100 Year House: A Housing Justice Conference [event recap]

100 Year House: A Housing Justice Conference (Happy Birthday First UU!)

The city of Orange is shaped like a house. There are many houses in Orange that are a hundred years old, including the First Unitarian Universalist Church, home to the HUUB. This year the church celebrates its 125th anniversary, with a housing justice conference on November 5, 2016.

Community Listening Fellow, Khemani Gibson opens the conference with A Place of Meaning participative reading. Followed by Frank Barzcz asking for a moment of silence for those families affected by recent gun violence. The day was meant to celebrate the church’s past and examine its present and future.

Bette Bland, who has been working on getting a spoken word club started, felt that a great recap of the day’s events was a collective poem. Post-its were around with pens for people to “capture the creativity of the day,”.

The day’s speakers included Diane Reynolds, a lifelong Orange resident who was living in a 100 Year House. She also happened to be HANDS community organizer, Dawan Alford’s grandmother. She talked about the joys and challenges of living in such an old house. After 69 years in her home, the upkeep gets expensive, including insulation in the wintertime. I was surprised to hear that her neighbor’s house was even older than hers. As she ended her story she urged those involved in development, to “not forget about the people who live here, and try to protect the older houses. I hope sharing my story can help.” And it did, thank you, Ms. Reynolds.

The next speaker was a familiar face, Michelle Racioppi. She was the AmeriCorps VISTA preceding me at HANDS, Inc back in 2011. She works at New Jersey Historic Trust and shared insight on historic preservation. She studies cultural heritage and conservation. She talked about the qualifications and what states can do to preserve what happens around a 100 Year house, intangible heritage.

Photography by Briana Heart
Photography by Briana Heart

Molly Rennie from United Way of Northern New Jersey’s ALICE Project spoke next. She talked about the long multi-generations in the Oranges. Her works with the ALICE project is the cross-section of the population and promotes a more positive way to look at poor workers. Like expanding the definition or perception of financial need. All alternatives of how to look at the city of Orange. Going back to our asset-based way of seeing what people in the community have.

I learned a lot of Newark, New Jersey from Ann Batiste. Like how the Ironbound used to a salt-marsh. It was initially undesirable but turned into a arts wave. She works at the Ironbound Community Corporation as well as the New School. It was good to see similar activity in Essex County.

The next speaker talked from the heart, and you could feel it. That was Molly Rose Kaufman, from the University of Orange, and with family ties to the church. She read an excerpt from her grandmother, Maggie Thompson’s memoir From One to Ninety-One about her decision to stay in Orange. It is always inspiring to hear about activism. She then went on to talk about sharing the stories of the community like with murmur and celebrating the lives of those around. I tried not to shed a tear when she shouted out my profiles on Masconsumption and shared the VAMP Festival recap video from 2012 at Ironworks. It was motivational and put me back in the game!

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I was able to meet many people, even Mindy Fullilove’s high school classmate who also lives in a 100 Year House here in Orange, New Jersey. After lunch, and the honoring of the honorees we split into groups for the “A Saturday in Orange; Hidden Treasures of Orange scavenger hunt.” Powered by the University of Orange and my friend, Aubrey Murdock, each group was given a different map of treasures. The walking tour led you to historic spots on an around the church. We were given QR codes to scan, where we listened to a story or watched a video about the history.

My group which included Naeema Campbell, one of the HUUB’s community listening fellow, Holly Barzcz, Frank and my dear friend playwright, Georgina, were led to the start of I-280. The formation of the highway was a profound moment in the history of Orange. We watched a video of the construction and it was crazy to imagine that the highway was once just a big hole dug in the middle of the city. The map then led us to Serrani’s Bakery. We met one of the owners who was able to give us, even more, insight into how 1-280 affected her family’s business. We also left with some goodies.

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A part of the activity was to perform a group sound we heard on our tour. We decided to depict traffic. We were no competition for Doug Farrand, musician and head of Music City, who reenacted falling leaves and acorns. Honorees included Pat Morrissy of Hands, Craig Hirshberg the former director of UU Legislative Ministry of New Jersey, and Andrea Lerner the Congregational Life Consultant and outgoing Metro New York UU District Executive.

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#AlreadyBeautiful

This was my first event after becoming a Community HUUB Fellow and I must say it was great! Stay tuned for more! 

Written by Patricia Rogers

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