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Newark is a city vibrant with culture, history, and stories, and many different groups of people have lived here, built here, and built themselves a future here. The LGBT community in Newark is no exception, and since its incorporation, the city has been home to countless LGBT visionaries, activists, and people of all walks of life who have helped shape its future.
However, like LGBT rights in general, the rights of Newark’s queer citizens have come a long way over the years. There have been many people throughout the city’s history who have directly improved the lives of LGBT citizens, and a shining star among them is Reverend Janyce Jackson-Jones.
Reverend Jackson-Jones has been instrumental in founding inclusive faith communities whose ministries seek to help those in need, particularly in the LGBT community. In 1995, she helped to found the Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship Church, and in 2005 she became the pastor. In 2012, she became the co-pastor of the Unity Fellowship Church NewArk, and spearheaded many social outreach programs through these religious centers. She served as the executive director of several social justice organizations in the 2000s, served on the board of directors of countless more, and helped found the Newark Pride celebration.
One of her most impactful actions was when she helped to open the Newark LGBTQ Community Center in 2013, which was founded in response to the many murders, suicides, and hate crimes against the nearly four thousand LGBTQ citizens of Newark.
The center serves as a safe space which offers a myriad of programs and events geared towards LGBTQ issues, as well as a place for people to gather in a spirit of community.
Tye Phelps, a regular volunteer at the center, described the center as “a place where you’re comfortable to be who you are.” The center often partners with many different organizations for special and regular events, and is always seeking new partnerships.
Reverend Jackson-Jones has served as the executive director of the center for the three years it has been open, and has done so entirely pro-bono, seeking to live her life in a spirit of charity and love.
As Tye says, “She’s a superperson.” Running the center, pastoring two faith communities, and serving on the boards and councils of countless organizations, she has been selflessly serving the Newark LGBTQ community for years, and has touched the lives of many. “She’s funny, she’s kind-hearted, she’s a great listener. She’s the reason I got involved in the center. There’s a wonderful warmth to her.” says Christina Strasburger, who helps with the running of the center, and has known the Reverend for years.
Sadly, this coming November, Reverend Jackson is retiring from her position as executive director, and is moving onto the next phase of her life with her wife. “Words cannot express how much we are going to miss Reverend Jackson-Jones. Her infectious passion for life and for justice infused our community with mission. Her thoughtful leadership was key—where some would give up and say it could not be done, she found a way,” says Steven Malik, a board member of the center.
Although she will be greatly missed, the Newark LGBTQ Community Center will continue to serve as a safe space for members of the community to gather, and as a center for education and activism in the city. They hope to build on the foundation laid by Reverend Jackson-Jones, and are excited to take the center even farther along their mission to help the LGBTQ citizens of Newark.