Photo by Akintola Hanif

South Ward: Isaiah

When I was growing up my dad lived on Foster Street at the mouth of Weequahic Park. It was a block that always had a lot of working class families, a building for seniors and other units with a big mix of people. The park was the place where everyone gathered but you didn’t see these stark differences between them anymore. There was all sorts of people that would use it coming from all different places, all different types —  the baseball types, families that would congregate, Pop Warner football teams.

In middle school I joined the Junior Rangers program. We learned to identify trees and shrubbery. We learned about the species of birds that visited the park. The first time I saw a cardinal was in the park. In East Orange where I lived,  we had a football team called the Cardinals and I always wondered why a football team was named that since we didn’t ever see those.  When we saw it, I remember thinking, “That’s a pretty odd-looking bird.’’

I learned about pollution when I was a Junior Ranger, how the planes from the airport affected bird migration patterns. Let’s not get started on the lake, which can’t be used for any recreation because of the amount of pollutants.  You can fish but you can’t eat those fish, you’re supposed to throw them back. When you think about an 80-acre lake, if it was somewhere else — the amount of regulations against pollution that are imposed in California versus the laws in Newark — if  you were managing that lake in any other city, things wouldn’t be this way.

As a kid, you see the park as a place where there are fun and games but as you get older, you see that folks can have career paths because of it. They can go into business, or engineering or fitness.  My proximity to the park as a child  allowed me to realize that almost all those careers can not only be launched at a park but sustained. Central Park is one of the best examples—there are museums and restaurants, people who work there as rangers or have other jobs there.  You can essentially help support a community by running a successful independent park.

One thing I would like to see grow is an interest in making connections, turning it into a technology park with public wi-fi  so people can gather in these spaces, can entertain themselves and do business, connect with people where they are. But just sitting in the park, looking at the playground, at all the different people using it, it’s a joy.

Isaiah Little, President, Weequahic Park Association

as told to Carrie Stetler