Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Group seeks opportunities for urban communities

Urges city to revisit and reinvent social, economic and educational initiatives

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Special to the Times

TRENTON -- Leaders from many walks of life assembled here yesterday to plan for an urban environment whose economy, social system and educational opportunities work better.

Tim Razzaq, a lead organizer, said some job training programs fail when the trainees finish but remain unemployed, making him wonder if the trainers are connected with any employers.

"That's called a broken opportunity structure," he said.

Razzaq is executive director of BOOST -- Building Open Opportunity Structures Together -- which helped organize yesterday's forum: "Inventing the Future: Designing Our Tomorrow, Today." It was held at the Hanover Street meeting house of the Trenton Society of Friends.

Ultimately, Razzaq said he wants participants to form committees to attack urban problems.

Razzaq and others at yesterday's gathering described frontiers in merchandising art, restoring the healthfulness of the environment and fighting racism, all of which they want to see addressed.

For example, Pete Abrams' Trenton-based company, Modern Metal Works, recycles discarded elevator cable into furniture and metal vessels called fire bowls.

Razzaq said Abrams' fire bowls (and other sustainable designed functional sculpture art works) should be incorporated into Trenton's urban revitalization efforts because they are locally made and fashioned from flexible cable, the material used to build the Brooklyn Bridge and put the city on the map in the first place.

"Trenton made, the world took and now it's time for Trenton to get something back," he said.

Abrams said his company teaches sculpture and offers internships. He had a very rewarding experience when he took his students and interns to the Art All Night festival earlier this year.

"The satisfaction of seeing something they produced sold for money was much greater than being a tiny cog in a big organization," he said.

Artist Leon Rainbow said he makes his own opportunities by painting murals on urban walls. He drew applause from the audience when he said urban revitalization goes wrong when it's aimed at creating tourism, instead of investing in the city's own residents.

"They spend a lot of money on getting people to come here, who aren't going to come here," he said.

Another participant, Stacey Kennealy, coordinator of New Brunswick-based Green Faith, told the audience spirituality is a fertile starting place to begin discussions on the environment because virtually all the sacred texts promote good stewardship of the natural world.

She said it's a mistake to think only white middle class people should be concerned about pollution. She said contamination most seriously harms the health of the urban poor and minorities.

Carolyn Mitchell, director of the Racial Justice Institute at the Trenton YWCA, urged attendees to improve the urban environment by organizing an event in the Y's Take a Stand Against Racism initiative.

She said the goal is not a colorblind society, but one where everyone is proud of who they are.

"I want you to see me as I am, an African-American woman, because I am very proud of that," she said.

More information about BOOST is available at http://www.weareboost.org/.

©2008 Times of Trenton - © 2008 NJ.com All Rights Reserved.

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