Photo by Chris Sykes
Keith Pressey, the basileus of the Eta Pi Chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity that is also known as the ‘Community Q’s’ and a board member of the Greater Essex Community Uplift Foundation, right, stands with David Hamlin, left, the chairman of the Greater Essex Community Uplift Foundation, Orange Municipal Court Judge Michael Hackett, center, and his son, Michael Jr., on Saturday, April 23, during the cleanup of the Ambrose-Ward Mansion on South Harrison Street in East Orange. The Community Q’s have partnered with the African-American Fund of New Jersey, which utilizes the mansion as its headquarters.
EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor joined forces with Keith Pressey and the brothers of the Eta Pi chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, based in Montclair, Blackstone 360 Development, the Shauger Group, the Greater Essex Community Uplift Foundation and other community stakeholders to stage a cleanup at the Ambrose-Ward Mansion on South Harrison Street, which serves as the local headquarters for the African-American Fund of N.J., on Saturday, April 23.
“Collaboration with our community partners is key to our mission to take East Orange from good to great,” said Taylor on Saturday, April 23. “The Ambrose-Ward Mansion continues to stand as a symbol of East Orange’s illustrious past. Preserving its historical integrity through beautification efforts and physical upgrades are key to the renaissance currently happening along South Harrison Street.”
David Hamlin, chairman of the Greater Essex Community Uplift Foundation, is also a member of Eta Pi and he said the kind of commitment to community service Taylor referred to is what the “Community Q’s” are all about.
“We’re the Community Q’s and we were out here trying to beautify this property and be a good citizen of East Orange because it’s important,” said Charles Craig, the Greater Essex Community Uplift Foundation counselor and an Eta Pi member as well. “I don’t live here. I live in Morristown. But somebody lives here and I ain’t mad at them. We’re trying to be good members of the black community, but currently the East Orange community.”
Hamlin said the project was just the beginning of what the Greater Essex Community Uplift Foundation, Eta Pi and the African-American Fund of N.J. have planned for the Ambrose-Ward Mansion. He said they have a “partnership with corporate sponsors who have donated materials and time and their effort toward this project and it’s our hope that this will be a cornerstone for not only East Orange but the communities, in terms of renting the building and using the building.”
“For groups of 100 or less, it’s the ideal place for bridal showers, birthday parties, any kind of rental event,” said Hamlin on Saturday, April 23. “We’re improving the property. And by partnering with the African-American Fund of New Jersey, we want to make this the cornerstone of the area.
Hamlin said there’s a lot of potential in East Orange and the fraternity wants to “build upon the synergies that are already going on with the various developers and working with the city government” because “service is something we feel very strongly and passionately about.”
“We’re all members of the Eta Pi chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. and we all come from various parts of New Jersey, not just the East Orange area, but it is important for our chapter and our foundation to work together to support the community of people who look like us,” said Hamlin. “He’s from Morristown; he’s from Morris Plains; Maplewood; I’m from East Brunswick. It’s all about coming back and working with the people again who look like us — our neighbors — and help the community.”
“This is actually an event that was supposed to take place on Saturday, April 9, but had to be postponed, due to the threat of inclement weather,” said Pressey, who is also a board member of the Greater Essex Community Uplift Foundation and works in the Orange Recreation Department, on Saturday, April 23.
“We have pictures of Mayor Lester Taylor pushing a wheelbarrow and that just shows he’s the kind of guy that leads by example. The East Orange Community Development Block Grant program recognizes National Community Development Block Grant Week from April 4 to 9 and our property, the Ambrose-Ward Mansion, was accepted for the community initiative that week. We were going to do a major cleanup from 9 a.m. to noon at the Ambrose-Ward Mansion, 132 S. Harrison St., in honor of National CDBG Week, and we’re still going to do it, even though it’s two weeks later.”
According to Pressey, the decision to get involved with the Community Development Block Grant award process in an attempt to secure a community hub such as the Ambrose-Ward Mansion came down to him, as chairman, “asking all the Eta Pi chapter members to come through and do a community cleanup, including gardening, recycling old items and just a sprucing up, as we prepare for various community initiatives.”
“We’re happy that we’re considered to be part of that CDBG family and … we’re hoping it’s a sign that they’re starting to look at what we do and recognizing that it’s worth funding,” said Pressey on Saturday, April 23. “We have several project that we’re looking for assistance from CDBG and we hope they see them as favorable and give us funds. There is a process. Just being considered as a project for CDBG is encouraging. Nothing’s been promised, but it is encouraging.”
It’s also encouraging, Pressey said, to get a little help from friends when trying to do something worthwhile that adds value to the community.
“We’ve called in a couple of community friends to help us out, including Blackstone 360 Development that is building market rate housing right next door to the Ambrose-Ward Mansion,” said Pressey. “They are (rehabilitating) an old property that has been gutted and empty for many years. They’re bringing it back on line and actually building additional housing in back of it, as well as increasing the height of the building, from eight stories to 13 stories; they’re increasing the height of the building to add more apartments.”