As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression.
I spent many months thinking about how I would make mine, writing my first piece for this newsletter. As a resident of Trenton, New Jersey, and a veteran journalist, I know there is a lot at stake when it comes to filling information gaps for residents of underserved communities.
Over recent years, countless local media outlets have gone out of business and laid off dozens of reporters as they slashed budgets to cut costs. In 2019, PEN American released, “Losing the News,” a searing report affirming why local journalism is important to communities and our democracy. Some key conclusions included:
● Many of the communities traditionally underserved by legacy local media—communities of color, low-income communities, and communities in rural areas—are those most affected by its decline. Finding meaningful, scalable solutions to the local news crisis presents an opportunity to revamp the industry to better represent, reflect and serve all Americans.
● Across the country, existing and emerging outlets are building out new revenue streams, experimenting with digital-first and nonprofit models, and collaborating rather than competing to better serve communities’ pressing information needs. But in the face of market failure, adaptation and innovation alone cannot address the crisis at the needed scale.
● Philanthropic funding must expand dramatically to make a dent at the local level. Only a small fraction of philanthropic funding for journalism supports local news, and that funding is concentrated on a handful of states and often bypasses smaller and midsize outlets, as well as ethnic-or minority-led ones.
Last year, I had the opportunity to work with the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University to manage a peer collaboration grant that awarded a total of $45,000 to five individuals in Newark who came up with innovative ways to collaborate with the community and other media makers to fill in critical information gaps that involved food insecurity, COVID-19, and affordable housing. Working on the project inspired me to create the Trenton Journal, as a way of connecting to and with the Trenton community by offering resources and amplifying voices through solution- based journalism.
Truth be told, I had a lot of questions about New Jersey's capital city, and I still do. Before moving to Trenton, the only time I spent here was as a little boy visiting my cousin's tiny white house on Vine Street for Fourth of July cookouts. Those are fond memories because it was when I felt most connected as a family. When I told close friends of mine that my family decided to purchase a home in Trenton the response I received was as if I told them that I decided to pack up and move to war torn country. One friend of mine who was born and raised in Trenton asked me, “Why would you do that when people who live there are trying to move out?” His comment and YouTube’s “10 Reasons Not to Move to Trenton, NJ” gave me pause for concern, but didn’t deter me. Trenton does have a lot of work to do to improve quality of life for its residents. There were a record 40 homicides in 2020. The Black and Brown communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. And although it is surrounded by farms Trenton is categorized as a food desert.
Amid its challenges, Trenton has a rich history, a thriving arts community, and a plan to revitalize the waterfront and downtown district. Trenton is not only the state capital of New Jersey, but also holds the distinction of briefly serving as the capital of the nation in 1784. Trenton is where George Washington won a pivotal military victory during the “Battle of Trenton,” in 1776. Trenton is the hometown of David Dinkins, New York City’s first African American mayor. New Jersey’s capital city is also the hometown of world-renowned poet and playwright, Ntozake Shange, who was the second Black woman after Lorraine Hansberry to write for Broadway with the 1976 debut of her Tony Award-nominated choreopoem, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf.” Trenton is the home of the state museum, birthplace of legendary soul singers Sarah Dash and Nona Hendrix, and two-thirds of popular R&B group LaBelle. Art All Night is a popular 24-hour festival that draws thousands of participants annually to experience art from artists of all ages and skill levels. Passage Theatre, located at the Mill Hill Playhouse produces socially relevant plays and arts programming for the community.
On a personal note, my move to Trenton was guided by spirit, and as my family and I were embraced by the community it confirmed that I made the right decision. I have lived in many cities and towns throughout New Jersey, but never in a place where I felt as welcomed as I do in Trenton.
I know there is more to a community than sensational headlines and opinions of people who just pass through or who live on the outskirts feeding into tired tropes and stereotypes of a city and people they don’t know.
Not often reported about Trenton are the men and women who invest in their communities by volunteering their time and resources to make this city a place people are proud to live in, such as Trenton native La’Keisha Sutton, who spent years playing professional basketball around the world for the Harlem Globetrotters and now gives back to the community through her internship, “Fan Favorite Club,” and scholarship fund that assists youth with college expenses. There is also 21-year-old Evan Harris who is helping to revitalize Trenton’s downtown with his menswear boutique, BeSuited, located at 142 North Broad St., after losing his job during the COVID-19 pandemic. Non-profit organizations, such as the East Trenton Collaborative, help to empower residents and support businesses through programs like the East Trenton Library Community Center and mayoral forums known as “Meet the Mayor.”
It’s imperative to have successful people serve as a beacon of hope by living and raising families in this city as Trenton works on being a better version of itself. A neighbor of mine, who moved from Princeton to Trenton a few years ago, confided in me that he could live anywhere in the world he wanted to but chose Trenton because it’s important for him as a Black man to show the young kids in the neighborhood that you don’t have to leave to find success. I felt that.
What drew me to Trenton after I was warned not to move? Familiarity. Growing up in Jersey City I lived in plenty of neighborhoods that weren't considered a desirable place to live until they became gentrified and fashionable. I understand the frustrations of not feeling heard and not having the language to express it. It often manifests itself as blight and dismissed as people and places to stay away from.
The Trenton Journal is a way for me to contribute to the city I live in. One of my goals for this newsletter is to work with the community and to help people share their stories and issues that need to be addressed. I can’t do this alone, so if you have any story ideas, feedback, or suggestions, please hit me up at Kenneth@trentonjournal.com. Also, stay up to date with us by liking our Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube accounts. Until next time!