Lights On was started in the summer of 2016 when the administration and alumni of West Side High School realized that the kids really needed an extension of structured activities. Some friends and supporters of the West Side High School Alumni Association raised funds to begin the program which was held.
When Vice Principal Akbar Cook arrived at West Side High School, he realized this community was much different than previous schools where he worked. However, Mr. Cook grew up in the West Ward of Newark so he knew exactly what to do. He quickly learned the details of the gangs in the surrounding housing projects and brought in a consultant to advise the administration on intel in the neighborhoods.
During his first summer away from West Side, he kept tabs on the neighborhood and unfortunately learned through the news that he lost two students. The first day of the next school year they found a student’s body decomposing in an abandoned building in a storage can. Mr. Cook had to do something. He turned to the West School High School Alumni Association to brainstorm some ways to provide an extension of structured activities. Some friends and supporters of the West Side High School Alumni Association raised funds to begin the program.
Originally, they planned on using the field next door to the school but there were no lights – the Lights On! Program was born when they realized they could just use the school building since the lights were already on. The program started in the summer of 2016 and on the first night they had 25-40 year olds bringing in their kids. They projected video games on the walls outside, opened the gym for basketball and provided a hot dinner.
Barry Carter from NJ.com wrote an article about the success of the program and participant numbers increased from 60-150. The first summer of the program there were no deaths until the last day. Some girls in attendance left early because there weren’t enough activities of interest for females. That night one of the girls was shot by a stray bullet on her way home. Today there are fashion and design workshops, henna tattoos and a cosmetology room for ladies.
The program was so successful the first summer that they now host Lights On! three days a week during the summer months – Monday, Wednesday and Friday and Friday evenings during the school year.