Newark needs more men like this peddler of sound advice

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on May 19, 2015

Al Hakim is a respected Newark peddler who offers sound advice to residents.


Al Hakim is Newark peddler No. 478, selling a buffet of merchandise from a card table at the corner of Clinton and Seymour avenues.

He has barrettes, women's dresses and socks, both regular and for diabetics. There's shea butter, black soap and hats. If you need a shirt, perfume or a specialty toy, he can get that, too.

What's not for sale is his advice, offered up freely to anyone who'll listen.

"You either pay attention to it, or you don't," he says. "If you break the law, you're wrong. I tell them what's right. What I mean by right, I mean I give it to them straight."

He's the guy who Newark Mayor Ras Baraka was looking for in every ward to help change a culture of senseless violence when he called on men last week to help bring order to troubled corners.

Baraka's plea came after Al-Shakeen Woodson, a 15-year-old Newark teenager, was shot and killed on Mother's Day.

Four days later, Baraka hit the streets to shut down the chaos for a few hours. He came with members of his administration to join residents, community stakeholders and anyone willing to get on board with a plan that the mayor calls "Occupy the Block.''

The group was at Clinton and Chadwick avenues, one block from Hakim, who is well-known and respected in the neighborhood for already doing what the city is now asking of residents.

Hakim gets involved and his stature on this South Ward corridor is quickly evident during my brief time with him.

Customers regularly buy his products. A driver on the No. 13 NJ Transit bus shouts to Hakim during a stop, asking him to save a wide-brimmed summer hat until next week. People constantly stop to say hello, either on foot or from a passing car at the traffic light.

"Uncle Hak, what happened."

Samira Lane wants to know about the gathering down the street, where city officials and others were listening to music, sitting on folding chairs, playing dominoes and chess. Books were being distributed to kids, as well as information about summer camp.

"lt's a demonstration," Hakim says.

I fill her in on the details, about how the mayor wants to empower the community and have men step up and be a positive example.

"You got the right man," Lane says, of Hakim. "Everything that comes out of his mouth is an inspiration."

And because of that, Cameron Drayton says nobody messes with Hakim or his table, or tries to sell drugs at his corner.

"This man is here every day,'' Drayton says. "Hak couldn't be out here as long as he's been out here if the people didn't know him.''

With a peddler's license, it's been four years. Without one, we're talking more than 20 years as he walked around selling his products discreetly from a shopping cart.

In that time, while the people see Hakim making a living, they also say he's not afraid to talk to the city's youth when others won't. He's the one who wants to know why a kid is frowning on the way to school, or he may ask the fellas to pull up their sagging pants.

Isiah Hall, 18, says Hakim is always chatting him up him about life, telling him to keep his head up.

"He's a good man," Hall says.

The good man wants the old neighborhood back, a time when parents looked after each other's children and when residents seemed to have everything they needed right on Clinton Avenue.

He remembers the donut shop, the clothing and paint stores, and the furniture business. Across the street from his table, he says, there once was a house from which passersby could here soulful music playing.

"I'm trying to get that unity back," he says.

Though the neighborhood has been beset by crime and drugs, Hakim's "fly right" message stays the same. He doesn't deviate and he expects the same from whomever he's talking to.

"If you want to bend a little, I don't have no words for you, ''he says.

Every week, city officials will show up on different streets and do what the Hakims of the world have been doing all along.

On Saturday, the city went back to Chadwick and Clinton avenues. Hakim was one street away, at Clinton and Seymour avenues, selling his merchandise and giving advice at no cost.

He was occupying his block, as always.

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