July 10, 2023, East Orange, NJ: There is an African proverb that says “The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.”
That proverb is one that fuels the work of David Sharp, Job Developer in the East Orange Mayor’s Office of Employment and Training.
“Trauma and mental illnesses are so deeply-rooted in our youth that a more holistic approach to intervention is needed to identify and address the challenges and obstacles our children face daily,” said Sharp.
Working under the Mayor’s Office of Employment and Training, Sharp has created several training programs for a variety of targeted audiences. Over the past two years, however, he has focused on workforce opportunities specifically designed for at-risk populations, ages 16-25.
In partnership with the Departments of Public Works and Water, the National Career Institute, Triangle Equities and LiUNA Local 3, Sharp has implemented free programs in the utility and trades industries that train and hire East Orange residents, putting them on a path for self-sufficiency and long-term career success.
“As leaders in our community, we must work together to create opportunities for our youth to achieve success. Under Mayor Ted Green’s administration, the city has successfully launched several at-risk youth training programs for men and women that not only address vocational skills, but also foster soft skills like teamwork, communication, and ethics. Many graduates of the program are working within the city or on city projects, and we are continuing to expand and offer more paid training programs for residents in that age group,” said Sharp. “But none of these programs can accomplish their mission without the full support and participation of our elected officials, family, school and community. There was a time when a village really did raise children. It’s time to get that sense of harmony back again.”
The Mayor’s Street Engagement Team (MSET) echoes that sentiment. MSET, which was formed earlier this year, was created to provide an intervention to gang violence and other societal pressures that attract our most vulnerable young people.
Started in January, the team established an After-School Open Gym and Mentoring Program for high school students. The program, held at Fresh Start Academy in East Orange, provides recreation, enrichment and mentorship for students ages 14-18.
The recent shooting death of 18-year-old East Orange resident Nicholas Edwards on July 3, 2023 was a stark reminder to MSET of the prevalence of gun violence among African American youth, an issue they’ve been dedicated to combating since the group’s inception.
“On behalf of the Mayor's Street Engagement Team, we extend our heartfelt condolences to the victim, his family, and the shooter/s involved in this tragic incident. It is with immense sorrow that we find ourselves in this unfortunate situation, witnessing the fracture within our city,” the statement said. “We have been working around the clock, diligently implementing new programs, establishing safe havens for our children, and providing solace in both their academic and personal lives. However, we realize that our efforts alone are not enough. We implore the community to rally together, lending their support, insight, and leadership, as united, we can make a far greater impact.”
As “boots on the ground,” MSET said their focus is guiding and nurturing youth with an emphasis on habilitation over mere rehabilitation.
"Our children are being engulfed by trauma, leaving them vulnerable to erratic emotions and destructive behavior,” the statement continued. “We call upon the community to actively engage in the process of restoring a sense of unity and solidarity within our neighborhoods. Let us reinstate the spirit of being neighbors, for it is by reclaiming our collective responsibility that we can foster lasting change.”
For more information on these programs or how you can be involved, please call the Mayor’s Office at 973.266.5151.