Being an exemplary citizen takes courage. It demands that one channel one’s own passion into the challenging, uncertain and very public work of cultivating the passions and energies of others – all in an attempt to make a lasting, positive mark on the world. Newark Academy is proud of the alumni who represent us through their dedication and meaningful contributions to their communities and to all of our lives.
(by Debra Marr)
Last September, I had the opportunity to travel, on a work assignment, to a place I had no idea would leave such a penetrating and lasting impression. Selma, Alabama, had previously not been on my list of “must-see” cities, but now that I have been there, I look forward to returning.
During the hourlong, early morning drive on Highway 80 from Montgomery to Selma with my videographer-colleague Michael Branscom, the rising sun cast a surreal glow on the mist hovering above the dew-laden cotton fields. The surrounding sights – rolling meadows, dilapidated farms and rusted pickup trucks – seemed foreign to our northern New Jersey sensibilities. Yet the entrancing aura heightened our anticipation of what the day would bring.
The lonely highway merged abruptly at the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge crossing the Alabama River, which took us right into the heart of downtown Selma. For several minutes, I felt suspended in time as I struggled to recall, in as much detail as possible, the horrific events that had occurred on this bridge in March 1965. The sense of sorrow, both in my heart and in the town, was pervasive.
A few blocks beyond the bridge, we met our producer, Bob Levin, at a local coffee shop to plan the day’s video interview with former Newark Academy Head of School Allan Strand. At 7:30 a.m. on that beautiful weekday morning, Bob was the coffee shop’s only patron. On nearby streets, there was no rush-hour traffic. The city felt eerily empty. I looked around, with a heavy heart, at the broken windows and boarded-up buildings and wondered what it would take for this sad place to come back to life.
Dr. Strand’s charming residence was in a small enclave of Victorian homes just minutes from downtown. He and his wife, Anne, had moved to Selma from Oxford, Mississippi, several years earlier to be closer to their daughter, Anne Catharine (A.C.), and her family. After spending the day interviewing Dr. Strand and recording his recollections for NA’s Oral History and Archives Project, I was thrilled by the invitation to tour the former Bridgetender’s House, built into a cliff on the banks of the Alabama River and currently owned by the Strands.
From the top balcony of the eclectic cottage, Anne was able to discern her daughter talking to a tourist at the top of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. I soon learned that A.C. is a driving force in the effort to revitalize Selma. While she admits that she moved there “kicking and screaming” nearly 20 years ago, she has grown to love her adopted hometown and has demonstrated great passion and commitment to helping it heal. A.C.’s amazing love story with this “town wrapped in shame” exemplifies what it means to truly be a citizen of a place.
“To change a community, you need risk-takers, people who are willing to bet on Selma, renovate buildings and create lofts so people will begin to gather downtown. When people are engaged in downtown activities together, crime goes in another direction.” – A.C. Strand Reeves ’83
Defined by Shame
When A.C. first moved to Selma, she and her husband, Allen, had two small daughters, so early morning walks with strollers became a daily routine. It was on those walks that A.C. fell in love with Selma – its architecture, its landscape and its people. She routinely ran into the same fellow walkers and discovered they were quirky, kind and wonderful neighbors. “The community is like a big hug,” she says. “There’s always someone to pull you up.”
At the same time, a shroud of shame engulfs the town. “From almost every vantage point in the city, you can see the bridge,” A.C. says. Selma has been broken wide open and continues to be defined by the worst day in its history. “Because we live with the pain of the past, which personified systemic hate, we have been reaching out to one another more than in any place I have ever lived,” says A.C. “If Selma can get her act together, she can become a catalyst for change.” But A.C. readily admits that the city is broken and its residents are easily driven to despair.
A 12-Layer Cake
A.C. recalls that her maternal grandmother was a strong, beautiful and complicated woman whom her son referred to as “a 12-layer cake.” He would say, “You think you have figured her out, but then realize that you have only gotten to the third layer.” A.C. now uses that same analogy to describe Selma’s complicated identity and multiple, intertwined layers. In its past, hopeful civil rights landmarks stand out against its more recent, darker history. “A founder of the Selma Suffrage Association, Hattie Hooker Wilkins, was the first woman elected to the Alabama State Legislature in 1922,” A.C. notes, “and Benjamin Sterling Turner, the first African American elected to office in Alabama, in 1871, was also from Selma.”
For the past 20 years, A.C. has looked intensely at the city and its history. She has experienced the shame, the dysfunction, the beauty and the potential, and she says she continues to discover new layers as her commitment deepens and grows. Thus, she is driven to help Selma heal. “To change a community, you need risk-takers, people who are willing to bet on Selma, renovate buildings and create lofts so people will begin to gather downtown. When people are engaged in downtown activities together, crime goes in another direction,” she says.
In October 2016, A.C. established the “1st Morning Art Walk.” It began with three artists who opened their studios to the public on the first Saturday of each month. It has grown to 10 stops and has proved to be a catalyst for attracting more artists to the riverfront city. Future plans include partnering with other organizations to offer art and photography workshops, civil and voting rights workshops, and a writer’s conference.
From Gloom to Glam
The Revival of the Historic Woolworth Building
A.C. and her partners have contributed to the redevelopment of downtown Selma in myriad ways, including the renovation of 11 lofts and three retail spaces. But the project dearest to her heart has finally come to fruition. A.C. has been in love with the old abandoned Woolworth building on Broad Street since she first set eyes on it. Fortunately, Selma did not have the demolition funds that were prevalent throughout the country in the ’50s and ’60s, so the beautiful building, with its stained-glass windows, is still intact. Selma has the largest historic district in the state of Alabama and is one of the top five historic districts in the country.
Even with this admirable designation, there has been little investment in the architectural treasures of Selma. In her most ambitious renovation project to date, A.C. and her business partners purchased the Woolworth building and recently completed a nine-month, $700,000 renovation. With local builders and artisans, they created six stunning loft units on the second floor and are currently creating a special place for visitors and locals on the ground level. To complete A.C.’s dream, the 5 & Dime, a wi-fi café, will debut later this year with a specially crafted menu that A.C. will personally develop.
A.C. loves to meet tourists and has been sharing Selma’s story with them for two decades. “Tour buses come to Selma daily,” she explains. “Visitors walk to the bridge, go to the interpretive center, then head back to Montgomery, leaving Selma to exist as if in a time capsule.” With her new venture, A.C. is seeking to change that dynamic. She wants to give people the opportunity to come to the city, walk the bridge, experience the catharsis, share in the healing and feel the love of the community. She wants visitors to come to the café to sit, spend time with the locals, and begin to create a new story for the city.
“Nobody is ever going to fix this community,” says A.C., “but if people come and share their love, the healing will begin.” A.C.’s goal is to “make a tub of love” beginning with a smile, a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of homemade soup. She firmly believes that Selma is on the brink of tipping in a new direction: “I’m definitely betting on this community – and it’s a worthy bet.”
(by Jessica Lubow)
The federal government dominates the daily news headlines with topics ranging from immigration to trade to constitutional rights. While we can debate the effectiveness of Washington lawmakers when it comes to tackling these major issues, we all know that D.C. is not the place to turn if you need your street repaved, or if you are concerned about a big-box store changing the character of your town center.
When James Solomon interned on Capitol Hill during college, he was struck by how removed he felt from the constituents he and his colleagues were serving. “I have always loved politics,” he says, “but my time in Washington, D.C., made me realize that my passion is at the local level, where the outcomes directly affect citizens’ daily lives.”
James, a professor of public policy and political science at St. Peter’s University and Hudson County Community College, moved to Jersey City with his family in 2014. Soon after, having waged a successful battle against lymphoma, he heard his call to action and launched his first political campaign.
Jersey City has been experiencing a huge construction boom, but James was concerned that the City’s long-time residents were missing out on the new prosperity. “There wasn’t enough balance between the interests of the developers and the City’s need for affordable housing, public parks, and so forth,” he explains. “I also care deeply about the safety of our streets. With the influx of so many new residents, traffic was worsening, putting more wear and tear on the roads and creating unsafe conditions for pedestrians. I saw the need for more thoughtful, independent leadership in my new hometown, and I was ready to make a difference,” he recalls.
As a political novice in a well-seasoned field, James took many by surprise with his 2017 victory in the city council race for Jersey City’s Ward E. James knows his biggest challenge is to represent all of his constituents, from the city’s old guard to its new young professionals. If his experiences on the campaign trail are any indication, his neighbors are eager to make personal connections with their recently elected representative. “I have been honored to be invited into people’s living rooms and to their neighborhood association meetings,” says James. “Getting to know the people directly, and to understand the concerns they have about our town – this is what local government is all about.”
(by Jessica Lubow)
Perhaps if more thinkers and entrepreneurs could find ways to marry profit with environmentally friendly outcomes, our climate and our world would be on more stable footing. Marc Stuart has worked to achieve this very combination, and we can only hope that others will follow his lead.
The Kyoto Protocol, adopted by the United Nations in 1997, set mandatory targets for greenhouse gas emissions for the many countries who participated in the agreement. Marc, in an exceptional stroke of good timing, was working in the emissions trading field at the time. He and a colleague, recognizing that their expertise aligned perfectly with this historic agreement, founded EcoSecurities, a company whose mission was to facilitate trade in the international emissions market. Countries with robust manufacturing and energy sectors were emitting more greenhouse gases than allowed by the Kyoto Protocol, whereas smaller countries with less-developed economies often came in under their limits. The Protocol allowed for the swapping of emissions “credits,” limiting the overall amount of global emissions while allowing all countries involved to benefit from the trades. EcoSecurities managed many of these transactions.
In addition to managing its clients’ emissions trades, EcoSecurities invested in promising renewable energy projects around the world. Marc sold the company to investors in 2009 and focused his interest on the production side of environmentally friendly energy, creating his current venture, Allotrope Partners. “We are in the midst of a major transition to a global economy fueled by renewable energy,” says Marc. “Allotrope is developing energy-production facilities that embody that change.”
For example, the company built and operates a wood mill in Northern California. “We have a forest management crisis in California,” explains Marc. “In its ideal natural state, a mature forest contains a combination of healthy, large (and therefore more fire-resistant) trees along with a lower level of small trees and underbrush, which serve as fuel for periodic, natural fires.” Currently, however, many of California’s forests are overgrown with small trees, creating perfect conditions for enormous fires like those that recently raged across the Montecito and Northern California area. “Our mill makes use of trees that are too small for building material, and therefore not of interest to the larger sawmills. We clear these trees out of the forest, where they are serving as dangerous fuel, and turn them into useful products such as fence-posts and packaged firewood.”
Marc is optimistic that his company’s approach, using market forces to solve environmental problems, is a winning formula for both businesses and citizens.
(by Jessica Lubow)
With whom do you share a community? For most of us the answers are easy — our neighbors, our colleagues, our classmates. Dania Matos chooses to go deeper. Dania has focused her life and her career on expanding her community to include those who don’t have a voice, a name, an identity —or at least not one that is acknowledged by most.
“Growing up, my family experienced a variety of economic circumstances,” says Dania. “At times we were comfortable, but there were also tough periods. We were even homeless for a while.” As a result, Dania is keenly aware of the challenges facing those on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder.
Dania has always been a “do-gooder,” as her mother calls her. After becoming a successful attorney in Washington, D.C., Dana remembered the unseen members of her community, even as she was enjoying the privilege of a comfortable salary. Her church was doing good work with the city’s homeless population, but Dania felt their efforts needed a boost. In the weeks before her 36th birthday last June, she compiled care packages of toiletries, clothing, food and other necessities for the men and women she saw each day living in the city’s parks and streets. Along with a happy troupe of helping friends and family, Dania drove downtown on her birthday and distributed the gifts, along with cupcakes. (It was a party, after all.)
For Dania, the most satisfying part of the day was not the material comfort she provided, but the nearly five hours she spent talking, praying and sharing stories with the homeless men and women she met. “Everyone wants to be heard — to make a human connection,” she says. “Homelessness is not a condition, it’s a circumstance, and everyone has a unique story to tell.”
Dania never takes her good fortune for granted, and she would never be satisfied using her education to advance only her own circumstances. As a law student, she volunteered for the Innocence Project, working with people who had been wrongly convicted of crimes. Once freed, they were often burdened by inaccurate arrest records and denied even their basic rights as citizens. Dania and her colleagues did their best to help these citizens regain their rights and re-enter society. Later, as a trilingual attorney, she knew she was uniquely qualified to help the homeless population around D.C., where she volunteered regularly in shelters. “People with a language barrier are especially vulnerable to the legal system,” Dania notes, “and I could be not only their translator, but their legal advocate.”
Dania’s latest venture has taken her well south of the city, to the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, where she has been named the first deputy chief diversity officer. She describes the position as her dream job. “In this role, I have the opportunity to bring everyone into the fold and encourage them to share their stories. This is not only the common thread of my career, but the principle that guides me through life.”
(by Jessica Lubow)
When Nick Williams arrived at Newark Academy as a sixth grader, it didn’t take him long to realize that smart, driven kids were the norm here, not the exception. “I remember telling my mom, ‘I don’t know if I can do this — the work is so hard!’” With a gentle nudge, she helped Nick come around to a new vision of himself and his place in the NA community. By senior year, Nick had come to truly appreciate the school’s motto, Ad Lumen. “Toward the Light means something different to everyone at NA, but to me it was about being a good steward of everything NA stands for — excellence both in and out of the classroom.”
Nick appears hard-wired to hold himself to the highest standards as an athlete, a student and a leader. Being a citizen of any community or country involves accepting certain responsibilities for its well-being. For most of us, these responsibilities amount to obeying the law, paying our taxes, and perhaps looking out for our neighbors. Nick is taking his responsibility as a citizen to a higher level, serving in the military as a defender of the rights and freedoms that all of us hold dear.
Nick was recruited to the United States Military Academy (West Point) as a student-athlete, and just as he had at NA, Nick soon found great success both on the soccer field and in the larger West Point community. Nick became soccer team captain, and in his senior year he was elevated to the rank of Company Commander, effectively functioning as the “CEO” of the four platoons of cadets within his company.
“As a Commander I was responsible for the cadets’ success in the three pillars of training at West Point: academic, military, and physical,” he says. “The biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a friend to my peers while serving the larger mission of the Company. Our motto, ‘Be in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing,’ always had to be in the front of my mind.”
Since graduating in June 2017, Nick has served as the director of operations for the USMA soccer team. This spring, he will begin four months of logistics training at Fort Lee in Virginia, after which he will deploy to Germany for his first a