George Clinton, others flock to Plainfield to support new charter school
By MARK SPIVEY STAFF WRITER May 22, 2010
PLAINFIELD After all these years, the No. 1 export here is still funk. And no one cranks it out like the city's prodigal son.
Music legend George Clinton stole the show during a star-studded gala dinner Thursday evening at City Councilman Rashid Burney's Watchung Avenue home, as about 200 people gathered to support the newly founded Barack Obama Green Charter High School. The school with an eco-friendly mission and curriculum, scheduled to open this autumn, also assembled Princeton University professor and civil-rights activist Cornel West and Newark Mayor Cory Booker to speak.
"Teachers work harder than you do, no matter what you do,'' Clinton said. "It's the most important profession I know.''
Clinton, 68, spent long parts of the evening reminiscing with friends about his days in the city, as the 1997 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee got his start as a member of a doo-wop group founded in a barber shop near the corner of Plainfield Avenue and West Third Street. Clinton later would go on to found Parliament-Funkadelic (a musical collective including members of Clinton's groups Parliament and Funkadelic), which soared to global prominence during the 1970s and 1980s.
Dressed in a white long-sleeved shirt, designer jeans and a multitude of necklaces Thursday, shunning his trademark multicolored dreadlocks in favor of short-cropped black hair, Clinton accepted the key to the city from Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs before throwing himself into a rollicking set as part of a nine-person musical ensemble.
"Let's tear the roof off this sucker!'' Clinton told the crowd after greeting the mayor, throwing on a bright red blazer and launching into his smash 1976 Parliament hit "Give up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)'' off the album "Mothership Connection.''
Earlier in the evening, West captivated a pair of audiences, speaking first to a group of incoming Barack Obama Green students at the First Unitarian Church of Plainfield on Park Avenue before addressing the masses assembled at Burney's home. An imposing figure with thick glasses, a sprawling beard and a broad Afro, West darted from topic to topic, covering items ranging from the new Arizona immigration bill (it's an example of "scapegoating the most vulnerable,'' he said) to his busy schedule ("usually I'm booked nine months in advance, but I said I'm going to make a special allowance on one condition,'' West noted. "If we could bring the unadulterated genius of George Clinton back to Plainfield.'')
Quoting sources ranging from Plato to Beyonce, West echoed comments made by Barack Obama Green co-founder Steven King by saying that the new school's mission is to offer love and hope to urban students who need it.
"The power of love can change and transform any person in any situation,'' West said.
West, 56, even shared the stage with Clinton for a song, belting out a soulful duet of his 1970 hit ""I Wanna Know If It's Good to You?'' off the Funkadelic album ""Free Your Mind ... and Your Ass Will Follow.''
Booker introduced West at Burney's home, saying he was impressed by seeing ""a community of people here to elevate our children so they might lead us.'' Crediting West with molding him while he was an undergraduate in college, the newly
re-elected Newark mayor cited West's 1994 book "Race Matters'' as a particular influence.
"It taught me that my intellect was worthless unless it was put to work creating hope,'' Booker said.
Both men had busy weeks before appearing here. Booker attended a White House security briefing on Tuesday, joining a federal effort to share information about inner-city violence, and West spent three hours on Wednesday speaking to inmates
at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.
Barack Obama Green officials recently earned Zoning Board approval to establish the new school at the existing Boys & Girls Clubs of Union County facility on West Seventh Street. The two organizations, the schedules of which are not anticipated to conflict, plan to partner to accommodate 120 students in 2010-2011, the school's first year of operation, with an eye on expanding to 240 students by its fourth year. It was not immediately known Thursday how much the gala dinner raised, but tickets were sold at $150 apiece, and by 8 p.m. the expansive banquet hall in Burney's home was standing-room only.
Charter schools are schools that receive funding from public-school districts, but operate independently of those districts. Barack Obama Green will be the city's first charter high school but its fourth charter school
others include the Central Jersey Arts Charter School, Queen City Academy Charter School and Union County TEAMS (Technology, Engineering, Architecture, Math & Science) Charter School. A fifth school, the Dr. Ellen G. Pressman Charter School, opened last fall but closed less than four months later due to a lack of enrollment.
King said Friday that Barack Obama Green has a little more than 100 students enrolled for its inaugural year, less than 20 shy of its allotment of 120.
Mark Spivey: 908-243-6607; mspivey@MyCentralJersey.com
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