IRVINGTON, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and the Weequahic Park Sports Authority scheduled the ribbon-cutting ceremony and grand opening for the new Rev. Ronald B. Christian Sports and Recreation Complex, inside the park just off Elizabeth Avenue in Newark, on Wednesday, July 20, at noon.
And friends and members of Christian’s family said they planned to be present for it.
“My God, there are almost no words to describe the dedication of this sports complex,” said the minister’s cousin, Derrick Edmundson, on Monday, July 18. “As children growing up here in the Weequahic section of Newark, we were so happy to see Mayor Ken Gibson running in the park as we played baseball. We ran around the lake, we caught really small fish and were so happy. We sat on the bleachers when they were here. We walked down Scheerer Avenue, across Elizabeth Avenue, to get to the park. This was our second home; we loved it.”
Edmundson said the entire Christian family is still in the mourning process nine months after the minister’s death, adding that the family does “appreciate Mayor Ras Baraka and Newark officials for naming a street in the Central Ward after my cousin.”
Edmundson said the family is also grateful for the many the tributes to his cousin and the outpouring of love since his death, calling this a living legacy and the continuation of the many good works he did.
“We truly love and appreciate Mr. Darryl Terry, (chief operating officer) of Beth Israel Hospital, for the Rev. Dr. Ronald B. Christian Community Center,” said Edmundson. “It is a great resource for the community and I know he would have loved that. But I must truly say that this sports complex is the icing on the cake. We appreciate the family support of County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. and we appreciate all county executives that supported this project.”
DiVincenzo said the new complex in Weequahic Park that bears Rev Ron’s name was a labor of love for his friend, as well as part of an ongoing effort to upgrade parks throughout Essex County, including the new playground being built in Irvington Park, next to former Irvington Municipal Council President and Essex County Freeholder D. Bilal Beasley’s Community Center.
“Rev. Ron was a very good friend of mine,” said Divincenzo on Monday, June 6, during his tour of the complex, which was still under construction. “He’s done a great job. In fact, he went to Weequahic High School. He was a track runner. And this new complex, it’s something to remember all the good things that he’s done for the people, not only in the city of Newark, but in Essex County.”
DiVincenzo said the new complex is just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to the plans to improve Weequahic Park. There is also a new playground dedicated to former Newark political power broker Carl Sharif being built directly across the road from the Rev. Ron Sports Complex.
Sharif was a mentor to both Beasley and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, and DiVincenzo said he’s glad to be able to do something to add to the legacies of “great men and great friends and great public servants” such as Christian, Beasley and Sharif.
The Carl Sharif Playground is currently under construction and a date for a grand opening has not been set yet. Douglas Freeman, president of the Weequahic Park Sports Authority, said recognizing the many lives Christian and Sharif touched is the right thing to do.
“With Rev. Ron, we’re going to have a celebration and we’re going to celebrate him in the opening of this field,” said Freeman on Monday, June 6. “We’re going to continue to represent people who have showed a participation in our community for the community. We should not let these people just fade away and the great things that they have done fade away. So we’re going to keep their praises and also acknowledge what they have done in the community.”
According to Edmundson, the new new sports complex in Weequahic Park “could possibly keep generations safe, active and happy for years to come. It could possibly produce the next Newark sports icon,” something he said his cousin would have appreciated.
“It is truly a blessing to see the beautiful construction and space that this provides. It is beautiful to see a free and open space that could inspire generations to come that bears my cousin’s name. His children … and the community that he loved most will benefit from this beautiful space.”
DiVincenzo said Weequahic Park wasn’t always as beautiful as it is now, but it has fortunately changed for the better.
“This totally was an eyesore for many years and we’ve made some massive improvements and we’re going to continue to make improvements to Weequahic Park because we have a lot of interest here,” DiVincenzo said. “Some people would like to see more things done to the park than the present design and we’ll take it under consideration, but you’ve got to start someplace. I think this looks a lot better than it used to look and we’re improving the quality of life here in Weequahic Park and in the city of Newark.”
DiVincenzo said work is also currently under way on two new baseball fields on the other side of the park. He said it’s all part of a master plan for public community recreation space throughout the county.
“Prior to me taking over in 2002, our parks were totally neglected and now our parks are probably … the best parks in the country and we’re going to continue to improve our parks,” he said. “And now we’re going to be starting on this one right here, the one we named after Bill Hicks. It’s a baseball field that going to be used for high school baseball. Weequahic and Newark Tech will be playing on them.”
DiVincenzo said turning parks across the county into revenue generators, as well as prime recreation facilities, has been a mainstay of all the projects that have been completed on his watch as county executive. He said this was part of the plan to make the parks self-sustaining.
“All of them are revenue generators. It’s important, because you need money to take care of the parks and you need people to buy in. You need the community to buy in,” the county executive said.
DiVincenzo said that mantra applies to every part in the county, including Irvington Park.
“Branch Brook Park and Weequahic Park are the two largest parks in the county; they’re over 360 acres of land,” he said. “We’re going to make them beautiful. I think we’ve done a very good job. We’re continuing to prove it. I am a Newark guy and I’ve worked my entire life in the city of Newark. This is where I’m going to die, in Newark. It’s the best city in the state of New Jersey; the best city in America. All of our parks are in great shape. We’re working on every one of our parks and they’re all beautiful. And we work with the communities to make sure they stay beautiful.”