Newark Guaranteed Income Recipient Steps Out Of The Shadows And Into The Light
by Yanique Taylor
He’s been hit by a real brick and struggled with job loss during the pandemic, but as a 40-year resident of Newark, NJ, George is now focused on growth. Thanks to receiving financial support through the city’s Guaranteed Income program, he has been rebuilding his life and establishing himself as a solid representation of Newark Strong.
A Brooklyn transplant, George became a Newark resident at a very young age. When asked about his earliest memories in his adopted city, he immediately recalled being hit with a brick during a fight. Calling it a crazy situation, he shared that it was quite rough for him growing up. Despite the rough patches, he still recalled a few smoother situations that helped to brighten his spirit. He enjoyed after-school programs that provided opportunities for him to swim at the YMCA as well as learn to draw on Saturdays at Arts High School.
A graduate of Peshine Avenue School and Weequahic High School, George would continue to lean into his creativity. Though he did not continue drawing, he pursued his passion for music. “I had a thing for music. I would listen to old songs and take the music from a tape and record it. I used to write music and I still to this day do that.
Navigating the Shadows
It was evident that George’s creativity was his outlet. His emphasis of his love for music showed that it has been therapeutic for him throughout the course of his life. He wrote a few songs that were recorded by artistes, but despite not striking gold yet, he continues to write on.
Aside from his music endeavors, up until the pandemic, George worked as a truck driver collecting used oil from restaurants. Unfortunately, like thousands of other workers, when everything began to shut down due to the pandemic, he also found himself in the dark shadows of unemployment. “When I lost my job, that broke me down for real,” he stated.
Not having many options, George did his best to keep going during 2020, but knew he needed help to stay financially afloat. In his search for assistance, he came across the city’s new guaranteed income initiative and applied. As it was a lottery process, he wasn’t very hopeful until he received confirmation he was accepted into the program. The financial assistance helped him to pay a few bills and have a little extra to get by with basic needs.
With the guaranteed income support, George was also able to refocus on growing his sneaker repair business. He had already been doing it as a side hustle for about ten years and knew that beyond the pandemic he was not interested in relying solely on having an employer again. “I was able to get a lot of things that I needed to keep the business going,” George said.
Finding the Light
As George continued to focus on growing his business, in September 2022, he would get more uplifting news. He received an email about the inaugural Newark Stronger Resident Storytellers Fellowship program and his creative spirit came alive. He immediately knew he had to participate.
Self-described as ‘shy’ he was eager to share his story of life in the streets as well as interact with different people from varying backgrounds. The program taught photography and poetry writing skills to help participants use art as advocacy for guaranteed income programs. Throughout the six-week program, the participants became a creative unit as they honed their new skills, shaping their stories through their cameras and pens.
When describing his best lesson learned, George said, “Taking pictures, you want to use the shadows but when you’re writing you want to get out of the shadows.” He credits the program instructors and activities they assigned with helping all the participants to break out of their shells and become connected through their fellowship journeys.
Now out of the shadows and determined to ‘make it’, in business and life, George is still taking pictures and hopes to create a book of his poems. He is also sharing his new talents with his community starting with his nieces and nephews whenever they show interest. “I love doing it. I wish I could teach the world. It was fun!”
Feeling stronger and smarter as a result of the opportunities the guaranteed income and fellowship programs offered, George hopes that the value of guaranteed income programs is evident. “When you live in poverty in the ghetto, it just holds you. You can’t work because of a pandemic. You have another way you could go about things, but you don’t want to do that. Those are the things I believe people don’t realize.”
George is an inspiring example of the power of resilience-stepping out of the shadows into the light.