Home is a tricky word to define. Sure, there’s a dictionary definition, but it’s true connotation means something different to everyone. In its strictest sense, home is simply where you go when you’re done traveling elsewhere. In its most romantic definition, it’s where your heart is.
Regardless of whether a person is a strict constructionist or a romantic at heart, people tend to look at me oddly when I refer to Newark as my home. Yes, I reside in the city of Newark, New Jersey, and despite not being born or raised here, I call the city home. And I do so with pride.
Ten years ago, I would not have done so. Although I knew Newark was not what those who constantly mock, deride and demonize the city claimed it to be, I still had my own biases against it due to my first introduction to the city … via its airport. (If you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand.)
So imagine my determination to swallow my pride and much-justified anger when I decided to settle down in Newark five years ago this month to begin working a new job in New York City. At the time, I figured the commute was simply a short-term compromise in a less-than-ideal scenario. What mattered most to me at the time was that I was escaping my hometown once more, and heading somewhere that wasn’t the Hoosier State.
Flash forward five year later, and it’s not uncommon to find me arguing with people online about their absurd assumptions about the city, bristling at the casual bigotry in less-than-clever comments, and noting the uncomfortable shifts in demeanor when I mention where I live.
I may not be a native Newarker, but I know what it’s like to:
- Chat with the owners of a small indie bookstore in Madison, WI, in the heart of Midwest “hipsterdom” and watch their faces fall in disappointed recognition when I tell them where I live.
- Share a rental car with my co-workers as we leave Newark Liberty Airport and as each gets dropped off one-by-one at our respective addresses hearing one colleague attempt to “inform me” about a major riot that took place here back in the ’60s.
- Hear the mocking laughter and haphazard insults rushing from the lips of fellow audience members when Hugh Jackman headlines his eponymous show at the Prudential Center and thanks everyone, including the amazing city of Newark.
- Watch a monologue of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert during the Democratic Party primary debates where he happily disparaged the city when referencing Cory Booker and made it the butt of many a joke, despite the fact that he lives only 25 minutes away in the city of Montclair
- See headlines from major American news sources express unchecked shock and marvel at the city’s ability to hold George Floyd protests that don’t erupt in violence, while not daring to apply the same 50-year bias that has marred the city’s reputation to Minneapolis, Portland, Philadelphia or Buffalo, all cities that were not so fortunate.
- Have a conversation with someone who lives in Harlem, and who clearly knows very little about Newark, tell me without artifice or irony, that Newark still has a long way to go … to wherever he thinks we’re going.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not me lamenting how the rest of New Jersey or the nation treats Newark. This is me simply marking how I see their behavior, and now, after half-a-decade, I completely understand the slogan: “Newark vs Everybody.”
See I’ve never resided in a city where those who didn’t live there actually showed it any respect. As a native of Indiana, I was mocked by those who lived in the other 49 states. As a resident of Indianapolis, I was mocked by those who lived in the suburbs and feared “the inner city.” As a resident of Los Angeles, I was mocked by those who lived in the rest of California. As a resident of the San Fernando Valley, I was treated by co-workers as if I lived in the slums. When I stayed with my folks in Allentown, PA, for a year, I grew accustomed to people acting like we lived in the Wild Wild West.
So I have pretty thick skin when it comes to others looking down on me and my home address. As a matter of fact, I don’t completely mind it either. I figure that at the end of the day, they’re doing me a favor by letting me know just how shallow, ignorant and prejudiced they are. And for that, I appreciate the heads-up so I don’t waste my time enduring their company any more than absolutely necessary.
Three years ago, I wrote a blog post titled, “Newark Works For Me,” during a time when nothing else in my life seemed to be working for me. And despite the ups and downs I’ve experienced since moving to the East Coast, even while in the midst of a debilitating global pandemic; radical, yet fundamentally important sociopolitical change; and a genuinely uncertain future, I can honestly say: I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
And that to me, is the true definition of home.