I hustled off the train at Newark Penn station with the throngs of commuters from Manhattan, grateful, like them, to almost be home. Unlike the sea of milky white faces in front me, I wasn’t going over to track five to take the train further out into New Jersey’s suburbs. I call Brick City home. Newark is a place my co-workers frequent only when we are covering violence or destruction of some sort: a shooting, carjacking, fire or brawl.
I’ve lived here in peace for ten years, quietly residing in a townhouse in a semi gated community with its own private security, tennis courts, and clubhouse and fancy cars parked out front. The home security system that came with my unit isn’t the only thing making me feel safe. I’m surrounded by officers working at the courthouse and hordes of security cameras. Of course the faces of other professionals and families thankful to have a portion of the American dream, even if it’s not in my dream neighborhood, is comforting too. For me, there are two added bonuses: a nearby hospital should my chronic condition flare up and multiple ways to reach New York City. As a working journalist, missing a story because of transportation issues isn’t a valid excuse. So I walk the mile and a quarter to New Jersey transit, the path train or the bus, if I can’t drive.
Today, I walked out of Newark own station, leaving behind all of my fellow commuters and made sure I had on my mean face. I adorn my scowl on the streets of Newark so beggars won’t repeatedly ask me for money, men won’t hit on me despite my engagement ring and no one will think I’m an easy target to rob or violate in any other way. In a decade, I’ve only had to let the angry black woman inside me loose on a couple of occasions but I stay ready.
The haze from the clouds above made the air chilly as I crossed Route 21 and hurried passed the Prudential Center, which is often teeming with people who don’t ordinary come to my city. I slowed down in front of the new restaurants, some open and some being built, just in time to exchange a smile with an Asian family; three people who I wouldn’t have seen on that street a few years ago when most of the area downtown was pretty barren. I admit I hesitated walking in the city I made my home for a couple of years until I started to see businesses that hadn’t existed here since the riots of the sixties returned. In fact, the first new grocery store hadn’t long opened long before I arrived.
When I bought my home, there were blocks and blocks of empty lots, shells of buildings, and very few places to shop so I didn’t. I hopped in my car and went to other cities and towns to spend my money. It wasn’t until legendary Mayor Sharpe James was on his way out and Cory Booker passed through that I saw real growth, a decline in violence and hope for the place where I’d invested my hard earned cash; only then did I start to walk around and get to know my surroundings. Around this same time, I began my daily pilgrimages to and from work. Nothing about my daily walk seemed out of the ordinary on this Thursday until I crossed Broad and Market Street. The man selling loose cigarettes stood oddly silent next to eyeglass place. The man with the bootleg movies on the blanket in front of Footlocker was packing up, unusually early. While people filed on the two buses at the stop in front of the stores while gazing backwards.
I looked over at the twenty year olds crowded outside the empty storefront which used to be Conway’s and saw two men in the ground. The dark skinned man appeared dazed but unharmed. The other man, who had a honey tone, was slumped over bleeding from the head. He wasn’t talking and his eyes were fluttering yet no one seemed to be helping him. Actually several members of the crowd laughed and talked about how messed up he seemed. I felt my conscience tugging at me as I continued pass, unsure if I should stop and provide first aid. I fumbled through the top of my bag and realized I didn’t have plastic gloves. I quickly decided exposing my fragile immune system to a stranger’s blood wasn’t a wise decision so I kept walking. By the time I reached the corner, I couldn’t live with my choice. So, I grabbed my cell phone out my pocket and dialed 911.
“Ma’am, I’m calling because there’s a man with a severe head wound on the ground near Broad and Market.”
“Please hold for EMS,” said the operator.
I waited nearly three minutes for a man to pick up.
“What’s your emergency?” Said the operator.
I repeated the details about the bloody man left to suffer on the corner by callous residents. My disdain for the people I’d seen standing by crept out; that is until the operator informed me he’d received several calls about the victim and help was on the way.
Momentarily, I was disappointed that I’d judged the people I’d passed on the street, assuming they’d do nothing to help someone who was clearly in need. My attitude changed when I heard the roar of the ambulance siren in the distance. Then, it hit me. I was swelling with pride; glad to know I was from a city that may appear rough and cold but is actually filled with compassionate people who won’t stand by while anyone in Brick City is bleeding.
About the author:
Nika C. Beamon is a veteran journalist working in New York City. She’s the author of the new memoir, Misdiagnosed: The Search For Dr. House. In 2009, Chicago Review Press released her non-fiction book, I Didn’t Work This Hard Just to Get Married. She is also the author of two mystery novels.