In Newark, those who want peace never give up | Di Ionno

By Mark Di Ionno | The Star-Ledger
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on July 15, 2015

Samuel Nash a.k.a King Sau waits on the street in Newark before his anti-violence group Men Against Murdering Our Children (M.A.M.O.C) meeting. Nash lost his own son to violence in 2007.

 

For two hours before the summit he called, Samuel Nash was out in front of a community center on South 9th Street in Newark, handing out fliers and talking to anybody who would listen.

It was 95 degrees and the humidity was higher. He was in the sun, wearing a buttoned charcoal blazer and a tie. He seemed oblivious to the heat, pressing forward with a missionary's zeal.

"C'mon in. Listen to what we have to say," he said, tailoring his pitch. To older women, it was about their boys dying in the streets. To boys and young men, it was about them killing or being killed.

Nash, whose street name is King Sau, knows a lot about all of it. One son shot and killed in 2007. Another shot multiple times last fall. Several were in jail. He blames himself.

"I could have done better," Nash said. "I made mistakes. I wasn't there like I should have been, and if you're not a strong father, the streets will take your boys."

He's a little too hard on himself. While he was "away" (his word) -- Nash wasn't in prison. He was studying. First at Essex County College, then New York University. He got his degree in 2011, when he was 56 years old.

Thirteen years ago, Nash was a founding member of the Street Warriors, an anti-violence outreach group with a drop-in center in downtown Newark. But they also went out into the neighborhoods trying, somehow, to pull kids off the streets. By talking. By getting them to the gym or mosques. God, basketball, whatever worked.

"We need men to teach these boys how to be men," he said. "Men, not these OGs (original gangsters, the bosses), who lure them in and get them killed."

He later started Men Against Murdering Our Children. The Newark summit last Saturday was subtitled "The Crises of The Black American Family," and the people who came were the same people who have been fighting this fight for two decades.

"We can't give up on these kids," Nash said as he gathered with two dozen the other activists. "We've got to love these kids."

"We're on the streets, man, we're in the sewers with these kids," said Tony Olajuwon, also a Street Warrior founder. "And you see, they're becoming more immune to the violence. They see a dead body, it don't mean anything to them."

Everybody knows the reasons. It's the solutions that are more evasive.

 "These streets are saturated with death," said Omar Shabazz, the founder of the Anchor of Hope Development Center. "The music. The video games. The movies. Murder with no consequences. No respect for life."

"This is an issue of self-love," said E. Asyah Aquil, who is active in the Million Mom March and Brady Campaign, two nationally prominent anti-gun violence groups. "If you don't value yourself, you don't value your life -- how can you value others?"

Add in fast cash from the drug trade and easy access to guns, and "the numbers (of homicides) remain staggering," said Abdul Muhammad, a Street Warrior veteran and leader of the New Jersey Anti-Violence Coalition.

Of course, none of this is new. When Nash's son was shot in 2007, there were 104 homicides in Newark. The son who was wounded last fall was one of 11 people shot during Thanksgiving weekend.

There were 112 (CQ) homicides in Newark in 2013, the most since 1990. Last year, the number fell to 93. This year, there have been 70 homicides in Essex County. July has been especially bloody. Cold numbers. Warm blood. Lives wasted. On both sides of the gun.

"Nobody seems to care that we have a generation out here that is morally bankrupt," Nash said. "This bloodshed has become acceptable. It is not acceptable. Our community has to help police, and police have to protect people who come forward."

The media pays the most attention when cops or racists take black lives, but the continued killing on our city streets is a national disgrace.

Yet on the presidential campaign trail, it never comes up. There's more talk about terror in Iraq and Syria than in Chicago or Newark. 

Even black national media figures -- activists, politicians and athletes -- rarely speak out about black-on-black crime.

"Those guys are separated from the community," Nash said. "They get involved when its high-profile, when they get on the TV."   

So there were no protests or "Black Lives Matter" T-shirts when 15-month-old Sanai Cunningham of Irvington was killed in her crib last October.

Or when Zainee Hailey, 13, inadvertently stepped into a gun fight on Christmas night in 2013 while taking out the holiday trash in Newark.

Or when Al-Shakeen Woodson, 15, of Newark got caught in cross-fire on Mother's Day this year during a neighborhood event.

When, really, is enough going to be enough?

For the homegrown activists, the fight to make the bloodshed unacceptable continues.

 "What can you do? You can't give up," said Aquil. "You keep going." 

 "You have to keep trying," Muhammad said. "We have to reach the reachable  and save those who want to be saved. At some point, we have to turn this around."

 

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