COSMEO helping young men become grown men

ORANGE, NJ — According to former Orange Board of Education President Vernon Pullins, the recently reformed Committee on the Status of Men in East Orange is on a mission to “empower young men” and give them “a clear understanding of what it takes to be all that they can be.”

Fittingly, COSMEO has been busy making moves designed to produce a positive impact in city’s business and social communities, including assisting local entrepreneur Jason Riddick as he opened Mama Sweets, his new bakery and restaurant on Oak St. on Saturday, July 29. The group also welcomed students and parents back to school on Thursday, Sept. 7, and participated in the East Orange City Council’s 9/11 Interfaith Call for Peace Community Prayer Vigil on Monday, Sept. 11.

“This was like our coming out party,” Geoffrey Burbage, COSMEO’s treasurer, said Saturday, July 29. “We were appointed back in February, so this was the first event we were actually out here showing our face. As the year progresses, you’re going to see a lot more and hear a lot more about us.”

Riddick said teaming up with Burbage and COSMEO is one of the best business and personal decisions that he’s ever made.

“We make the best tasting cheesecake, period,” said Riddick on Saturday, July 29, at the grand opening of his restaurant. “It started off as a hustle when I was about 14 or 15 years old and I took off with it. It started off as Jay’s Sweetcakes LLC, when I first got it going. But as time went on, my aunt, we all her ‘Mama Sweet,’ so I said to myself, some people frowned on the Sweetcakes, because they see the email and business card and said: ‘Jay, what do you mean sweetcakes?’ So I said, let me switch it up and name it after my aunt, Mama Sweet.”

Riddick said people wonder about “a black man making cheesecake,” but said, “I don’t let that bother me. It takes love and time to make a great cheesecake. I can’t give you any ingredients, but it takes love and time.”

Pullins, COSMEO President the Rev. Louis Mosely and Burbage said the cheesecake formula is also the recipe for success and achieving their group’s mission.

“We’re here to support Jason Riddick in his endeavors, because this is what the Status of Men stands for,” said Burbage. “It’s standing up with our brothers as they’re moving forward and doing great things in the great city of East Orange. The Status of Men is looking to do things like this to teach young men to become grown men like this brother here and become established and successful.”

Riddick agrees with the lessons COSMEO strives to teach.

“Being a grown man is taking care of your responsibilities, your family, yourself and staying on top,” said Riddick. “And when you do fall off or fall down, brush yourself off and get back up. Keep it moving.”

Riddick, a graduate of the old Clifford J. Scott High School, said perseverance in the face of adversity is the hardest lesson he has had to learn, and he looks back on his past with a positive perspective and looks forward to a bright future.

“It was a rough time for me at different parts of my life, but I stayed at it, prayed all the time and that’s really what it’s about,” said Riddick. “Keeping that wisdom in. Keeping the knowledge. Staying focused.”

Burbage said redemption is also a part of the COSMEO learning curve that all the young men the organization works with must come to terms with, because once someone goes “off track,” the only way to get going in the right direction is self-evaluation and corrective action.

“That’s what (COSMEO) is here for: To help these young men that falter, that stumble, to get back up, to let them know that they can be successful, just like this brother here,” Burbage said.

East Orange City Council reformed COSMEO by ordinance at its regular meeting in February. To learn more, contact Burbage at