Graffiti Cleanups are all the rage!!
July 9th, 2009
Newark has started an initiative to get community involved in fighting graffiti

This is an example of some of the more creative graffiti found on the streets of Newark. This one is at Passaic Street.
Arturo Reyes could be called a recruiter, but residents won’t find him at a career fair or on an athletic field. Maybe they will find him on the streets of the North Ward, but that is only if they know to look for him because he is an aide to Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. who leads the councilman’s efforts to clean up the streets, literally. He searches for areas in the community that are littered with graffiti, so he and members of the community can paint over it.

The search doesn’t require much effort as Reyes has plenty of buildings to choose from. Driving on roads such as Broadway and Summer Street, not one building is singled out. In fact, it appears that more buildings are defaced than are not. Even the city says this form of vandalism is the most prominent in North Newark.

“Defacing has become overwhelming – even more now than before,” said Rose Raab, acting manager for the division of demolition and recycling. “Everybody is an artist.”

Newark’s Graffiti Education Team has been around since 1994. From the beginning they not only washed away graffiti, but educated businesses and residents how to remove it for themselves. An increase in graffiti has required a greater initiative that involves and educates the community.”If someone did something to my house, I’m not going to wait for the city to clean it up,” said Habib Ahad, supervisor of the city’s team.

Ahad’s crew consists of two other workers with one truck. Although Raab said they would like to get a second truck, she emphasized the importance of the community’s involvement in keeping Newark’s parks and buildings clean. The community will have the same knowledge as her team, knowing what solvents to use on different building materials and where they can find those solvents. She introduced these efforts to city employees last month and will introduce them to the community later this year at the Green Fair.

“We are trying to recycle their minds,” Raab added.

And so far it appears to be working. They are even converting some vandals.

Raab remembers two boys who the city caught defacing property. Their sentence was to work with her team. By the time they finished their required community service hours they were ready to continue the cleanup work.

“Someone needs to teach these kids to have pride,” Raab said, adding that these boys learned that while working with her team. “It might help to round up enough of them and have them work.”

Essentially, this is the city plan, but even with surveillance cameras it is not easy to catch these kids. Instead, Raab intends to involve the efforts of all the youths in the community.

One idea Raab plans to enact is a citywide mural contest. She said that this would turn “eyesores into eye candy.” She also hopes this will instill pride in the city’s youths so they will also combat vandalism.

“I’m counting on them confronting someone who messes up their work,” Raab added.

In the meantime in the North Ward, Reyes leads the graffiti removal effort for Councilman Ramos. He said they team up with Ahad and the city’s graffiti crew once a month with the councilman also painting a couple of buildings. They also collaborate with different organizations in the city, including the Forest Hill Association, ASPIRA – a nonprofit organization for Latino youths, Barringer High School and the police department.

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