Ep 190: Nonprofits Turn Cities Into Communities (with Mayor Ras J. Baraka)

by Joan Garry

In this episode, Mayor Ras J. Baraka of Newark, NJ shed light on a beautiful partnership dance between city government and nonprofits. These organizations, he shared, often handle tasks the city can’t, challenging local governance to aim higher, do better.


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You know, sometimes the magic of a city isn’t just in its towering skyscrapers or bustling streets, but in the tireless nonprofits working in the background.

I recently had a heart-to-heart with Mayor Ras J. Baraka of Newark, NJ, and let me tell you, it was really interesting. Mayor Baraka shed light on a beautiful partnership dance between government and nonprofits. These organizations, he shared, often handle tasks the city can’t, challenging local governance to aim higher, do better.

Think of it this way: if clearing snow from the city’s main roads requires big plows, then our nonprofits are the ones ensuring the smaller streets are just as accessible. A quiet, yet monumental effort.

In this episode, we discuss the intricacies of these partnerships, the challenges faced, the victories celebrated, and the shared vision that propels both government and nonprofits forward.

This isn’t just idle talk; it’s about recognizing the essence of community work. By bridging gaps, forging bonds, and understanding the value each brings, we can craft a city, a community, that truly thrives.

Tune in to learn: 

  • How does government work with nonprofits?
  • In what areas are nonprofits most effective with furthering the goals of city government?
  • What advantages over government do nonprofits have to effect change and progress?
  • How is city government working with nonprofits to make resources and information more accessible?
  • What is an example of a successful outcome from engagement with nonprofits?
  • What suggestions do you have for nonprofits to make them most effective as a government partner?
  • How do nonprofits provide government with access to funds? To people in need? To people who can help meet those needs?


  • 0:00 – Intro to episode
  • 1:15 – Nonprofits Are Messy Music Intro
  • 1:58 – Ras Baraka Bio
  • 3:34 – Are nonprofits vital and undervalued in a major city?
  • 6:35 – Shifting the mindset of nonprofits as partners in the post pandemic world
  • 9:29 – How nonprofits think about city government like Newark & how they should be thinking about working with city government
  • 11:52 – Nonprofits have enough to teach city government as city government can provide resources back to nonprofits
  • 14:18 – What is the government’s approach to loud voices?
  • 18:12 – What is an initiative you are proud of?
  • 21:35 – Challenging relationships with nonprofits
  • 25:20 – Nonprofit Leadership Lab Promo
  • 26:09 – How can I be the most effective nonprofit leader partnering with city government?
  • 29:54 – Joy and experience on public service
  • 34:47 – Nonprofits Are Messy Music Outro
  • 35:10 – End of Episode


About The Honorable Mayor Ras J. Baraka:

Ras J. Baraka is the 40th Mayor of the City of Newark.

A native of Newark, whose family has lived in the City for more than 80 years, Mayor Baraka’s progressive approach to governing has won him accolades from grassroots organizations to the White House. With a forward-thinking agenda that reduced crime to its lowest levels in five decades, addressed affordability while maintaining steady growth, lowered unemployment, returned local control of schools after more than two decades, and replaced all 23,000 known lead service lines in less than three years at no cost to residents, Baraka has defied expectations since taking office in 2014.

Mayor Baraka’s futurist agenda has included the implementation of a groundbreaking partnership called Hire. Buy. Live. Newark, a program that marks the first time that any US city has sought to transform its economy by combining employment, procurement, and residential strategies.

As part of his commitment to strengthen Newark’s position in the expanded technology space, the City launched LinkNWK (pronounced Link Newark). This communications network of sidewalk kiosks provides Newark residents and visitors with free, gigabit Wi-Fi, mobile device charging, phone calls to anywhere in the U.S., access to municipal services, maps and directions, and real-time local information on city streets at no cost to taxpayers or users. Additionally, broadband and Wi-Fi have been extended to city parks and recreation centers, and the City seeks to ensure that every resident has access to free or very low-cost broadband to bridge the digital divide.

Mayor Baraka is recognized nationally as a thought leader in the space of urban revitalization, and his commitment to reducing crime in Newark, reimagining public safety, tackling the city’s housing crisis, and developing innovative and community-driven approaches to eliminating income inequality has solidified his status as one of the country’s most progressive elected officials.

While serving as the Mayor of Newark, he also presides as the President of NJ Urban Mayors Association; Executive Board Member for NJ League of Municipalities; Co-Chair, National League of Cities Reimagining Public Safety Task Force; U.S. Conference of Mayors- Vice Chair for Ports, Transportation and Communications Committee; and Member, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Local Government Advisory Committee.

Mayor Baraka was educated in the Newark Public Schools. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and History from Howard University in Washington, D.C. and a Master’s Degree in Education Supervision from St. Peter’s University in Jersey City. His father, the late Amiri Baraka, was a legendary poet and playwright. His mother, Amina Baraka, is herself a renowned poet. Doting husband and father, Mayor Baraka is a published author who recently released the audible memoir “The Book of Baraka” and is well-regarded in the entertainment industry for his appearance on the Grammy-award winning album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” in his authentic role as an educator, and for his EP “What We Want.”


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