ORANGE, NJ — Reggie Miller, coordinator of the Rutgers University Male Student Support Program at Orange Preparatory Academy School, joined Mayor Dwayne Warren and a group of his current and former students and other adults, to host a National Gun Violence Awareness Day rally outside the school on Central Avenue on Saturday, June 2.
Officer Keishon Jonas of the Irvington Police Division was right there with them.
“I grew up in Orange, from Heywood Avenue School, Orange Middle School, Orange High School. I don’t live in Orange now, but I’m still near I live in East Orange,” said Jonas, 28, a former member of the East Orange Police Department. “You don’t have to become a product of your environment, just because you see somebody else doing something negative. Be a leader, not a follower. My point is, you can still dress young, wear nice clothes, have tattoos, look like this and do positive things.”
Miller’s event was a homecoming of sorts for Jonas, whose hometown shares some of the same public safety issues with East Orange and Irvington. Statistically, Miller said Essex County “makes up one-third of all the gun murders in New Jersey” and that’s a point he really tried to drive home with all participants in the third annual NGVA Day event.
“There was 400 and something, but there was 100 and something murders right here in Essex County,” said Miller on Saturday, June 2, as he was seated on the steps of OPA surrounded by his former students, including Jonas; OPA Security Guard Dorian Myers; entrepreneur and small business owner Ibrahim Joyner; and Jamar Woods, who recently moved to Orange from Montclair. “But in Essex County, it’s really the four cities — Orange, East Orange, Irvington and Newark — where it’s going down. So you can’t tell me these four cities that take up about 25 square miles or 20 square miles is capable of one-third of all the murders in this state, so I said I’ve got to do something about it.”
Miller said this is the reason he organized Orange’s annual NGVA Day event, which included a rally outside OPA and culminated with the formation of a human chain around the Central Playground basketball court, playground and field, to mark the occasion, as last year.
“I’m here today because the first weekend of every June is National Gun Violence Awareness Day and it’s something that started with Hadia, a young lady who got killed in Chicago about four or five years ago. She was 15 years old and her friends created this whole movement that grew and spread all around the country,” said Miller. “The national color for Gun Violence Awareness is Orange. We live in Orange, I grew up in Orange and we’ve got a gun problem in Orange, so I said we’ve got to do something. Nobody was doing anything in New Jersey, except some suburban towns, but no inner cities, where the gun problems really exist, were doing anything, so this is our third year doing it here in Orange. We do it on the steps right out here on the first Friday of every June.”
Miller said turnout was very good for this year’s NGVA Day event.
“We had a good turnout. About 100 people came out, from teachers to the Superintendent Ron Lee, to the mayor, the council people, Councilman Bergson Leneus from East Orange. It was just a blessing. We had a good look,” Miller said.
Irvington Public Safety Director Tracy Bowers said he would have liked to come out and support the NGVA Day event because he believes in what they were doing.
“Public safety is an all-hands-on-deck operation,” said Bowers on Monday, June 4. “Any and all stakeholders’ participation is welcome, because all of our destinies and safety is tied to each other’s. So the collaboration with police and community and all who want good is welcomed. In terms of gun violence, we must talk about it to successfully eradicate it.”
Participants said they came out to the NGVA Day event in Orange to show their support for their mentor, friend and former teacher, and to support the anti-gun violence movement. But they also said it was about so much more than that, too.
“I came up under Miller with the Brotherhood program,” said Myers on Saturday, June 2. “We’re out here to stop the gun violence, the domestic violence and all of the negative things going on in our community that always get swept under the rug. We need people like Miller to come out and speak to the people. That’s all that we have in Orange, is each other.”
Myers said it’s about Orange pride, and Woods said that while he’s not an Orange native, he does understand black pride and he also believes that is a solution to the gun violence plaguing the urban landscape.
“If any of these young black men knew their history, because it’s not taught in the schools’ social studies class, they would change for the better,” said Woods on Saturday, June 2. “Self-discovery would take you to a whole other plane.”