Inside his hilltop building office at Rutgers-Newark, Junius Williams, director of the university's Abbott Leadership Institute and chairman of Newark Celebration 350, looked down toward the banks of the Passaic River as he imagined Newark's founding event in May 1666.
"It would have been nice if Robert Treat had included the indigenous population in all the economic planning and development that took place after he arrived," said Williams, 71, referring to the Puritan leader whose followers established what became New Jersey's largest city almost three and a half centuries ago. "Newark was a rolling plain of opportunity then, and we're going to make sure that all people are going to be included in all of the opportunities here now."
Institution-led inclusion is a key component of Williams' job as the orchestrator of the official celebration of Newark's 350th anniversary, which begins with a family fun festival on Saturday, October 17 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in downtown's Military Park. But Williams also wants to remind revelers throughout the year-long commemoration that the city is also a symphony of its people's authentic voices.
"We've had meetings in all five of Newark's wards asking people for their input about the more than 50 projects and programs we're putting forward this year," Williams said. And we still want as much input as people want to give us."
Newark Celebration 350 Chairman Junius Williams.
Williams noted that that he is building upon the foundation left behind by the late Clement Price, the renowned Rutgers-Newark professor and city historian who was the first celebration committee chairman.
The anniversary committee is working with Newark Schools Superintendent Christopher Cerf to introduce a Newark 350th anniversary curriculum in the public schools. The committee is examining how politics and power shifted in Newark in the 1960s. The committee is also looking at how race and class has affected the lives of the successive waves of immigrants who continue to arrive in Newark.
"Newark Celebration 350 is not just a pat on the back," Williams said. "We're going to examine all aspects of life in this city."
A native of Richmond, Virginia, Williams arrived in Newark in 1965 and spent the next 50 years building a career as an attorney, civil rights campaigner, community organizer, academic and author, as evidenced by his book "Unfinished Agenda: Urban Politics in the Era of Black Power."
Williams noted that when the city celebrated its 300th anniversary in 1966, on the brink of the civil disturbances that negated Newark as a desirable destination for many, the city had "not as much to celebrate." But now, in the middle of a new anniversary, Williams pointed to a key component in Newark's revival.
"Economics is the last frontier. Newark is going to develop - the question is for whom its going to develop," Williams said. "History can teach us what we need to do to become involved in creating the new political economy of Newark and how we can shape the city's future. We can use this 350th anniversary celebration to apply our history's lessons and make Newark an example of how you can turn cities around nationwide. I feel duty bound to show people that we know how to put the pieces together."