Chris Gadsden: Advocating for Jersey City

Chris Gadsden is a longtime community activist and Ward B Councilman, sworn in after elections on Nov. 8, 2016.

“I don’t want to sacrifice authenticity and community advocacy because I’m on the city council.

“If the problem is joblessness, my job is to find out what we can do as a city. How can the minority community benefit from the development? How can small businesses benefit from the abatements? If those concerns are addressed, then those problems can be handled.

“Currently, a lot of developers are not fulfilling their contractual duties. That sense of advocacy is what I bring.

“West Side is going to be that new area of development. When I hear the plans for the area, you’re talking about 10,000 people moving into that area. And most developers are focused on rentals – studios, one bedrooms. But we have a lot of families there. It’s a residential area.

“When you develop, you’re going to jack up the value so other people can’t afford to live there. That’s where my sense of advocacy is. My conversation with developers and everyone else alike is that it has to be affordable. Affordability is key.

“To understand the income disparity in Jersey City, the tale of two cities, is to understand how policy and development over the past 20 years has had an impact on it.

“Because we develop around water, we have confined a specific group of people to live in a particular area – and that particular area has all the murders, all the violence. It’s all because of urban planning. This situation right now has been building up because of our policy over the past 15-20 years.

“If a developer wants to build downtown, for example, they provide money to the affordable housing trust fund so you can have affordable housing units. Most of that money is then used to develop inside of Ward F, which has 30-50% of the AMI (Area Medium Income) in that particular neighborhood. That’s telling you that we want to keep that population trapped in that area. We’ve segregated that part of the city. The average income is 45,000 in Ward F. Unemployment is high up there.

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“I grew up on Wilkerson – between Ocean Ave and MLK Drive. When you travel downtown, you travel into another world. Diversity matters.This is how you fix crime.

“For example, when you close down Montgomery Gardens, the people who lived there had to move to Ocean Ave or downtown. They had to adjust their worldview. They start to assimilate to whatever’s around. Imagine me when I went to college. At first I was acting wild. But then I had to blend in. All people adjust to whatever their surroundings are.

“A lot of the things I’ve done – we’ve done – are just scratching the surface. I think in order to get us out of the violence, we have to provide a community with resources – like youth engagement. Youth need engagement like they never did before.

“Some of our youth are the most neglected human beings – they have a deep sense of hopelessness. Anytime there’s violence and shootings, they feel hopelessness. They need recreation, training skills, and to be inspired. They need to see that the steps they’re taking are working towards something. No one wants to see a dead end.

“We need economic empowerment. We need jobs. Those things have to be created. We have all this open space – we need to hire Jersey City people, give them a trade. Let them be a part of the construction. These projects have an impact. They give people a sense of pride. When you have a job and skills and a sense of pride, when you can put food on the table and feed your family, that matters. That makes a big difference.

“We also need more community involvement. We can’t police our way outside of the situation. We need to build up communities again. We need active engagement.

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“I’m also working with Steve Campos & Stacey Flanagan to treat violence as it is. It’s a mental health issue. Residents are suffering from the violence in high crime plagued areas. The model that’s being used in New York right now is called Cure Violence. We start by empowering residents on the ground, in the pulse of the community to quell violence before it happens. We redirect people to be proactive on the ground level, and do it with support of the police, of the prosecutor’s office.

“You’re hearing about a shooting every other day. We have to treat this with a new approach. That’s why I’m trying to build sustainable structures that will transform an area over a long period of time. It needs to be effective. People need to feel safe and comfortable. Then we can change the conversation so all the wards truly get the same type of service, the same access to services. It’s big but we can do it.

“I’m born and raised around here. It’s rough now, but it wasn’t always like this.

“Youth had jobs. We had community. We had a sense of looking out for each other. That’s lost a little bit in Jersey City. Populations have been displaced. The dynamics of community have changed over the past decade. If I go on the old block, they’re not gonna be there anymore.

“We had that.

“Now you got adults who don’t want to talk to kids. We got to this point because of the loss of community. I studied how drugs have affected our community – it was the basis of why I began The New Jim Crow lecture series – it was done on purpose. It was not a conspiracy – but the gun violence is kind of perplexing to me.

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“We fought or whatever, as kids, we had problems, or neighborhood beef, and we’d get into fights. But the proliferation of guns has really changed everything. People are getting mowed down.

“One of my former students caught three bullets on Montecello – and I feel so bad. I’ve had this kid in my classrooms since he was in the fifth grade. He’s not a part of a gang. He was going to the store and trying to watch some television in the house. And he has to get three bullets?

“I want the weapons out. I want the source of death. Let them fight with their fists – that’s fine. But I want to see you alive.

“We’re gonna be a part of any conversation. We’ll talk to neighbors, friends, whoever wants to talk, I’ll listen. I want a community approach to get them out. Even if I get one tip. Even if I find out there’s an establishment or bar – I’ll call anyone – get that stuff out of here.

“We gotta get it out of our heads. Who wants to live like that? Our kids are living with post traumatic stress disorder. “I run in the bathroom and hide,” a little girl told me. That’s literally how our kids are growing up. We shouldn’t live like this.

“Here’s what Ward B can expect from me: You’re gonna see an increased focus on cleanliness and fixing some of these quality of life issues. A relationship with the Department of Public Works to help truly clean up West Side. You’re gonna see a community approach towards crime. For example when people got concerned about the liquor store coming to West Side, we put a plan in place.

Remember the cops who got assaulted a couple of weeks ago? Those guys didn’t even live in that area. Cops staked out to find out they were running illegal gambling, and they had weapons – now that store is no longer open. I’m talking about an increased focus on those areas. Now – do I want a person out of business? No. But if you’re destroying the quality of life in that area, then no, we’re not with that. We’re trying to handle some of the quality of life areas.

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And I’m working closely with Mark Rowan. Mark is the truth. We’re gonna be like Obama and Biden – a beautiful team. We’re gonna do a lot. We want to connect communities. I want to meet with all the sections of Ward B and hear their concerns and needs, and then put their ideas into my plan for ways to improve the ward. Whether it be the Lincoln Park, the Duncan Ave folks, I want to get consensus and help serve.

It’s hard, but it’s doable. You asked me about time management, but that’s not the most critical component. What’s critical is my wife.

My wife is truly supportive. I couldn’t do any of this without her. I’ve always wanted to serve. I live around you, I hear you, and we get it done. We get things done together. But I truly wouldn’t be able to do none of this if I didn’t have the support of my wife.

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Posted by

Mel Kozakiewicz a professor, editor, writer, and mother of two.

4 thoughts on “Chris Gadsden: Advocating for Jersey City

  1. Thanks Mel for inspiring interview with Councilman Chris Gadsden. JC is fortunate that he is on the Council with his caring about youth and all people.

  2. This is an amazing story and I pray that change come not only to the rich but to those truly struggling to stay in Jersey City due to the re-gentrification!

  3. This is a great profile of Chis and the work needing to be done. Happy to hear him mention other wards and his take on solutions to these particular area. Thank you.

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