Friday, September 18, 2009

Brick City Premiere Gets Rave Reviews

It was a red carpet night to remember for Jayda and her "ladies" (as she calls them)--the Nine Strong Women--as well as for those of us who support their efforts to reduce youth violence and bring peace and hope in the city of Newark, N.J.

Six members of Drew University--Tanya Bennett, Annie Allen, Donna Powell, Nancy Vanderveen, Renee Olson and me--attended the Premiere at Symphony Hall Tuesday night.  Nearly 1000, mostly Newarkers, packed into Sympony Hall and a couple of hundred enjoyed the VIP reception prior to the showing.

Executive producer and Oscar Award winner Forest Whitaker, left, walks the red carpet with Newark Mayor Cory Booker at the premiere of Sundance Channel's documentary series 'Brick City'. The series follows Mayor Cory Booker and the citizens of Newark as they take strides to redeem their cities' reputation after a history rich with riots, violence and rebellion.

Preliminary speeches were heard from Executive Producer, Forest Whitaker ('glad to be here and will stop by often'), Mayor Booker (who reminded the audience that the film only shows one slice of Newark), the Director of Newark Police (who apologized for his 'cussing' in the flim'), the film producers who earned the trust of the cast, and Jayda and Creep--the Bood and Crip couple around whose story the documentary unfolds.  

We just saw the first episode Tuesday night in which the Mayor is featured prominently, and we wept with Jayda as she decides to face her past parole violation and go to jail before beginning her new life as a community organizer, mentor, organizational founder, and motivational speaker.  The first one hour episode leaves you eager to see the entire week long series next week (which of course, we all want to do).

Local reviews were mostly positive, but qualified:  More than one local leader advocated for a wider community perspective than what the documentary presents:
I think that we need to make sure we capture the full picture and not just the pomp and circumstance of the "Brick City" premier. I am proud of Jayda and of her efforts with Nine Strong Women. Jayda is phenomenal strong woman and is her husband and will likely go very far with their efforts to transform and show a different side and more positive side of Bangin'.  They are both influential leaders in the community no matter what side of the Bangin' or law abiding table you sit at.  I have great respect for what they are trying to accomplish.

However, [we] need to also keep in front of our discussions the reality of the eclectic feedback that the residents, politicians, dignitaries, etc. and others who live in the City of Newark are thinking and Blogging. So be deliberate in checking the blog categories under the trailer.This type of "community feedback" has been ongoing for decades as one of the many life long Newark bloggers puts it..."check your history for the City of Newark" and  "stuff like this has been going on for years".  The community is who we need to engage in our efforts. So we must approach the community with wisdom there too.In order for us to make sense with whatever we bring to the community and streets, and to support those like Jayda, and others, we need to remember all perspectives to get the full pulse check on feedback out there.

Here's a link to the Star Ledger article about the documentary, “Brick City

Though limited to one point of view (that of the produces who tried to tell a complex story and depict a reality of the streets), the documentary is certainly worth seeing to raise awareness.According to film promoter, Karl Hollandt (who got us our tickets to the Premiere):

Rolling Stone magazine named BRICK CITY as one of the top reasons to watch TV this fall and the Chicago Tribune named BRICK CITY in their top TV picks this fall.

Starting this Monday Sept 21st-25th BRICK CITY will begin airing nightly on the Sundance Channel @ 10pm. For those who cannot wait, the episodes are already available on HD VOD (video on demand), in the New York market.

Created and directed by the award-winning filmmakers Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin and executive produced by Forest Whitaker, BRICK CITY, is a five-part documentary series that captures the daily drama of a community striving to become a better, safer, stronger place to live. Against great odds, Newark’s citizens and its Mayor, Cory A. Booker, fight to raise the city out of nearly a half century of violence, poverty and corruption.

Check out the first 10-minutes here:
Visit our website for more info and view the webisodes here:
If you don't have the Sundance Channel, please call your cable provider to order.

And, please, spread the word.
Love and peace to all.  Karl

The Shalom Initiative, which I direct, plans to show Episode Two at the  National Shalom Summit in Columbia, SC (Oct 28-31).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Brick City and Shalom

Brick City documentary series premieres tomorrow--Tuesday, September 15--at Symphony Hall in Newark.  First episode airs Monday, Sept 21, on the Sundance Channel at 10pm.

NEWARK, New Jersey is known as "Brick City" for its architectural style, urban strength and human resilience.  In the wake of the riots and rebellion that exploded in 1967, Newark became a symbol of American urban decline.  In recent years, due the the determined efforts of many grass-roots groups and community engagements, Newark has gained a reputation of being a ‘city on the rise’--serious about reducing drugs and youth-related violence, and raising hope and peace.

BRICK CITY  is the name of the documentary series that follows Mayor Cory Booker, the Director of Police, gang members and selected city residents engaged in the complex, difficult and important work of community development.   It features Jessica Jacques (“Jayda”)—a Blood member and youth counselor who started Nine Strong Women, Inc as an alternative to 'gang bang.'  Rev. Tanya Bennett, Director of Religious Life at Drew University and member of the National Shalom Committee, has supported Jayda in her work with young women at risk for drugs and gangs in Newark, and also appears in the series.

NINE STRONG WOMEN  seeks to mentor young women (ages 13-16) at risk for violence and gang activity in Newark, led by Jessica Jacques (“Jayda”), now a youth counselor and motivational speaker. The organization received its first grant from the United Methodist Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence (SPSARV) in December 2008, and celebrated their ‘graduating class’ of ‘nine strong women’ at Drew University in April 2009.  Jayda and members of Nine Strong Women will join other Shalom Teams in Montclair and North Camden, New Jersey, to begin a five- month ShalomZone training program in asset-based community development, beginning October 17, at Drew University.

  Nine Strong Women at 'graduation ceremony' at Drew

About the Series:  Acclaimed actor, Forest Whitaker, is the executive producer of BRICK CITY (pictured here with Jessica Jacques). Created and directed by the award-winning filmmakers Mark Benjamin and Marc Levin, BRICK CITY, is a five-part documentary series that fans out around the city of Newark, to capture the daily drama of a community striving to become a better, safer, stronger place to live. Against great odds, Newark's citizens and its Mayor, fight to raise the city out of nearly a half century of violence, poverty and corruption. In the five one-hour episodes, the lives of Mayor Booker, citizens on the front lines, and key figures re-making the city – from developers to gang members and youth mentors - intertwine in a portrait of a city at a critical moment in history.

The Brick City series airs Monday-Friday, September 21-26, at 10:00PM on the Sundance Channel (Channel 192 or local channel 78), satellite television, cable television or On Demand. For further information on the Brick City Premiere, visit: or call SUN-FILM (800) 786-3456.

EPISODE 1: BRICK CITY - Summer is Ours   on the bloody summer of '07 when three college
students were murdered on the playground of Mt. Vernon Elementary SchoolMayor Cory Booker and Police Director Garry McCarthy are putting new programs and systems in place to keep the streets safe during the hot months to come.  Longtime Blood gang member Jayda juggles motherhood with her work as a youth counselor, while her romance with Crip gang member Creep serves as a living example that violence and enmity can be overcome. Jayda and Creep are delighted to learn that she is pregnant, but an ugly episode in Jayda's past suddenly returns to the fore, threatening all their plans for the future.


Jayda remains in jail as Creep struggles to take care of his and Jayda's children, while his boss at Integrity House, a respected therapeutic center, contacts authorities on her behalf. Mayor Booker attends public ceremonies relating to trade and housing, and faces skepticism and criticism at a community meeting in the city's middle-class North Ward. At the regular CompStat (crime statistics) meeting, Garry delivers good news about the homicide numbers, and Mayor Booker joins Governor Corzine to announce a new state program to help ex-offenders find regular employment. Jayda's plans for a nonprofit mentoring group are gaining steam, but her relationship with Creep is headed for crisis.


It is July, and the word comes down that Newark's new Central High School building - now nearly 10 years and $100 million in the making - may not be ready for the start of the school year. It's a development that leaves everyone angry, and it's up to Principal Ras Baraka and Vice Principal Todd Warren to prepare contingency plans and maintain morale among students, parents and staff. Creep and Jayda reconcile, and Jayda meets with the straight-talking, savvy defense lawyer Brooke Barnett about her pending criminal case. As the school year begins Central High opens. Camaraderie and serious discussions share the agenda at overnights given by Principal Baraka and Vice Principal Warren for Central High's freshman boys, and by Jayda for her young female mentees.


For the first time in more than 50 years, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus comes to Newark, an event that is a testament to the city's increased viability and improving public profile. Meanwhile, Director McCarthy's efforts to change Newark's policing methods have begun encroaching on areas traditionally overseen by the Chief of Police. Jayda makes her first court appearance in her pending case, and her lawyer investigates the claims made against her. The Newark Police Department and the Bloods mourn deaths in their families. News reports alert McCarthy to a potential coup against him - and it will be up to Mayor Booker to determine the outcome.


The city posts its 50th murder of the year, raising fresh concerns about the public safety policy. As he campaigns for Democratic nominee Barack Obama, Mayor Booker must also decide which candidate to support in the critical race for Municipal Council in the Central Ward. As he surveys the scene of a daytime dual, shooting, Director McCarthy wonders if an intra-gang war is brewing. After Newark's streets explode in gunfire - including an incident near Central High - McCarthy demands a plan to deal with the violence that is claiming gangbangers and innocent victims alike. Facing dwindling legal options, Jayda must decide what is best for herself and her family. Newarkers flock to the streets to savor an historic Election Day, and Mayor Booker keeps a close eye on the local results.


 Mayor Booker's Bio:  


 Jyda's bio  

Blood Gang Member, Youth Mentor and founder of Nine Strong Women

Creep's bio

Crip Gang Member and Youth Counselor

Dean Beach introduces Layla Anyai in Drew chapel during ‘graduation ceremony’ in April.