August 9, 2017

Safe Streets Program Helps Unite Princeton, Opens Tough Dialogue

SAFE STREETS KICK OFF CELEBRATION: Studio Hillier hosted a celebration on Friday evening to formally kick off events for this year’s Joint Effort Safe Streets Program in celebration of the Witherspoon-Jackson (W-J) community of Princeton. The entire W-J neighborhood has been designated Princeton’s 20th historic district to honor the African American contribution to the town. As part of its commitment to this unique community, Studio Hillier is designing a set of plaques to be located on 25 historic sites within the W-J community. Pictured, from left, are Aaron Fisher, artist of the Paul Robeson painting shown; Leighton Newlin, chairman of the Princeton Housing Authority; Barbara and Bob Hillier of Studio Hillier; and Shirley Satterfield, president of the Witherspoon-Jackson Historic and Cultural Society. (Photo by Erica M. Cardenas)

Character Lesson No. 6 at the Witherspoon Street School for Colored Children (1858-1948): “You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you came from.”

Midway in the four-hour Joint Effort Princeton Community Critical Issues Discussion on the “Future of Princeton: A Sense of Where We Are and What’s to Come” in the Library on Saturday, Schools Superintendent Steve Cochrane reflected on all the learning he’s done in the past year, “especially about race.”

And among his many “great teachers” from all ages and sections of the school and larger community, he said, has been Shirley Satterfield, Witherspoon-Jackson community historian, Safe Streets organizer, and a former student and guidance counselor in Princeton Public Schools, who passed along that lesson from the old Witherspoon Street School.

The 2017 ten-day Safe Streets Joint Effort Program titled “Looking Back and Moving Forward” will wrap up this weekend with a flurry of cultural, athletic, and historical events, starting Wednesday with a book signing and discussion on I Hear My People Singing: Voices of African American Princeton with author Kathryn Watterson, and culminating Sunday with the all-day Joint Effort Pete Young Sr. Memorial Safe Streets Basketball Games at Community Park.

The burial of a Community Time Capsule, containing important historical documents and memorabilia, to be opened in 50 years, followed by a Shirley Satterfield W-J Community Walking Tour and a Safe Streets Block Festival, will further highlight the rich agenda of events on Saturday.

John Bailey, lead program organizer and moderator who grew up in Princeton and returns annually from his current home in Denver to assist with the celebrations, reflected on the growing Safe Streets Celebration. “It’s reaching its potential for community involvement С to bring people together to discuss the hard issues, to talk about where we’ve come from and where we’re going,” he said. “The potential is all of us, bringing people together. A lot of it has to do with having the will to do these things.”

He continued, “I love this community, and we all have the potential to do more and be more.”

The critical issues discussions in the library on Saturday, on four different controversial topics, did not avoid the tough issues. They focused on police-community relations; engaging the community in the 21st century and hearing all voices; affordable housing or housing affordability: there is no place like home; education of black students in Princeton public schools: challenges, choices, opportunities, and charter schools; and Princeton 2037: What will our town look like in 20 years?

“We have to have these types of conversations,” Mr. Bailey told the full house of about 75 in the library conference room. “These are tough conversations, with hard choices, but these are necessary conversations.”

He added, “No one should be threatened. None of these conversations should be mean-spirited. It’s all about taking it to a higher level of understanding. We’re all on the same page.”

One of the original founders of Joint Effort Community Sports Program, former director of the Princeton Youth Center, and currently a political-community consultant, Mr. Bailey will be speaking on Friday evening on the topic of “What Does It Mean to be Black in America Today: A Message from Our Ancestors to My Community From a Favorite Son,” as part of the Joint Effort Witherspoon-Jackson Black Seniors and Family Salute, “They Were There,” on Friday evening at the First Baptist Church.

Architect and town Council candidate David Cohen, who was on Saturday’s affordable housing panel, commented on the success of the Safe Streets Program, describing it as “a gift to the entire Princeton Community, highlighting the long-term contributions of our African American neighbors to the life of this town.”

He continued, “Today, when diversity is regarded in liberal circles as a universal value but is often an abstraction, the Safe Streets Program makes the benefits of diversity very concrete and tangible. The African American community in town feels justifiable pride in celebrating their rich history, but the larger community benefits as much if not more by gaining knowledge and appreciation of the cultural contributions, the struggles, and the hard work and accomplishments of this unique group within our midst.”

Noting that his greatest concern was the cost of living, particularly the cost of housing in Princeton, Mr. Cohen stated that the events of the past week had given him “a greater familiarity with the members of the community and a new perspective on what can and should be done to not just enshrine the contributions of the past, but promote the vibrancy of the community going forward.”

Architect Bob Hillier, another panel member in Saturday’s discussion and a board member and treasurer of Witherspoon-Jackson Historic and Cultural Society, noted the increased scope and significance of this year’s program.

“Though John Bailey has offered his Safe Streets summer program for over two decades, I think this year’s expansion of the program to honor the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood’s designation as Princeton’s 20th historic district is terrific,” he said. “The honoring of the four black churches, Saturday’s panel on Princeton in 20 years, and the burying of the 50-year time capsule at the Waxwood, the original school for the African American community, all underline the important contribution of this community to Princeton. Studio Hillier is proud to be a sponsor of such an uplifting program.”

Town council member Lance Liverman, who participated in the critical discussions and also spoke at last Sunday’s ecumenical service celebrating the history of black churches in Princeton, summed up the feelings of many, as the extraordinary array of Joint Effort Safe Streets events unfolded. “I am extremely impressed and moved by the support and love the entire community has given towards John Bailey and Joint Effort events. We are really lucky to live in Princeton.”