Baraka adds famed Newark activist 'Street Doctor' to city payroll

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on October 02, 2015

Earl 'Street Doctor' Best, shown here in a 2013 file photo. Best, a well-known community organizer in Newark, is now working for the city as a special events program coordinator.

 

NEWARK – The Street Doctor is in session, both on the pavement and behind the pillars of City Hall.

The community organizer, born Earl Best, was hired to a $43,402 position as a special events program coordinator on Aug. 17. NJ Advance Media learned of the hire through a public records request last month.

In an interview earlier this week, Best, 67 said he had largely been working alongside Mayor Ras Baraka as he visits local schools, prisons and juvenile detention centers to discuss job opportunities, training and other positive outlets for young people. The mayor kicked off the tour at Malcolm X Shabazz High School on Sept. 10.

"It's a tour, I love it because this is what I do as the Street Doctor," Best said. "The mayor is the highlight of it, and I give it more meat to the bone."

In a statement, the city said Best had already been working for the city on a grant, and had simply been transferred to its Office of Workforce, Reentry, Youth and Affirmative Action to continue helping young people seek and find jobs.

The city said it had no "boilerplate" for employees, and demonstrating through its hiring practices that local businesses to do the same "can thrive if they follow our model by opening their employee rolls to citizens who offer a wealth of experiences and innovative skill sets."

Best is one of the city's most famed community advocates, appearing everywhere from shooting scenes and Thanksgiving turkey giveaways to preach against violence and the pitfalls of poverty. A Newark native, he served 17 years in prison, including 10 in solitary confinement, after being convicted of a 1983 bank robbery.

After his release in 2000, he founded Street Warriors, a Newark-based group of ex-offenders hoping to discourage violence by creating other outlets for youth, and has been a vocal presence around the city ever since.

He appeared in both seasons of the Sundance documentary, "Brick City," was a panelist at 2011's Newark Peace Summit alongside the Dalai Lama, and makes regular appearances at Municipal Council meetings to spread his message. In 2012, he announced his intention to run for mayor, though the campaign failed to gain much traction.

In its statement, the city said Best's myriad contributions throughout Newark's neighborhoods made him a deserving candidate for a public job.

"He has demonstrated his commitment to this community through his work and through his intense volunteer efforts," it said.

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