East Orange hosts two end-of-summer events simultaneously

Photo by Chris Sykes
A young volunteer works the grills on Friday, Aug. 24, at the East Orange Recreation Department’s annual End of Summer Community Cookout in Oval Playground.

EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange celebrated the end of the summer on Friday, Aug. 24, with two community events. On one side of Fellowship Circle, former East Orange Campus High School alumnus Rasul Douglas, of the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, hosted his Community Giveback and Back to School Giveaway, in conjunction with the East Orange Fire Department and the Young Professionals of East Orange, at the firehouse at the foot of Main Street. Meanwhile, directly across the street, behind the Fellowship Civic Center, Coach Constantine Edmondson of the East Orange Recreation Department hosted the annual End of Summer Cookout in Oval Park.

“I’m the Oval Park supervisor and we’re having our end of season cookout,” said Edmondson on Friday, Aug. 24. “Everything is free — fun, food and activities — so come on out. We’ll be out here until 8 o’clock this evening.”

Edmondson added that they did it big in East Orange, which was why one of his co-workers was wearing a T-shirt with the words “I’m So East Orange” emblazoned on it.

“If you ain’t from EO, you ain’t from nowhere; you know what I mean,” Edmondson said with a laugh. “We do it big out here in EO. East Orange is on fire in a good way. We’ve got a lot of activities going on, getting ready for our fall season, including soccer, tennis and indoor track. Come on out and get involved.”

Based on the number of people of all ages who came out to Oval Park that day, many heeded Edmondson’s advice, something recreation supervisor Victoria Lewis praised.

“This is one of our annual Family Nights and it’s always a big draw,” said Lewis on Friday, Aug. 24. “Coach Wallace and his staff and the maintenance department and everybody volunteers. Parents, kids, everybody comes out to help and work and they donate and it’s worth it, because everybody has a good time.”

“The only thing that we get a break from is, when school starts, we let them get adjusted and then we get into our fall and winter programs,” Lewis continued. “Girls basketball, boys basketball, cheerleading, double dutch; we have after-school programs; we have Rec Smart after-school swimming, track, boxing. So it’s a lot of different programs that we have going on and we try to keep all of that going, because you’ve got to keep the kids busy. You’ve got to keep them busy. Regardless of what time of year it is, you’ve got to keep them busy.”

East Orange Mayor Ted Green, who Lewis said is one of her former students, agreed with her about the importance of the recreation department, saying recreation is one of his administration’s top priorities, right up there with public safety.

“Since Jan. 1, when I was sworn in as mayor, we have set this city on fire,” said Green on Saturday, Aug. 25, at the 10th annual Summer Jam and House Music Festival in Elmwood Park. “People are energized, coming out, being involved … and we’re happy about that, because we want a family-oriented city. We want people to know that they can enjoy their city and they know that they can come out and it’s safe, clean and healthy.”

Green and Lewis agreed it was no coincidence there were two great events happening in East Orange simultaneously on Friday, Aug. 24, that had both been organized by two native sons: the mayor and Douglas.

“Ted Green is one of my old students. … He’s out in the community. Everybody knows him. He has no problem getting out talking to people, listening to people and taking action and that’s what it’s all about,” Lewis said. “We had Rasul Douglas and Jabrill Peppers over at City Hall, with the backpacks. It’s really great. It’s great that they do well, they come from here, they don’t forget home and they come back and they give back, which is nice. It’s really nice.”

Green said giving back to the community through backpack giveaways or any other means is better than nice; it’s a necessary to his “One city one community with one goal and that’s progress” philosophy.

“It never ends. Next week alone, 1st Ward Councilwoman Amy Lewis is giving away school supplies, book bags and all types of accessories that our young people need,” Green said. “Throughout this city, we understand the importance of education, but more importantly, we understand the importance of helping our young people and helping families. When you give these bags away and school supplies, it helps the parents. It helps mothers and it helps fathers, so they can concentrate on something else. We feel good about what we’re doing in this city. We’re not only developing the mindsets of people in the community, but developing development, economic development and consciousness development in the city of East Orange.”