Al-Tariq Best was riding high, planning for the summer program and other events at the HUBB, the Help Us Become Better Community Empowerment Center on Prince Street in Newark.
Then Best heard sirens.
“That sounds close,” he recalls.
The HUBB, which I profiled in The Star-Ledger on June 8, is in the basement of an apartment complex, where Newark’s youth go after school for academic and enrichment programs started by the FP YouthOutcry Foundation Inc.
About 10 young people were in the HUBB on the evening of June 11, some of them in the recording studio working on music.
Best went outside and saw smoke from above, then ran back into the HUBB to alert the young people and get them out safely.
By the time the Newark fire trucks left, the foundation’s work to help Newark’s young people the past 12 years had been damaged by water used to douse an apartment fire on the second floor of the Willie T. Wright complex Videography and photography equipment was destroyed. The sound and security system, too. Ten laptops bit the dust as well. Some furniture was left waterlogged.
Fluorescent lights flickered, then burst. Some turned orange. Fire officials still on the scene shut off the power.
The water pouring into four rooms looked and sounded like rain to Best, founder and chief executive officer of FP YouthOutcry Foundation Inc.
He wasn’t thinking about the loss, though. He was thinking about the family that had just lost everything. Best put out calls for help. His network responded.
After 90 minutes, Best and his volunteer staff returned to the cascading water falling from the ceiling, drenching the floor. They used buckets, garbage cans and storage bins to catch the water, then mops and a Shop-Vac.
Some of the kids didn’t want Best to help, telling him that he does enough for them already.
“That was one of the best parts about the whole thing,” said Kimberly Green, one of the volunteers.
Alyath Herrera didn’t mind sopping up the deluge after Newark fire trucks left.
He didn’t mind getting dirty, either.
“Had to make sure everything was good,” said Herrera, 15, of Newark. “The HUBB is a sanctuary to us, we have to clean it up.”
Then something happened that Best didn’t see coming. The community turned its attention to the HUBB. Word traveled on Facebook quickly. His phone didn’t stop ringing.
Representatives of community organizations — Newark Anti-Violence Coalition and the Newark Community Street Team — came to the HUBB and they met outside, sitting in foldup chairs and a card table.
“It really made feel me like we weren’t alone,” Best said.
He’s been down this road before, having lost electronic equipment to a flood in his home when a cable provider struck a water pipe. It happened again.
He’s been through a fire growing up, too, when he lived in a rooming house with his mother.
“I’m kind of like in my own sense traumatized because I lost everything twice,” he said.
The community, however, is lifting him up. A Paypal account has been set up for donations. Fundraisers are being planned.
Justice Rountree, host of 360 Poetry Night, spread the word Friday to let the audience know what happened.
“Whatever I have, any influence I may have with the popularity of my show, anything I can use to aid in restoration of the HUBB is what I’m down with,” Rountree said.
Victoria Manning, host of the Jersey Poetry Movement, said the HUBB can’t be out of commission for long.
“Kids are excited to come here,” she said. “They love the HUBB. It’s like their second home.”
They do homework, learn all the facets of the recording industry and discuss issues that impact their lives. It’s about education, entertainment and empowerment in a space where young people are not judged.
FP YouthOutcry has struggled financially, getting by through donations and whatever Best has scraped together to steer kids toward positive activities and outcomes.
The organization, though, finally gained some traction with funding. It recently received a $250,000 grant from the state to hire therapists and a victim advocate for a proposed trauma center program to help children and families dealing with emotional pain.
The fire’s aftermath wasn’t the only disappointment in store for Best. When he returned to the site on the morning of June 12, a lock on the door had been damaged.
“Can you believe that?” he said.
But the community support and phone calls that followed was enough for Best to let it go and refocus. Management at the complex was doing its part with repairing damaged walls and ceilings.
“We’ve been there for everybody, and we’re in a situation and people are stepping up for us,” Best said.
“That felt really damn good.”
By Barry Carter