NEWARK, NJ — For 43 years, Mike Franklin has graced the city of Newark and surrounding cities with his DJ ability.
Sometimes he took the stage with Funkmaster Flex and Naughty By Nature. Sometimes you could catch him spinning at Wendy Williams’ Super Bowl party. These days, his circuit is Ideal on Frelinghuysen Avenue — keeping it low-key while also fueling his passion for making people dance.
This month, you can catch Franklin and a laundry list of other DJs for free at West Side Park on back-to-back weekends for United Community Corporation’s House Music in the Park distribution events on Saturdays, July 24 and 31. The July 24 event runs from noon to 7 p.m. The July 31 event goes from noon to 8 p.m. and is in memory of DJ Salik Scott, who died from pneumonia in 2020.
“I’m so excited. We’ve been trying to do this for years,” Franklin said. “I wanted to be the first person that ever did house music and gospel music together in the park. I’m hoping to start a trend to have a yearly event with gospel and house music. I’d love to continue this for the community.”
The events are being run in large part thanks to St. Paul’s Church and DJs in Unity, who both made large contributions to the event.
“Bishop Griffin and Sister Cassandra at St. Paul’s have been huge,” Franklin said. “They provided a stage for us. They keep telling me to just let them know whatever I need — food or donations. DJs in Unity has been great too. They’re providing 16 professional speakers for our stage. We couldn’t have done this without both of these organizations.”
Seven years ago, Franklin — also known as DJ Omar — joined United Community Corporation and has worked various jobs within the community action agency. One of those jobs saw him stationed at West Side Park.
Alongside his DJ colleague and mentor Scott, Franklin got the idea to bring house music and gospel music together for an event at West Side Park. Scott was very connected in the local DJ community and the project got rolling quickly before it was abruptly halted due to the coronavirus pandemic. Scott died during the shutdown, but Franklin kept the idea alive and will now execute it in honor of his friend.
“Everyone knows DJ Salik,” Franklin said. “He was always a very good guy. He was doing this for over 50 years. I got to know him over time. I learned a lot from him. I really wanted to do this for his legacy.”
Franklin will close out the events, which will feature house music, gospel music and praise dancing. Local DJs Dave Barber, Rasul, Mike Strick, Robby Martinez, George, Derrick and Master Woo donated their time to participate in the event.
In addition to the music and fun, UCC will be distributing food packages, hand sanitizer and socks, as well as grilling free hotdogs and hamburgers. The event will also feature various service tables with UCC and partner agencies providing information that can help those in need. The events are being run in partnership with Amerigroup, St. Paul’s Church, Beauty for Ashes, North Star Academy and DJs in Unity.
“To see people wanting to give back without expecting anything in return is a beautiful thing,” UCC Youth, Family and Senior Services Director Yucleidis Melendez said. “It’s always great to do something out of the goodness of your heart. That’s the greatest gift that you can give somebody. That’s what everyone here is doing.”
While food packages and services will be given out, UCC is hoping these events turn into more of a celebration after what has been an extremely difficult year and a half for the West Side Park community.
“This is very unique and different from what we usually do for the community,” West Side Park office manager Christian Marsette said. “This is going to be about having fun. This is a get-together with a cookout feeling. We can’t wait to have fun with our community.”