The city of Newark recently celebrated the opening of the Shani Baraka Women’s resource center for women in crisis, to provide emergency services for women affected by domestic violence. The center has a personal connection to both the city itself and its mayor.
“You never think your going to be that person you never think your going to be that woman.”
28-year-old Newark native Christina Bright is a domestic violence survivor, she says she hopes the center will be able to reach those women who are often afraid or even ashamed to go out and get the help they need.
“Its not that places like this don’t exist, its that when your in that situation, it’s the equivalent of wearing drunk goggle, your not seeing things, your not seeing anything but your next breath.”
The ceremony to mark the center’s opening was an emotional one; Newark resident domestic violence survivor and poet Kween Moore delivered a poem to mark the occasion. A crowd of nearly 200 gathered outside what used to be a vacant lot on Clinton Ave in the city’s south ward. Mayor Ras Baraka delivered an emotional speech.
“I drove past here everyday and the building was abandoned, I was insistent whatever money, whatever we have to create this was going to happen and it’s going to be a testament to the idea that our community is coming alive, and the most vulnerable among us will finally get help.”
The center is named for Mayor Baraka’s late sister Shani Baraka who, along with her partner Rayshon Holmes, was murdered in August of 2003, by Baraka’s estranged brother in law, who had an extensive history of domestic violence. Baraka says while many wanted to politicize the naming of the center he remained focused on the memory of his sister.
“Its only fitting that it bears her name and I’m not ashamed of it. Shani wasn’t just my sister; I think would be a little safer if she was here with us today. She loved this city she was role model, she was an example, in this community. She was an example for me, she was an example for my brothers’, an example for my family, an example for other women out here, she was an advocate and a fighter, so my answer to you is, its not being named after Shani simply because she’s my sister, its being named after Shani because she deserves it.”
The issue of Domestic Violence has affected not only the Baraka family but it is a harsh reality for the entire city that continues to struggle with fluctuation homicide rates. Public safety director Anthony Ambrose says 10 percent of Newark’s murders and about 30 percent of the assaults in 2016 were domestic violence related.
“I think that once the word gets out and people know that they can come here victims know that they can come here, its private they can walk across the hall, they can talk to social services, they can talk to a social worker, I think in time that we’re going to see a difference.”
The center, through partnerships with St. Barnabas, Planned Parenthood, and the united way will provide services from emergency housing and mental health services to employment counseling and, it will also house the police division’s Domestic violence response team. Central ward Councilwoman and longtime domestic violence advocate Gayle Cheney-Field Jenkins.
“It’s a dirty little secret, it is a horrible thing that women have to go through, and this is a tribute that says, your not standing alone.”
27 year old Newark resident Tiffany Salis says as a domestic violence survivor the opening of the Shani Baraka resource center has made her feel empowered and she has this message for other young girls who may be going through a similar experience at the hands of an abuser.
“It’s a cliché, but in order for you to love someone else you must love yourself. Your not going to allow someone to damage what you have as a woman physically emotionally or mentally, if you love yourself.”