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    Maplewood High School honored the singer Monday. Watch video

    When you're a pimply-faced teen with braces and no date to the prom, what do you do? 

    If your Solana Rowe -- otherwise known as SZA -- you take those years of bullying and you don't let it define you. And then you come back to your alma mater as a five-time Grammy nominee and prove it to them. 

    The R&B sensation, who graduated from Columbia High School in Maplewood in 2008, stepped into her old school's spotlights on Monday to be inducted into the school's Hall of Fame.

    "All my warm childhood memories are in St. Louis and that's where I always think my heart is," SZA said in a 2013 interview with Billboard Magazine, referencing her hometown until she moved to New Jersey. "But when I think of what shaped me I would definitely say Maplewood over everything. It's such a bubble. It's a small town with tons of secrets but everybody knows you and your parents and your first and last name."

    No one forgot her name Monday and she delivered an inspiring -- but honest -- speech, and gave shout-outs to her former dance teacher and others she knew.  

    "I was bullied in high school. I didn't go to the prom," she said. "I definitely had a whack experience."

    But she urged the exuberant crowd Monday to stay true to themselves and continue to pursue their dreams.

    "In high school I thought that failing defined what was going to happen to me," she said. :I got nominated for five Grammys and I didn't win. But I want to tell you something. It's not about not winning..... You have to pay attention to how God is working in your life in tiny, tiny ways. You have to listen closely. It starts with your passion, it starts with trusting yourself."

    What happened next could easily be considered magic.

    She sang.

    SZAIn this Jan. 28, 2018 file photo, SZA arrives at the 60th annual Grammy Awards in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File) 

    Normally a wildly popular singer giving the crowd what they want is not exactly headline news. But SZA shocked her fans this week by tweeting her vocal cords had been "permanently damaged" after a year of constant touring. She canceled a scheduled concert in Camden after the announcement.

    N.J. breakout star SZA: 'My voice is permanently injured'

    So, singing with students at her former high school -- a singalong of her hit The Weekend -- testing her damaged voice and imperfect memories, seemed to live up to the Hall of Fame billing.

    "When I went to this school, things were very different," SZA told the crowd. "We did everything we could to discover who we were."

    She was known as Solana Rowe then. Later she changed her name to SZA (pronounced Sizza) and the 'S' stands for savior or sovereign, the 'Z' for zig-zag, and the 'A' for Allah, according to her record label bio.

    A school district spokesperson said SZA's mother is still active in the community and returning to Columbia High School had been on the star's bucket list. 

    "I think it was really inspirational to them hearing that someone had a challenging situation in high school and ended up being the mega superstar that SZA is," said Suzanne Turner, the district's strategic communications director, who also has a 10th-grader at Columbia who attended the event. "I think that it actually gave a lot of hope to a lot of kids."

    Words of wisdom "You are never too young to trust yourself [?] {#sza}

    A post shared by Sza Powers (@szapowers) on

    Bill Duhart may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find on FacebookHave a tip? Tell us.

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    Another man walked off his job at McDonald's to escape from detention, authorities said

    Escaping was a little easier for Albert Elias Community Home resident Dyshawn Williams than two other men who also fled the facility in Bordertown Township on May 3.

    Almuqtadir Padgett broke a window in his room and fled, according to the affidavit of probable cause for his case.

    Lonell Carruthers ran down a flight of stairs before kicking a door open and running, according to a similar affidavit for his arrest.

    As for Williams, he just walked away from his job at a McDonald's in Bordentown.

    Williams wasn't there when staffers at the community home showed up to pick him up from work, according to the affidavit in his case.

    The three men, all from Newark, were arrested during a fugitive sweep in Newark on May 24, wanted on charges of escape from detention.

    Carruthers and Williams, both 22, were also wanted for a carjacking. Details of that crime were not immediately clear. Padgett is 20.

    "We're aware of these escapes, and I've scheduled a meeting this month with the administration over at the facility to improve communication about these types of incidents in the future," Bordentown Township chief Brian Pesce said.

    The police chief said the carjacking did not occur in Bordentown Township or Bordentown city.

    The juvenile facility is run by the state's Juvenile Justice Commission, which made no public alert about the escape.

    The three young men have a pre-indictment conference in Burlington County Superior Court on July 11, court records show.

    Joe Brandt can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JBrandt_NJ. Find on Facebook. Have a tip? Tell us. 

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    A worker suffered a serious head injury after falling about 25 feet while working on the roof of Millburn Middle School on Wednesday afternoon, an official said.

    A worker suffered a serious head injury after falling about 25 feet while working on the roof of Millburn Middle School on Wednesday afternoon, an official said. 

    The Millburn Fire Department was called to the school on Old Short Hills Road at about 12:15 p.m, Chief Robert Echavarria said. No one else was hurt. 

    The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is on the scene investigating the cause of the fall. 

    Millburn police are also conducting an investigation. A police spokesman didn't immediately have information available. 

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find on Facebook.



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    A total of 20 former N.J. track and field stars will compete.

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    The Urban Enterprise Zone designation cuts the sales tax in these New Jersey cities in half, boosting their ability to compete for customers with their wealthier suburbs.

    In a welcome move, Gov. Phil Murphy has given new hope to five of the most economically stressed cities in the state.

    The law he signed last week restores the Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) program in Trenton, as well as in Bridgeton, Camden, Newark and Plainfield.

    The designation cuts the sales tax in those cities in half, boosting their ability to compete for customers with their wealthier suburbs. It also offers other benefits for business owners, such as a break on energy taxes, a subsidy for unemployment insurance and tax credits for some hires.

    The original UEZ program dates back more than three decades. Beginning the original five cities, it expanded outward to cover some 6,800 businesses in 32 communities.

    But when the program expired last year, then-Gov. Chris Christie opted not to renew, despite eloquent and well-reasoned pleas from both the Legislature and the New Jersey League of Municipalities.

    Phil Murphy agrees to reduced sales tax in these 5 N.J. cities

    The league called the incentive program "a vital tool in the tool kit of local leaders working to bring their communities back from decades of decline."

    The designation served as an important economic driver, the league pointed out, creating employment opportunities for city residents and contributing to the cities' tax base.

    In Trenton, the UEZ covered a 2.5-mile commercial and industrial area; the city's website hailed the initiative as "a business success in the heart of Capitol City."

    More than 900 local businesses signed on over the decades, leading to significant improvements in the city's business district.

    The law Murphy signed, which has already taken effect, reinstates the program for five years for the original participating cities, and extends it through 2023 in other areas where it was scheduled to expire before then.

    One laudable facet of the measure requires the state to issue a report evaluating whether the program should continue, be amended, or cease to exist.

    Some skeptics scoff that even the heftiest tax break won't lure shoppers to downtown businesses that are struggling to survive. Others worry that the decreased revenue will have a devastating effect on the state's budget.

    But we side with the lawmakers who voted overwhelming not to take the program off life support.

    "Urban Enterprise Zones have been an integral part of urban revitalization for many years now," said Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson). "Extending their designation will help many cities remain economically competitive while spurring job growth and economic development."

    The bottom line is: Healthier cities make for stronger states. Giving our urban areas a hand up makes good sense, as well as good policy.

    Bookmark Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find Opinion on Facebook


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    What folks wore in the Garden State.

    The NPD Group, an American market research company, notes that "No other industry changes as rapidly as fashion. What's hot today is blase tomorrow. Innovation becomes retro. Seasons change. Hemlines rise and fall ... and so do sales figures. A celebrity makes a fashion statement on the red carpet and suddenly financial statements are covered in red."

    callahan's fort lee 70s VBC.jpgMenswear in the '70s ... when print was king. 

    I might add that it's not only celebrities on the red carpet who make fashion statements. Politicians, musicians and athletes heavily influence what the rest of us choose to wear. And, there is a uniquely 21st century movement that allows others to influence styles and make fashion trends almost instantaneous: social media and the internet.

    MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey

    AdWeek points out "If you see a blogger wearing an outfit you love on Instagram, you can find and purchase the items right from your phone and have them delivered to your door thanks to shoppable applications that integrate with social media, like rewardStyle, ShopStyle and"

    In this gallery, we look at apparel from the past, as worn by folks in New Jersey. Some people in the gallery don statement pieces, others wear that which was strictly utilitarian; all make for interesting viewing.

    And here are some links to other similar galleries.

    Vintage photos of what N.J. people wore

    More vintage photos of what N.J. people wore

    Vintage photos of fashions and styles in N.J.

    Vintage photos of styles and fashions in N.J.

    Greg Hatala may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.

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    The principal at a Newark charter school was one of two recipients of the Ryan Award this year. Watch video

    On this Wednesday morning, the Newark middle school on Clinton Avenue was just too quiet.

    North Star Academy principal Jody Jones knew it was odd. Her teachers weren't buzzing in and out. The hallways were still. 

    Then she got word that one of her students had an issue -- they needed her quick.

    But when she walked into the school auditorium, the packed room exploded with cheers and applause: Jones was one of two principals in the country to receive a $25,000 award for her leadership at the school. 

    Jones2.jpgPrincipal, Jody Jones, North Star Academy Clinton Hill Middle School received a Ryan Award, which is an award given to two urban principals every year for showing huge gains in student achievement, at the school in Newark, NJ. Wednesday,06/6/2018 (Ed Murray for NJ Advance Media)  

    "This is huge," Jones, 36, remembers thinking. Dressed in a black blazer and red flats, Jones wiped away tears as her 350 students, teachers and families surrounded her with posters, flowers and applause. 

    "I am truly honored for this," she told her students. "You kept this secret, I had no idea." 

    Jones looked lost for words, whispering "oh my god" and "wow," News cameras surrounded as her as she made her way to the front. 

    The Ryan Award, provided by Accelerate Institute, is given to two school principals in a surprise assembly every year, who show transformation at their campuses. 

    Michael Mann, head of North Star Academy College Prep High School and a previous Ryan Award winner, nominated Jones for the honor. He said he first hired her as a fifth-grade history teacher in 2006. Jones is Jamaican but grew up in Irvington, later attending Rutgers University and Cornel University. 

    Mann said he remembers her initial lecture when she interviewed for the job wasn't that impressive, but Jones insisted on doing it again the next day based on his feedback. She got the job. 

    "Her drive and her commitment," Mann said. "You can't tell that from her resume." Within a few months, Jones showed how effective she could be in the classroom, combining her intense drive with a deep love for the students. 

    Jones1.jpgJodY Jones, Principal, North Star Academy Clinton Hill Middle School gets a hug from her father after she received a Ryan Award, which is an award given to two urban principals every year for showing huge gains in student achievement, at the school in Newark, NJ. Wednesday,06/6/2018 (Ed Murray for NJ Advance Media) 

    For her middle schoolers, that love is never questioned. 

    "She always puts a smile on someone's face," said sixth-grader Tamiyah James, 12. James said Jones also gives good advice, especially when students walk in having a bad day. "She says, 'Don't let that one part of your day impact your whole day,'" James said. 

    Seventh-grader Armani Harris, 14, said he still remembers the words that Jones told him on his first day of school in sixth grade. "She said, 'You are a star, you shine for others,'" Harris said. He's kept that message with him ever since. 

    Harris said some of the students call her Oprah because she's "striking," and like a "celebrity." 

    When asked what Harris wants to do when he graduates school, he points behind him to the auditorium slowly emptying out after the big surprise for Jones. "I want to do that," he says with a smile. 

    Karen Yi may be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @karen_yi or on Facebook

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    Academically gifted kids from urban Essex kids get chance to go to "Prep"

    In a small third-floor office at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, college pennants dominate one wall, lined-up like a long rectangular block of triangles.

    Princeton, Cornell and Penn represent the Ivy League. Then there are the big eastern Catholic universities -- Georgetown, Villanova, Boston College and, of course, Seton Hall. Rutgers, too, and Penn State. Stevens and NJIT cover the technology side.

    All are universities that the inner-city scholarship students at Seton Hall Prep have attended, through the Griffin Bridges Program. All except MIT.

    "We keep that up there as something to aim for," said Horton Sears, 26, the outgoing director of the program. "You always need something to aim for."

    The incoming director is LaQuan Ford, 27, who, like Sears, was raised in Newark. Unlike Sears, he is a product of Newark public schools. Sears was a Griffin Bridges student at Seton Hall Prep, then headed off to Providence College.

    Still, the two young men are nearly mirror-images; dressed stylishly and impeccably, right to their eyeglasses. With precise diction and word selection, they speak quickly and passionately about the program that has launched more than 100 young men from urban Essex County into the world of business, science, law, medicine and education at the best colleges in the nation. It has a 98 percent graduation rate, and students must maintain a 3.25 cumulative average to stay in the program.

    MORE: Recent Mark Di Ionno columns 

    The Griffin Bridges Program is named for the late Thomas Griffin, a member of the prep's class of 1959. His sister, Patti Chambers, and her husband, philanthropist Ray Chambers, began and funded much of the program, beginning in 1992, through the Boys and Girls Club of Newark.

    The first recipient was Shavar Jeffries, who ran for mayor of the city four years ago. A year later, the program was officially named Griffin Bridges, and administered out of Seton Hall Prep. 

    Jeffries, a civil rights attorney and current president of Democrats for Education Reform, is also the program's first story. His mother was murdered, and he was raised by a grandmother who was a public schoolteacher. After getting help from the Chambers to attend Seton Hall Prep, he went to Duke and then Columbia Law School.     

     All the young men who have gone through the program have stories like Jeffries' and Ford's, though perhaps not as extreme. They were serious, studious middle-schoolers, smiled on by fate or good luck to be able to reach their academic dream.

    "That's where the 'bridges' part (of the name) comes in," said Matt Cannizzo, the prep's director of institutional advancement. "It's the bridge that introduces them to a world of possibilities."

     LaQuan Ford was abandoned by his parents and raised by a great-great-aunt, Mary Washington, a retired factory worker who assembled ambulance sirens and worked part-time in a bar.

    "The thing she taught me most was resiliency," he said.

    On the streets of Vailsburg he learned another crucial lesson: he could dream his way out.

    "I was a dreamer," Ford said. "I knew I wanted a better life for myself."

    As a boy raking leaves or shoveling snow to earn a few bucks, those dreams were modest.

    "I wanted to be normal kid," he said. "I wanted to go to bed every night knowing I was going to be okay the next day."

    He also wanted other things, even more modest. Heat. Electricity.

    When he was at West Side High, he had to move in with friends because his home had neither.

    "My friend and his brother were in gangs," Ford said. "I didn't want that life, so I spent as much time as I could in school."

     Around that time, his mother Charlene Ford died in a Newark fire started by candles, also in a home with no electricity. His great-great-aunt later passed away from natural causes.

    At this low point in his young life, Ford was led into productive things at school. With the help of West Side career counselor Gail Sherman, he joined Junior Achievement and Junior MBA. He ran for class president and won.

    When asked who he shared that news with, he said, "No one."

    But the void of family was partially filled with great mentors, beginning with Sherman. Next it was Nick Scalera, a Seton Hall University Class of '63 graduate and the former head of state's child protection services.

    After high school, Ford was accepted to Seton Hall University, but a scholarship awarded to him by a group of business associates dried up in the bad economy.

    "I thought I had to drop out and go to Essex County (College)," he said.

    He was put in touch with Scalera, who was launching a scholarship fund in 2011. Ford was one of the first three recipients and graduated in 2013.

    Fords said sharing his experience of having -- and not having - financial support will be beneficial to the Seton Hall Prep students he is now in charge of shepherding through the Griffin Bridges program.

    "When I was in high school, I wish I had known about this program," he said. "I know what it's like to not have the resources, and I know how important those resources are. The guys in this program have a tremendous opportunity to be exposed to people and things I wasn't exposed to until I went to college."

    The scholarship pays about 80 percent of  Seton Hall's $19,250 annual tuition.

    "The families and the kids have to be somewhat invested," Cannizzo said. "A lot of our kids work to help pay tuition."

    A side pocket of money, funded by the late Patricia McMahon, the long-time director of development, provides non-tuition support.

    "We've had kids who don't have electricity at home, or who need money for food, or for technology," Cannizzo said. "We have to understand those needs."

    And that's why the directorship always falls to someone who has walked in those shoes.

    "I have a humble understanding of what they need," Ford said. "But I can also push them to go far."

    Mark Di Ionno may be reached at Follow The Star-Ledger on Twitter @StarLedger and find us on Facebook.    

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    Check out previews and picks for each event at the 2018 Meet of Champions.

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    A mother-daughter team allegedly beat up a Newark woman on June 6, 2018, and now police are asking for the public's help in locating the suspects.

    Police are searching for a mother and daughter who allegedly brutally beat up a Newark woman Wednesday night, and have asked for help from the public in locating them.

    The victim said she was assaulted by Alicia Breland, 29, and Jacqueline Breland, 49, both of Hillside, before 9 p.m., police said.

    "She was transported to the Beth Isreal Medical Center for treatment where doctors found that she was bleeding internally about her brain," according to a Newark Police Department press release. "While police are actively searching for the suspects, we seek the public's assistance in quickly locating and removing (them) from our streets."

    Detectives from the 5th Precinct have gathered enough evidence to identify both Brelands as suspects and issue warrants for their arrest. A search for the two women was still underway as of Thursday morning.

    Anyone with information can call the Department's 24-hour Crime Stopper tip line at 877-NWK-TIPS (877-695-8477) or 877-NWK-GUNS (877-695-4867).  All anonymous Crime Stopper tips are kept confidential and could result in a reward.

    Anonymous tips may also be made using the Police Division's website or through the a Smartphone App available at iTunes and Google Play. Search Newark Police Division to download the App.

    Cassidy Grom may be reached at Follow her at @cassidygrom. Find on Facebook.Have a tip? Tell us.

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    Maplewood permanently paints rainbow striped crosswalks on a county intersection in celebration of LGBT Pride Month

    In Maplewood, LGBT pride doesn't just happen during Pride Month in June. And officials in town are proving it with a permanent change to a busy township intersection.

    Maplewood plans to unveil Thursday permanent rainbow striped crosswalks -- joining just a few other towns in the world that have done the same thing.

    The crosswalks will be at the intersection of Valley Street, a county road, and Oakview Road. Maplewood will become the first town in New Jersey to feature permanent rainbow crosswalks on a county road to celebrate and honor diversity and inclusion within the community, town officials said. 

    "We want to do something that would serve as a permanent marker or symbol of our commitment to inclusion," said Dean Dafis, the first openly LGBTQ Mapplewood Township Committee member.

    "I wanted it to be something you can encounter every day. We want our youth in particular -- perhaps those struggling to find their way, those in need of empowerment and affirmation -- to proudly cross or walk over their fear and self doubt."

    The township's mayor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    The official unveiling of the crosswalk is scheduled for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. on the front steps of Maplewood Town Hall, and will feature face painting, music, balloon twisting and treats for children. The event is free and families are encouraged to come and dance to celebrate pride.

    This event is part of Maplewood and South Orange's greater SOMA Celebrates Pride initiative to celebrate throughout the month of June. 

    Delaney Dryfoos may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @delaneydryfoos. Find on Facebook.

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    Meet the 28 players from New Jersey selected in the 2018 MLB Draft

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    Two Newark men were charged with drug trafficking Thursday in connection with the largest seizure of fentanyl in Nebraska history, enough of the drug to kill 26 million people.

    Two Newark men were charged with drug trafficking Thursday in connection with the largest seizure of fentanyl in Nebraska history, enough of the drug to kill 26 million people.

    Nebraska State Patrol troopers discovered 118 pounds of fentanyl during an April 26 traffic stop on Interstate 80, United States Attorney Joe Kelly said in a release.

    This fentanyl seizure is the largest ever in Nebraska, surpassing the seizure of  more than 36 pounds in October 2017, Kelly said in the release.

    Nelson Nicolas Nunez-Acosta, 52, and Felipe Genao Minaya, 47, were charged Thursday with knowingly and intentionally possessing with the intent to distribute fentanyl, authorities said. If convicted, each faces 10 years to life in prison.

    Fentanyl is an opioid drug, 40-50 times more potent than heroin, the release states. Authorities said they initially believed the foil-wrapped Fentanyl was cocaine when the drugs were seized.

    Kelly praised the efforts of the troopers who made the bust.

    "The diligence of these two Troopers is incredible." Kelly said in the release. "The interdiction of these opioids saved countless lives. This is a multi-faceted problem that we are addressing through enforcement, prevention and treatment. This is an exceptional example of the enforcement work making our streets safer."

    Chris Sheldon may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @chrisrsheldon Find on Facebook.


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    A state audit's main purpose was to determine what factors contributed to such a large budget deficit and determine whether the district's spending habits were reasonable and recorded properly.

    A report detailing the state's two-year audit of a New Jersey school district is out, and shows a litany of issues that reads like a guide of how not to spend taxpayer money. Though Belleville school district officials say they have already begun to fix the financial issues highlighted in the report, repercussions from the issues -- which could include criminal charges -- are far from over.

    The state report, released Tuesday, was based on an investigation that began in 2014 after a review of the district's required financial audit revealed serious and repeated flaws in its finances, and a $3,712,400 deficit during the 2014 fiscal year. 

    The 23-page report, which examined the district's Annual General Fund expenditures for 2014-2016, details the numerous spending habits and strange financial decisions that led to the deficit. Most of the incidents discussed in the study occurred between 2013-2015. Those cited include:                   

    • In December 2011, the district sold to the Township of Belleville one of its school buildings for just $1. In December 2013, the township sold the property to a developer for $1 million. The audit found the district lost about $550,000 in potential resources by selling the school for $1.
    • The district leased unneeded property for school bus parking for $200,000. The buses could have been, and are currently being, parked at school properties.
    • The district purchased 2,000 flash drives for $20,000 that it did not need and could not use from a company that employed a district board trustee as one of its sales representatives.
    • The district awarded contracts to a technology vendor at a cost of nearly $2.6 million without proper price competition or regard for cost.
    • The district failed to implement a disaster recovery plan, which caused a system crash that resulted in permanent loss of some payroll data, expenditure data, emails, and some student attendance, scheduling, and grade data.

    Even when spending was related to the district's programs, it was not always reasonable or properly recorded, the report said. Some of those transactions were never approved by the board and some contracts were awarded to people who were related to or had a relationship with members of the board. Auditors also found issues involving payroll, personnel and student field trips.

    The deficit was thanks to "management's disregard for the budget limits and inaction in controlling spending," the report found. State auditor Stephen M. Eells told NJ Advance Media that staff in the district at the time did not have experience in spending taxpayer dollars, particularly for a district the of its size. Belleville has about 4,650 students.

    Some of the issues were discovered to be in violation of state laws and statutes, and were sent to the Division of Criminal Justice for review. The Criminal Justice Division will determine if certain actions that led to the deficit were intentional and criminal or were due to a lack of experienced staff, the auditor said.

    The district was given a $4.2 million loan in 2015 by the Department of Education in order to address the 2014 budget deficit. It will have to pay back the loan over the next 10 years.

    The final report on the audit also made several recommendations to the district, many of which include following state mandates, giving greater consideration when entering into third party contracts and ensuring that proper procedure is being followed when hiring and compensating staff members.

    School officials say they have already implemented fixes to the numerous issues outlined in the document.

    "We have worked extremely hard since my arrival in 2015 to correct all of the deficiencies in (the) district," Superintendent Richard Tomko said in a statement to NJ Advance Media.

    "The district has made a complete turnaround with regard to internal controls, spending, and administrative oversight to ensure that we are in compliance in consideration of all accountability areas and that all resources are focused on the students and school community in Belleville."

    Olivia Rizzo may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @LivRizz. Find on Facebook

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    A Newark HUBB is the center of healing and love where young people thrive.

    Al-Tariq Best doesn't know what happened to the young man who was beaten and bloodied by a mob with poles and bats on a summer afternoon 12 years ago in Newark.

    Then again, he can imagine. Someone in the crowd that surrounded the guy had pulled out a gun. Fearing gunfire, Best sped off down Bergen Street near Clinton Avenue.

    He was angry that his four sons, who were with him, had to witness such brutality in his hometown, where he still resides. He was embarrassed, too. The boys' mother didn't want them going into Newark for this reason. His oldest son, Dantey Jackson, who was 14 at the time, asked his father what he was doing to improve life in a city he was always defending against critics.

    MORE: Recent Barry Carter columns  

    Best didn't have an answer.

    "That was the worst feeling in the world," said Best.

    The teen's question, however, changed the direction of Best's life. Never again would he feel like a hypocrite if asked, "What am I doing for my community?"

    Best gave up an aspiring rap career to lead thousands of Newark youth and young adults away from the violence that his family saw that day.

    "I can tell you that those images for me are hard to shake and that moment lives with me," said Jackson, now 26, of Lawrenceville. "That moment shaped me and my idea of Newark."

    It still hurts Best to hear that, but Newark made him the man is he today.

    That day of trauma would eventually lead him to the Willie T. Wright apartments, a Newark complex on Prince Street, where he set up the FP YouthOutcry Foundation Inc., his popular nonprofit organization that has become a magnet for Newark's young people since 2010. When they moved into a larger space on the grounds, Best started the Help Us Become Better Community Empowerment Center, but everybody knows it as the HUBB.

    Every day, the year-round enrichment programs are filled with city kids, many from Prince Street, a Central Ward neighborhood that once had a notorious reputation for crime and drugs.

    Not anymore, since Best and the HUBB put down roots that began spreading in 2006. The people see what he's doing. There's no loitering in front of the building; no littering, no illegal activity.

    "If people see somebody throw trash in front of the HUBB, they say pick it up," said 13-year-old Ashaniya Mickle, who comes often to the center. "Everybody respects the HUBB."

    Everybody respects Best.

    Inside the HUBB, he has a triple "E" formula to reach youth: Entertainment, education and empowerment. There are workshops on videography, photography and the music business, including a recording studio and sound booth on site.

    Tutoring and homework assistance cover academics. Empowerment completes the trifecta with life skills when young people confront issues in their lives. Without judgment from their peers or adult volunteers, they can speak freely during a youth-led forum called My Thoughts Out Loud.

    The HUBB is their clubhouse, a vibrant place with walls painted with their hand prints and faces of community leaders. There's no pressure here. They can just be kids and develop their potential.

    "People here are not like my teachers. They are not like my parents," said Niecey Caesar, 14. "They are people who just want us to do better."

    On days when the HUBB is supposed to be closed, the kids show up anyway.

    They know Best, a father figure to some and a big brother to others, is always there or on his way.

    Last week, however, the Central Ward hideaway was reserved for supporters, foundation representatives, state and city officials. They came to salute Best for his tireless work and to celebrate the next frontier in his organization's growth.


    The HUBB has received $250,000 from the state's Victims of Crime Act grant program to help children and families who have suffered trauma. The funding will allow Best to hire therapists, a victim's advocate and provide grief counseling and mental health services.

    Until this happened, FP Youth Outcry had no real budget. It remarkably survived on donations, grants from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey and Best's contributions. He depleted his $30,000 bank account to help renovate the HUBB center, a vision many didn't recognize.

    Now he has help that his advocates say is well-deserved. Hollister Construction Services and the RBH group have agreed to raise $150,000 to build the HUBB Healing Empowerment Life Purpose Center on HUBB's property to house the trauma program. Rev. Derrick Greene, senior adviser to Gov. Phil Murphy, told Best the governor is on board to assist the HUBB, too.

    "I'm here as a resource," Greene said. "I'm not here to talk."

    This is a game-changer for Best. He knew that having young people reveal their pain wasn't enough. They needed more than enrichment programs.

    MORE CARTER: Blind Divas shine a light for us to follow | Carter

    "Our youth have been crying for help, and they found someone who was listening to them," said former Newark Mayor Sharpe James, a HUBB advocate.

    That's what sold Alex Torres, 21, on the HUBB when he was in high school.  He initially didn't want to attend the program, but it was refreshing for him to see someone like Best honor their commitment.

    "That's like mad different," said Torres, meaning most adults don't keep their word. "I didn't expect that."


    When he graduated, Torres returned the favor and volunteered. Parents pitch in, too, knowing their children are safe. Valencia Caesar said she never worried about her daughter, Niecey. The HUBB looked after the girl until Caesar came to pick her up.

    Best didn't know what he was doing when he started this work. He could have left, but he chose to stay, a quality Jackson admires about his dad.

    "I'm super-proud of him. His intentions are pure, and he's committed to making change," he said. "I feel like what he's doing for the community is amazing."

    Everyone is welcome at the HUBB, even those struggling to leave the streets. Shaka McKinney, 23, of Newark was shot four times in 2016, but he said the center doesn't give up on him.

    "Every time I try to get away, they pull me back," McKinney said. "The love is real."

    Best sees McKinney's potential, telling him that he has a decision to make.

    "You have to decide what kind of leader you want to be," Best said. "They're either going to follow you off a cliff or up the hill."

    He hugged McKinney, then told him that he loved him.

    "I'm tired of the cliff," McKinney said.

    Barry Carter: (973) 836-4925 or or or follow him on Twitter @BarryCarterSL

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  • 06/08/18--05:05: Sisters travel together
  • Thelma and Louise are good with children and get along with other cats.

    ex0610pet.jpegThelma and Louise 

    BLOOMFIELD -- Thelma and Louise are 8-month-old sister kittens in the care of A Purrfect World Rescue.

    Volunteers say the kittens, who must be adopted together, are "two very sweet girls" who are good with children and get along with other cats. Both are FIV/FeLV-negative, spayed and up-to-date on shots.

    For more information on Thelma and Louise, call Kristina at 201-965-9586, email or go to A Purrfect World is a nonprofit group in Bloomfield that places stray and abandoned cats in permanent homes and is currently caring for more than 100 felines.

    Shelters interested in placing a pet in the Paw Print adoption column or submitting news should call 973-836-4922 or email

    Greg Hatala may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.

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    College professors and social media don't always mix.

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    NUTLEY -- Mary Eloise Ames, on the right, is the only woman identified in this photo taken in Nutley in the 1940s. She was one of the Five Ames Sisters. MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey MORE: Glimpses of history from around New Jersey The sisters, whose parents moved to Nutley when the girls were teenagers, performed in Vaudeville and...

    NUTLEY -- Mary Eloise Ames, on the right, is the only woman identified in this photo taken in Nutley in the 1940s. She was one of the Five Ames Sisters.

    MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey

    MORE: Glimpses of history from around New Jersey

    The sisters, whose parents moved to Nutley when the girls were teenagers, performed in Vaudeville and in movies in the 1930s and 1940s.

    If you would like to share a photo that provides a glimpse of history in your community, please call 973-836-4922 or send an email to And, check out more glimpses of history in our online galleries on

    Greg Hatala may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.

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    To ring in Pride Month, the famously progressive Essex County suburb of Maplewood officially unveiled a permanent symbol of inclusion that doubles as a public safety measure Watch video

    Maplewood residents of all stripes were out in force Thursday night, celebrating the township's diversity and inclusion by officially opening a set of crosswalks at a key intersection painted in the rainbow colors of the LGBTQ community.

    The famously progressive and picturesque Essex County suburb just west of Newark embraces Pride Month every June. And on Thursday night, hundreds of people converged on the lawn of the columned, red brick municipal building and the adjacent intersection of Valley Street and Oakview Avenue, where pink, red, orange, yellow, green, aqua, blue and violet bands of color stretched across the streets, linking each of the four corners in a highly visual symbol of LGBTQ pride and acceptance. 

    Police had closed off the surrounding blocks for the celebration, where children and adults alike seemed mesmerized by the brightly colored intersection, running, sitting and splaying out flat on their backs atop the prismatic pavement.  

    "I think one of the things that draws people to Maplewood is that they do awesome things like this," said one local mom, Alyssa Cohan, at the intersection wither her husband, James, and their three sons, Matthew, 10, Jacob, 5, and Griffin, 19 months. "It's good to be raising kids in this town." 

    982_img_2392.JPGThe community was out in full force at an event unveiling the crosswalks in Maplewood. (Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for

    Maplewood and neighboring South Orange share both a joint school district and a sense of community, and seventh graders Rebecca Cardiello of South Orange and Della Zimmerman of Maplewood, both 13, personified that bond as they posed for iPhone pictures on the colorful crosswalk.

    "It shows that Maplewood is..." Zimmerman said, pausing in search of the right word.

    "Accepting," said Cardiello, finishing her friend's sentence.

    The idea for the rainbow crosswalk came to Township Committeeman Dean Dafis this winter, when he was contemplating how to celebrate Maplewood's diversity year-round, and it dawned on him to address a separate public safety issue at the same time. 

    "It was my idea to come up with some permanent symbol of our commitment to inclusion in our community," Dafis, Maplewood's first openly gay elected official, said Thursday. And, he added, "One of our residents' biggest concerns in town is pedestrian safety." 

    The paint used in the crosswalk is reflective, enhancing the visibility of the crosswalk at night and warning motorists to slow down. At a cost of about $3,000, Dafis called the crosswalk, "a cheap traffic-calming measure."

    Dafis said he had seen temporary versions of rainbow crosswalks created for LGBTQ-related occasions in California and the Dutch capital, Amsterdam. And he said, "This came to mind immediately."

    Among the proud Maplewood residents present Thursday night was Jan Kaminsky, the youth coordinator for North Jersey Pride, an LGBTQ advocacy group. Kaminsky said the set of rainbow crosswalks was, "the first of its kind in New Jersey, that we know of."

    She added, "I want the youth that walk across this crosswalk to know that they're loved and accepted, right up from the ground they walk on." 

    Like Dafis himself, the rainbow intersection is one more example of Maplewood's inclusiveness. Memorial Park, adjacent to the intersection, is the site of the annual North Jersey Pride festival held every June, including this year's event scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

    Maplewood Valley and Oakview Google.jpgThe four crosswalks at the intersection of Valley Street and Oakwood Avenue in Maplewood have been painted in the rainbow colors associated with the LGBTQ pride movement. 

    huge rainbow banner draped from Columbia High School's Gothic tower in June 2016 was a non-issue among students, parents, administrators and municipal officials.

    "This represents what we're about," Mayor Victor DeLuca said Thursday night, standing in the intersection just after a ribbon cutting ceremony, surrounded by adults and children giddy over the unique new rainbow junction in town. 

    State Sen. Richard Codey (D-27th District), who was also on hand Thursday, called Maplewood "a model" for inclusion around the state.

    Because Valley Street is an Essex County road, the township needed permission from the county to paint the crosswalks, which it received, along with praise from County Executive Joe DiVincenzo.  

    "I have always said that Essex County's strength is in its diversity," DiVincenzo said in a statement Thursday. "And the Rainbow crosswalks in Maplewood is symbolic of the mosaic that makes up our population."

    c57_img_2374.JPG(Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for

    Rabbi Mark Cooper of the Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange spoke prior to the ribbon cutting.

    "If we cannot look our fellow human beings in the eye and see that they are our brothers and our sisters," Cooper told the crowd, "then we don't know what it is to be human."

    Steve Strunsky may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SteveStrunsky. Find on Facebook

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    Jacqueline Bynam, 74, was last seen Thursday morning, police said.

    Bynam.pngJacqueline Bynam, 74, was last seen Thursday morning, police said. 

    Police are asking for help locating a 74-year-old woman who was last seen Thursday at 11 a.m. in the 300-block of South 10th Street in Newark. 

    Jacqueline Bynam, of Newark, has brown eyes, gray hair, and a light-brown complexion. She is 5-foot-9, walks with a cane, and wears prescription glasses. She was last seen wearing a blue zipped sweater, white shirt, burgundy pants, and black slippers, police said. 

    Newark police said they are actively searching for Bynam and asking for assistance from the public in quickly locating her and returning her to her family. 

    Anyone with information about her whereabouts should call the Department's Crime Stopper tip line at 877-695-8477 or 877-695-4867.

    Delaney Dryfoos may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @delaneydryfoos. Find on Facebook.

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