Read this post as it originally appeared in NewarkInc.
By JOSH FRANK
Newark Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins and U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. visited North Star Academy Central Avenue campus Friday to talk to students about leadership.
The visit was part of North Star Academy’s effort to ensure students learn about the core values of caring, courage, justice, respect, and responsibility by studying prominent leaders in history and in their community.
During February, North Star Academy’s schools focus on African-American leaders. Before the elected officials spoke, the students took part in a Black History Month circle, in which they discussed historical black leaders, with a theme of “because of them, we can.”
“North Star Academy is committed to seeing that all its students develop and live the core values,” said Principal Tonya Ballard. “It is our hope that by exposing our scholars to the exemplary leaders of our beloved Newark, that they will consider a life of public service and giving back to others.”
Congressman Payne, who was an Essex County Freeholder and Newark City Council President before succeeding his father in the U.S. House of Representatives, spoke to fifth-grade boys about growing up as young men in Newark, the challenges they face, and how to overcome those challenges.
“I was a kid from Newark. There’s nothing special about me that says you can’t be a member of Congress one day,” Congressman Payne said. “I worked hard, I was fortunate, I had some breaks and opportunities in my life. And if you work hard, get your education, stay focused, and not let distractions out on the street get a hold of you, there’s no reason you can’t sit here one day yourself.”
During the visit, he discussed the legacy of his father, New Jersey’s first African American congressman, and how his father inspired him to pursue public service. The boys also got a lesson in how to tie a bowtie from the Congressman, who is well-known in the corridors of the Capitol for donning the classic neckwear instead of a tie.
Councilwoman Chaneyfield Jenkins, who was elected in 2014 to represent the Central Ward, spoke to fifth-grade girls about self confidence, telling the story about her mother and aunt, who developed one of the first daycare centers in Newark to care for infants, known as Babyland. The councilwoman told the girls that the daycare center afforded many women the opportunity to work.
Councilwoman Chaneyfield Jenkins, who previously served two terms as an at-large councilwoman in the City of Newark, also gave the girls advice about being a strong woman and supporting other women.
“She can’t be you and you can’t be her,” Councilwoman Chaneyfield Jenkins told the girls. “Only you can fill your space and only you have been uniquely designed, created and birthed to do what you can do in this world.”
Councilwoman Chaneyfield Jenkins told the students to think about their purpose in life.
“God has given each one of you a unique gift and all of you have been given more than one gift,” Councilwoman Chaneyfield Jenkins said. “What you have the responsibility to do is identify your gift. There is nothing worse than going through this world without a purpose. You might not realize what your purpose is yet, but you need to start thinking about what is my gift because everyone has one.”