout!

Voiceover: Rice, mash, corn. What’s this? The meatballs.

The Community Servings are a part of Newark Community Action Network, which is short for Newark-CAN.

It’s an organization that we started. We are a group of Brick City residents or Newark natives building resources and power for our families and communities in Newark and within the greater Newark area.

Ninety percent of Essex County’s homeless population are in Newark.

We give out food, resources. We provide each feeding, about 100 to 175 people, a plate. We also do groceries, food that they may be able to take home.

So for three years I was just doing it by myself. My boss at that time, she told me that I needed to post about this, like I needed to talk about this on social media.

And I was like, Whaa? Why? Like, so I did. I started to post it and people started to see and people started wanting to help.

Now it’s as big as it is now, where sometimes I just sit there and watch.

Balancing social, work, and school and organizing, you need about five hands. I think my real support system is my friends who definitely are my family. You know, some of my friends are the ones who come cook and contribute and donate their time.

I’ve been organizing since I was 13. My uncle before he passed away when I was about 5, he definitely instilled in me and my cousins a notion of giving to others.

Newark-CAN was created by a group of women. So it’s like we all are amazing, powerful, very powerful, brilliant young women of color, all of us. And I think that our struggles have always been trying to show people that we’re just as good as men.

So we’re putting together a survey for the city of Newark on how to retain the population that is 18 to 33, because if you really don’t want gentrification, if you really want our homegrown folks to stay here, and if we’re really the next generation, this is how you empower us to stay here.

I love this city.

I want to help this city.

And I want to stay here and build it and grow with it.

Jennifer’s story is part of “Women of Color on the Front Lines,” a video series produced by Shelterforce and Community Change. Women have always been on the front line of housing and community development, and this series profiles women of color who are fighting today’s most pressing issues in cities across the U.S.

Shelterforce is the only independent, non-academic publication covering the worlds of community development, affordable housing, and neighborhood stabilization.


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