NEWARK— Last night all eyes were on two of the youngest speakers at Mayor Ras J. Baraka‘s State of the City Address, who showed black excellence can come in the tiniest of packages.
Master Hilton Rawls, III, a 7-year-old preacher from Greater Grace Church marched out to the podium at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) to deliver the opening benediction.
“Stony the road we trod!” Rawls declared, while pointing at the crowd. “Father, we thank you for this place. Father we thank you for the city of Newark!”
The crowd cheered and gave a standing ovation.
Rawls was followed by Yazid Sharif, a student at Al-Minhal Academy in New Jersey. Sharif delivered a beautiful and strong recitation of the Quran, which left many in the audience standing in awe at the end.
Both young men set the stage for Mayor Baraka to deliver his fourth address to the city of Newark about progress made during his tenure.
Newark, which was once considered one of the most dangerous cities in America, has seen a significant decline in homicides and an increase in economic development.
The city has regained local control over the school system, and built the swagger to put themselves in the running to be home to Amazon’s future second headquarters. They are now finalists.
“Ours is an indefatigueable journey forward—not a perfect one. Just a persistent one,” said Mayor Baraka. “It’s the story of our successes, even when others counted us out.”
theGrio recently profiled Newark’s latest effort to recruit more police officers of color and retrain a law enforcement department long accused of corruption and abuse of citizen’s rights.
Last week, a Superior Court Judge stripped Newark’s Civilian Complaint Review Board of their rights to subpoena and investigate police, dealing a blow to activists who say progress won’t be had without it.