A school brimming with kids on a Friday night would seem odd to most people, but it makes perfect sense to those in Newark, New Jersey, since it’s keeping kids away from the streets and out of trouble.
Scores of young people fill the halls of West Side High School on a Friday night because it’s safe and secure for the kids. As part of the ‘Lights On’ program, it is open for everyone and now is in its fourth year.
One student said, “Anything that keeps me off the streets I’ll do, selling drugs and stuff, I’m not into that.” Another student added, “I just realized that if I come here I’ll see friendly faces,” while another student just said, “Security.” The streets can be a very dangerous place for students as all kinds of evil lurk there.
The kids can shoot pool, play video games, hit the hardwood, practice cheers or even lay down tracks in a recording studio every Friday night until 11 p.m. The students are safe inside the walls of the school. They can enjoy a laugh and don’t have to worry about anything.
Nadia Camacho, a former student who graduated in 2008 said, “If it was around back then, I think that we wouldn’t have lost so many of my classmates, if we had a class reunion right now a lot of my classmates wouldn’t be here due to gun violence.”
Principal Akbar Cook adds that this initiative has resulted in great results which cannot be ignored.
He adds, “I haven’t lost any more kids to gun violence since the start of the school year.”
Cook is already familiar as he had installed a free laundry room last summer inside the school after some of his students were bullied for their dirty clothes. It caused an increase of 10% percent in attendance after being opened.
The school also serves hot meals on Friday nights to the students. Cook added, “I was finding out just from being a principal that the kids don’t eat during the weekends.”
This initiative is made possible by donations from the community and alumni. It is held three nights a week during the summer.
“It’s fun, safe too. It’s better than being out on the streets,” one student said. Another student added, “On the street it’s dangerous, people get killed, you could be killed walking home, gunshots everywhere.”
This initiative and the school is setting a great example for the community and the world about how a community should care for their kids.
Our kids deserve a chance at a good life, which is possible only with the community’s kindness which brings out the best in them.