Hundreds of teens spend their Friday night inside West Side High School in Newark, New Jersey because it’s a safe, judgement free save haven as part of the Lights On program, launched by Principal Akbar Cook.
Cook previously made headlines when he put a laundry room at the school after his students were being bullied over their dirty clothes. The move was made possible after he secured a $20,000 grant from PSE&G and with the help of labor from Newark Public Schools, he turn the football team’s locker room into a free, on-campus laundromat, CBS New York reported.
“Confidence is a big thing with everyone. To feel that you smell good, look good, I think that goes a long way,” Cook told the outlet.
He launched the Lights On program four years ago, which is open to everyone three nights out of the week during the summer. The program supports 2,000 kids, according to the Atlantic Black Star.
“Anything that keeps me off the streets I’ll do,” one student shared with ABC News 7. “Selling drugs and stuff, I’m not into that.”
“I just realized that if I come here I’ll see friendly faces,” another said.
“Security,” added another student.
“I haven’t lost any more kids to gun violence since the start of the school year,” Cook told the station.
“It’s fun. Safe, too,” one student said. “It’s better than being out on the streets.”
Every Friday night until 11 p.m., the space offers a recording studio for aspiring musicians to lay down tracks and hone their skills. Students can also engage in various games and activities and enjoy free hot meals on Friday nights.
As support and donations from the community and alumni continue to pour into the school, the Lights On program continues to be a success year after year.
“If it was around back then, I think that we wouldn’t have lost so many of my classmates,” said West Side alum Nadia Camacho, who graduated in 2008. “If we had a class reunion right now a lot of my classmates wouldn’t be here due to the gun violence.”
Cook, who was on the Ellen show in September where she presented him with a $50,00 check, was invited back on the daytime talker last month where the host gave him another check for the incredible work he’s doing at the school.