Demetrius Terry is a young activist, born and raised in Jersey City. He reached out to me a few months ago to chat about a cause he is deeply passionate about – the lack of urgent care in the South Side of Jersey City.
This blog covers mostly the positives of what’s going on in Jersey City. We pride ourselves on empowering the community and promoting small businesses, arts, culture and people. That being said, it’s extremely important to also talk about the issues plaguing our neighborhoods and start a discussion on how we can make things better, especially outside of the downtown area.
Jersey City is not just Grove St, Newark Ave, and the Waterfront. Jersey City is much bigger than that, and we might forget that sometimes because a lot of the new businesses and developments are happening there. We can’t ignore the other parts of the city.
I met with Demetrius and Ward B Councilperson Chris Gadsden to get their insight on what’s happening in Greenville and how people can get involved.
What’s your name?
What do you do?
I am the Executive Director of Greenville Health Access.
What is Greenville Health Access?
Right now, we are a coalition. My goal is to ensure that people in this community have access to quality health care and emergency services.
So what’s going on?
Unfortunately, a lot of promises that have been made to this community have been neglected. Number one was an urgent care facility and to this day, we don’t have an urgent care facility.
Right now, the big fight is to get a satellite ER in this neighborhood. I think when you have an ER in downtown Jersey City, which is overcrowded, a majority of the patients come from the south side of Jersey City. It makes sense for a 650-million dollar machine to invest their money into that.
What does the community need to do to make it happen?
We have a petition online that they can actually sign. We have over 516 people right now, and we also have over 500 that had been collected out in the street. We have over 1000 signatures that have been collected that we can get to the Commissioner of Health. We also have a new Executive Director of Hudson Health Access, and we’re going to be talking to elected officials and community activists to try to get them involved to join our coalition.
Why are you passionate about this cause?
I’m passionate because at the end of the day, if we look at the issues happening in this type of neighborhood besides violence, if we look at the high rates of diabetes, the high rates of cervical cancer in African Americans, the HIV age range, the need is here. This community has been neglected for so long.
Let’s talk more about what’s going on in Greenville.
Unfortunately, violence is continuing to plague the south side of Jersey City. I think it’s important not to blame the mayor and not to blame any other administration. Mayor Fulop has invested a lot of money to hire more police. Unfortunately, it all goes back to the home. A lot of these issues are happening at a child’s home and we can’t just barge into someone’s home and take over. Until we get to the root of the problem, which goes down to education, we have to make sure we’re investing fully in public education here in Jersey City. When we invest in public education, we have to make sure every child in this city has access to a top notch quality public education, and I think you’ll see a shift in violence.
Let’s go back to the need of care here. What’s the average time, from your knowledge, for emergency services to get to someone’s home?
Right now, we’re on Fulton and Ocean Avenues. If somebody’s stabbed on this corner, it’d be about 20 minutes for them to get down to Jersey City Medical Center. If the center was actually in this neighborhood, it could be here in about 2 to 5 minutes. It’s a big difference. With the traffic that’s in Downtown Jersey City, even with sirens on, it still causes a problem for people in this part of town.
Were you born and raised in Jersey City?
How do you feel Jersey City has changed in the last few years?
Jersey City has dramatically changed. There’s some good and some bad, at the end of the day. Downtown Jersey City has continued to develop, the Heights is developing, but the south side has a lot of work that needs to be done. Right now, I can see that an affordable house unit across the street is ready to be built in a couple of months. At the end of the day, it doesn’t solve the problem. I applaud the mayor for shifting the focus and making sure the south side of Jersey City is trying to change, but he should try investing more and getting developers to the south side of Jersey City. If it’s an area neglected by the city government, people living here are not going to want to respect the area because at the end of the day, if the city is not investing in this part of town, then it’s like why even do my part as a citizen?
How can people moving into the area become more involved?
We do have a whole shift of people from Jersey City and Hoboken, especially millennials, but I think it’s important there should be a city-wide tour where people coming in can see the entire city. People come from Manhattan and only see Downtown JC. At the end of the day, there’s various parts to this city. Unfortunately, this city is still divided. The mayor has started a discussion to change things in the city, but more needs to be done.
What are your favorite Jersey City hangout spots?
I would say Downtown Jersey City, I love going to Porta and to the coffee shop. I’m a Hoboken person when I hang out, but I’m trying to shift more to Downtown Jersey City. Speaking about that, I live in Greenville and there’s no place for me or millennials to hang out. We have to go either Downtown or to Hoboken. We want to make sure people can invest more, but how can we invest more when there aren’t any places to hang out at?
Then it’s a double-edged sword, though, because people would be coming in and opening businesses or buildings. People would argue that the community is being gentrified and people are being pushed out.
Of course. I’ve been doing research on the topic of gentrification, and some people are saying the mayor is trying to gentrify the people of the south side of the city. I say, if we’re trying to improve economic development when this area had been neglected from prior administrations, I won’t call it gentrification. Someone’s trying to come here and actually keep building this community. At the end of the day, even as much as what the mayor’s trying to do may seem very small, people are still not happy with what’s going on in the community but prior administrations hadn’t done anything. Mayor Fulop needs to do more for this community, but he has definitely started the conversation.
We need to make sure people here are not being pushed out. It’s a tough issue to touch on. You think about developers and tax abatements in the city, and as a developer, they don’t want to go to the south side of the city because there’s a risk and they’re losing money. We need more help on the ground and more support from the government. Cities and counties are tied with what they can do, but it all goes back down to the people. People who all come together can actually change things.
Are you going into politics?
We talked about violence in the city earlier, and I think we have to go back down to public education. A majority of kids in Jersey City go to Jersey City Public Schools. Kids spend a majority of their time in public schools. You can’t bend the teachers or administrators, but what are we doing to make sure every child in this city gets a quality education? I want it for the entire city of Jersey City, but my main focus will be on the South Side because it’s been neglected.
Where can people find you?
Instagram – @demetriusmterry
What’s your name, and what do you do?
Chris Gadsden, Ward B Councilperson. I was recently elected in November, and I’m also the Vice Principal at Abraham Lincoln High School in Jersey City. I’m in various community groups, NAACP, National Action Network. I’m focused on doing work and bettering our community.
You said you’re not really a politician, right?
People can classify me as a politician because I am an elected official. I see my role in this community more so as a servant. I’m a person who takes care of kids in the daytime and takes care of the needs of the residents at night. Currently, I represent over 40 thousand people in the ward and I’ve educated over thousands of kids in my life, so it’s a life sacrifice of service. My family’s dedicated to it, and my wife is involved with educating and counseling students at Rutgers University. We’re just dedicated to service, and that’s why I don’t feel comfortable with the label of “politician.”
Can you speak to what’s going on in Greenville right now?
The people on the South Side of the city feel neglected. They feel they should have more services should be provided to them, more information given to them, more resources, more opportunities, and if they had all these, their condition of life would be better, and that ranges from quality of life to public safety. That’s what the community wants, and those are the changes I advocate for. I keep them in the back of my mind every time I vote, every time I speak to a community group. That’s what is right at the forefront.
What could you recommend as actions that people can take if they disagree about a development or a new business opening?
A lot of people are unaware of how their city is developing. That’s one of the things I’m bringing to the forefront. I always try to keep the residents very much aware. Because they’re not aware, they don’t see how things transpire. Last year, we had a situation on the buying of the community and people were feeling uncomfortable about being displaced and about the development taking place, but they’re not at the table talking about how their communities are going to be developed.
Without that information, folks feel the squeeze of gentrification and they are unaware of how it started in the first place. People need more information, need to be more educated about what’s taking place, and we need to get people more involved in it. I always encourage people to be a part of the process, but folks don’t understand the importance of going to planning meetings or going to redevelopment meetings, or even going to city council meetings.
Folks need to get more involved with government so they can be more aware and help spread the word. Right now, the residents rely upon us to give them that information, but if they were more so empowered, then you’ll see change. An important thing that happens Downtown is people are organized. Since they’re organized, they get what they need. On the South side of this city, we have to be organized talking about the housing that we want developed inside of our neighborhoods, talking about how we want to be policed inside of our neighborhoods, just how we want this community cleaned, all these things matter. We all have to be at the table and doing that, and that’s what I see as the difference. People ignore us because we’re not in numbers, and because we’re not in numbers, we don’t get anything done.
How do we get it done?
Get involved in all aspects of government. You can break it down in three ways: political, economic, and social. For social, get involved with civic associations. One of the things I’m encouraging folks to do is to get involved with the NAACP, National Action Network, in any civic association that is about doing the work. When we see the mistreatment of our people, we need to fight for it. If we see that we need strategies on community policing, because police can’t do it all by themselves, we need to join in those efforts.
Economically, we need to start forming groups like cooperatives that will start buying up property and will start investing on this side of their community to build it up. Politically, when you look at this recent election, about 15% of the people actually came to the polls and voted in the primaries. That’s disgusting. When you have 85% of the people not touching the booth, that matters because you have a small fraction of people that now represent the other 85% but don’t know what their needs are. I think the ballot and going out to vote is very much important, so that’s why this go around as I’m running, I’m going to get engaged with issues and also get people more involved in the political process because that’s so important. That’s how our community gets uplifted. It gets uplifted, politically, economically, and socially.
You do have a voice. If enough people get together and talk about the issues, they can make those changes.
Sure, and that’s why i appreciate the work that Demetrius is doing. When you talk about social, you talk about health. Healthcare is an important issue. In Jersey City, you have 1,000 residents for one position. Health care is abysmal down here. If there was an emergency center or emergency room, an acute care, or some place people can get treated and receive medical services, it would do wonders for this community. Demetrius and so many others need to come to the table and create the change they want.
That’s amazing. And you’ve been in Jersey City all your life?
All my life. Going on 43 years, student for 38. Snyder High School, NJCU, and Saint Peter’s. I’m all Jersey City education-wise. This is where I live and it’s an honor to serve. When I got elected, people were appreciative of Jersey City’s own coming to the forefront. Now I’m old enough to take care of us.
How do you feel Jersey City has changed?
There’s a breakdown in the community. I have mixed feelings on it. I think it’s sad that we’re at this point. We need resources, we need a leg up. We need to do a better job. We’re the second largest city in the state, and I think we can do a lot more than what we’re doing right now. When I was growing up, I wasn’t faced with all this violence and I grew up on Wilkinson Ave. When you look at Wilkinson Ave right now, it’s a hub for bullets. When I grew up there, we fought but we lived. Right now, there aren’t enough things for kids to do. Not enough jobs, not enough people coming to the forefront.
We had different churches and organizations, children were engaged in the summertime. Right now, we have a vibrant recreation program, but we have to do more on communicating what recreation does. We have to expand services to people who aren’t engaged with the services department. We have a lot to do. I’m a little bit disappointed in just the overall condition of it, but I know that it can be improved when we roll up our sleeves and get it done.
Do you have a favorite Jersey City hangout spot?
I’m a foodie, so if I’m on Ocean, I’ll probably go to Sean’s Kitchen to pick up a little soul food. If I’m on West Side, I go to Jerkin Chicken. I just love any eatery that’s flavorful.
What do you like to do for fun?
My life is dedicated to helping out others and my family. I’m also an avid sports fan. I have three focuses: family, community, and leisure and sports. I’m a Cowboy fan.
Let’s talk about the positive things in this community.
The people. The people are resilient. They’re a bunch of fighters. This is stuff I was raised up in. When you’re still trying to live and survive, it’s the strength and the courage of the people. Even though the South side has all these issues, you still see people fighting for their lives. I’m the Vice Principal to the group of children and every year when they graduate, they all aspire to do great things. They want to go to college, they want to do things and leave Jersey City to make a contribution to the world. The power and the strength is in its people, and that’s the thing that I appreciate most about Jersey City.
So you’ll be running again in November?
How do people find you?
Find me on Instagram: @cpgadsden21
You can also find me at City Hall – 280 Grove Street.
Any last words, anything you’d like people to know? What are the next steps?
Well first, I want to thank you for the interview! Secondly, this issue is a non-partisan issue. It’s non-political. I definitely want to thank Councilman Chris Gadsden of Ward B. This is the first elected official to publicly support this and it’s important. Hopefully more elected officials will get on board because it’s about what’s best for the people. If you are an elected official in Jersey City, you should be supporting this.
Awesome, thank you.