Since I began Plainfield View, I’ve been asked plenty of times why I do it. The question often comes from those close to me. It’s not that they don’t think that I should, nor that they don’t appreciate that I do – but they’d like to know why. It’s a commitment on top of a career in architecture, after all. Ask any blogger, the hours pile up fast.
The reasons that I give – enjoying writing, photography, and being involved in my community – don’t tell the full story. They are all factual, but like everything, there is a bigger story behind it.
In reality, my love for writing and being involved in public information and journalism have a lot to do with my late maternal grandmother, Shirley Rutherford.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time in Jersey City at my grandmother’s house on the 200 block of Wilkinson Avenue. In fact, many of my joyous childhood weekends took place there.
You can’t imagine how fun it was to be with Grandma. She and I, sometimes with a friend, regularly visited parks, museums, and landmarks: the Children’s Museum in Paramus, Warananco Park, the Native American Heritage Museum, the Liberty Science Center, Rockefeller Center, The Bronx Botanical Gardens, the New York Aquarium, the Bronx and Central Park zoos, Liberty State Park, the Wildwoods, the World Trade Center, and countless others – all more than once.
When there was no museum, we made one. I remember our evening trips to Newark airport, where we’d go as far as we could into Terminal C to watch the planes take off and land – just about the most exciting thing in the world for me at that age. I fantasized about being a pilot – my second childhood career dream, after, in my words, “garbage man” – or making trips to far off lands someday. I had a special affinity for those massive, double decker 747s, usually en route to Asia.
Other times we went to the marina to see the boat houses, or to the Colgate Clock in the once desolate downtown Jersey City. Admiring those skyscrapers across the Hudson is likely the first embodiment of my continuing fascination with big buildings.
If I was lucky enough, we boarded the Circle Line, where I learned the names of all of the bridges that connect Manhattan to the rest of the world. I had a particular fascination with the Intrepid. In my mind, it was the mother of all boats.
To top it off, when we got back to her house she let me and my friends in the neighborhood eat a few goodies – the sorts of treats that my mother would never allow. Clearly, I was heavily influenced by Shirley Rutherford in my formative years.
Aside from exposing me to things I’ll never forget, my grandmother had a career of activism in the civil rights, labor and political arenas that spanned five decades, an unbroken history of involvement in every significant struggle of the postwar era.
When she was a student at Dickinson High School, Shirley Rutherford became active in the battles to extend New Deal protections for working people, and to eradicate de facto segregation in housing, employment, and education.
As the McCarthy era of the 1950s spread fear among many of her activist colleagues, Shirley’s commitment to social change deepened. She joined the Jersey City NAACP’s Executive Board as they fought to desegregate schools, while she labored tirelessly for the rights of public housing tenants, for peace and disarmament, and in the perennial struggle for a living wage. She worked in countless local elections in Jersey City and in Newark.
Upon Kenneth Gibson’s election in 1970 as Newark’s first black mayor, Shirley Rutherford became the city’s Assistant Director of Community Organization, and later Human Rights Director. In these positions, she placed many city resources at the disposal of community organizations such as the Newark Block Club and Tenants Council.
Shirley Rutherford continued into the 1980s and 1990s, serving as a key statewide organizer for Ken Gibson’s gubernatorial campaign. She also worked in the 1984 and 1988 campaigns of former Plainfield Mayor Harold Mitchell, and was a delegate at the Democratic National Convention during Jesse Jackson’s Presidential Campaign. She spent the last seven years as the director of Equal Employment Opportunity for Jersey City.
A good deal of my political leanings come from my grandmother, although they may be second hand, through her children – as I was only ten years old at the time of her passing. Some of my desire to write and publish, on the other hand, came directly from her.
A wonderful writer, my grandmother was constantly working from home on journalistic publications in Jersey City, starting at around the time of my birth in 1986. At Grandma’s house, there was nothing exceptional about writing, researching, scanning documents, or spending hours hunched over a light box. Like grocery shopping or watching the news, it was just what you did.
Grandma only had one computer – a then-advanced Macintosh Plus – so my games, like Spelunx and KidPix, had to wait when she had work to do. Even so, as young as four years old, I’d help in any way I could. When it was time for her to print something, I made sure that I was the one to push command-P before happily watching the big laser printer deliver us the finished product.
As I grew older, I’d come with her to West Side Avenue, near Communipaw, to visit a printer named Jeff, or – more rarely – Tom Brown, out in Roselle. Usually I could have stayed at her house with my uncle or with a friend, but I really enjoyed these trips. The giant, noisy machinery, leaving with a huge stack of who-knows-what. The whole process amazed me.
Like her children – Glen, Elena, and David – I grew up in this journalistic, political environment, heavily supplemented by my mother’s involvement in Plainfield politics, and my Uncle Glen’s years of work in mass media and groundbreaking, left political commentary. Their endeavors, too, stem largely from Shirley’s influence.
Every child has an inflated sense of their own worth, their maturity, even their age. When I was five I wanted to make my mark on anything that my mother published – which consisted primarily of brochures and publications for the early childhood centers where she worked. At Bergen Avenue Day Care Center in Jersey City, she needed an image of a parent and child for the cover. Naturally, I drew the two of us. To say I was happy to be a part of this would be an understatement.
Five years later, I launched the Summer Camp Times as a camper at Black United Fund in Plainfield. Having delegated some of the work out to my peers, I grew frustrated that these eight to ten year olds didn’t fulfill their duties. I suppose that’s the attitude you have when you think releasing a publication is normal. We did produce two issues – the cover page of the second is shown below.
While I only started Plainfield View under a year ago, I guess it’s been a long time coming. I enjoy it all and only wish to improve as I go along. I hope you’ll continue to read.