By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH– Jemika Hall has come full circle, never feeling more convinced and happy about where she has landed.
“My heart is right here; it’s exactly where God is directing me,” said Hall following last Monday’s M.A.R.C.S. Friends “Luv My Block” Block Party. “We are getting things done with boots on the ground, and it just feels really good to have people see it and believe in you.”
For the long-time City of Newburgh resident Hall it’s been a long journey, filled with lingering pain and grief, but one she is determined to turn into a positive, transformative reality. After having had moved her family to Virginia in 2018 for a better life, she shockingly lost her son Marc to gun violence at the hands of youth. Through her intense grieving process, she created the not-for-profit, M.A.R.C.’S. Friends, a youth and community outreach center in his memory, doing everything possible to ensure that no one who is hurting from a violent, tragic loss ever feels alone or a struggling child is always able to see a light- helping hand. Providing a “safe space for whatever is on teenagers’ minds,” the organization, guided by certified professionals and caring community members, offers life-saving coping strategies, for youth to regain control of their lives.
The day of the event, Monday, July 10, would have been her son’s 23rd birthday. Her gift to him was helping her City of Newburgh community celebrate all the positivity and joy that comes from connecting, enjoying activities and saying no to violence.
“I feel so honored to have been given this opportunity to give back to the community I love so much,” said Hall about the event’s purpose.
That special day of remembering Marc included a Block Cleanup, followed up by a huge Block Party, taking place at 136 South Street in the City of Newburgh. Performances in dancing and gymnastics filled the schedule. Music entertainment was presented by: singer and songwriter, Lauran Marie; CD Fantasy Sound, Jaggan Hype; and DJ’s King Cyprus and Mizz Official. Several local restaurants and individuals chipped in to provide food and drinks free of charge. It was a full, community effort, aimed at doing all things to uplift the City of Newburgh, making its residents feel bonded and proud to reside in such a beautiful area.
“These regular clean up events have a huge impact on the well-being of the residents,” said Linda Jansen, a Community Health Outreach Worker for the Department of Health who was one of the Cleanup leaders. “When residents see me cleaning, it attracts the curious to ask, ‘Why?’ And my answer is to show the beauty of your neighborhood and to let them know they deserve better than the disrespect shown by the littering; most times residents end up joining me because they do care about their homes and well-being.”
The community also deeply cares about reducing, and even eliminating violence. Acts toward that end could be seen when Assemblymember, Jonathan Jacobson, spoke about a recent highly successful gun buyback he was involved with as well on the critical need to reduce senseless violence that too often plagues the City of Newburgh- as well as Poughkeepsie- he represents. Several other political dignitaries, including; State Senator, Rob Rollison, and Newburgh City Councilpeople: Giselle Martinez and Anthony Grice, were on hand. That support meant everything to Hall, who received further help with the highly successful day from yet another community advocate, Leonard Lee, owner of Newburgh Hook Elite, a boxing club, which offers a healthy outlet for area youth. Lee put up a ring and staged a presentation for around 20 youngsters, modeling sparring while stirring up exciting interest in the sport.
“This event brought people together today, really showing a lot of different organizations coming out to help, and it meant a lot to me to give back to the youth today,” said Lee. “We had a few parents enroll their children in the boxing club after the demonstrations; Jemika is so very good for the community of Newburgh.”
Born and raised in the City she is now committing her life work to, Hall gets nostalgic, visibly excited when she talks about those old days growing up around 347 Liberty Street. She wants nothing more than today’s generation to feel that same pride and joy about their roots.
“There was not one problem here today at this event; everything flowed so smoothly, and it was an amazing day,” beamed Hall, taking a short break from all her hard efforts, allowing the true impact to really sink in. “I was able to give back to my community, and that just feels so good.” Reflecting further, the mother, remembering her son on his 23rd birthday, added, “We just want this to be a safe summer for kids.”