By Jon O’Connell
The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Entrepreneur Rashida Lovely is passionately dedicated to showing young people the possibilities that exist in the world. From teaching kids to learn how to dance, to building a website, Lovely is all about hope for the future.
Newave Studios sits only about a block away from where a fight between dozens of kids and cops broke out on Olive Street back in November.
Owner Rashida Lovely, a biologist, dance instructor and entrepreneur who moved her family from New Jersey to Dunmore about a decade ago, still thinks that’s too far.
She started Newave at Wyoming Avenue and Olive Street three years ago to give disadvantaged kids a low-cost, creative outlet where they can learn to dance, pick up technical skills and see examples of wholesome families.
Now she wants to get even closer to Scranton High School, which is at the end of Olive Street, where she can provide an immediate resource for kids as they leave school each day and catch them before another brawl breaks out.
In her current spot, students access the building from a loading dock behind the old industrial building.
The door at the top of a steep steel staircase opens up to a spacious general purpose room and an adjacent dance studio where students can learn hip-hop moves, exercise routines or practice aerial acrobatics from suspended silks and ropes.
In the summer, she tapped a network of relatives, friends and colleagues in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, often lumped together under the acronym STEM, to flight test a summer program.
About a dozen kids ages 4 to 12 attended five days a week, eight hours a day. At the end of it, they had all built their own websites and robots and had a basic grasp on computer coding languages.
As she considers expanding to offer STEM classes year-round, she’s eyeing a few long-for-sale vacant lots on Olive Street west of the Lackawanna River where she’d be even closer to her clientele.
More often, her students are children of color who come from fractured homes. They don’t have solid role models or anyone to show them how they achieve successful careers and raise happy families.
“Even on TV, we don’t see black superheroes,” said Nikens Toussaint, a civil engineer who grew up in Haiti and now lives in Hazleton. He volunteered for Newave’s summer STEM program last year and plans to return for the next one with lessons on how to use computer programs to design bridges and roads.
“Every time we look at the TV, always it shows the African American down and the African American in jail,” he said. “Seeing someone they can relate to gives them hope that one day I will be able to either supersede my mentor or be as good as my mentor is.”
The Lovelys, Rashida, Keith and their three sons, fled urban New Jersey when they feared for their safety.
“My eldest son, these drug dealers wanted to shoot him because he didn’t want to become a drug dealer,” she said. “My very next door neighbor was killed. I was accosted. So I just told my husband, ‘We can’t stay here anymore. We have to move.'”
Feeling desperate, one day they jumped in the car and just started driving until they hit Dunmore.
Her husband commuted to work in New Jersey until he found a job in construction in the Poconos.
When she couldn’t find work as a biologist with comparable pay, Rashida Lovely took a job as an accounting clerk at Olde Good Things, an architectural and antique salvage retailer in Scranton, and worked there for eight years. She was promoted to accounting supervisor and also taught dance part time at another local studio.
“What I realized when I went there, the amount the parents pay is really high,” she said. “I’m the only person of color who is teaching here. I see no children of color, and I always pass them in the streets dancing.”
She runs a for-profit business and though she makes just enough to pay the rent and keep the lights on, she said her company status makes it hard to chase grant funding.
Organizations such as the Moses Taylor Foundation and the Scranton Area Community Foundation are restricted on who they pick for grant awards, and they can’t fund for-profit groups.
Newave’s prices range from $20 per month (four classes; $5 for a single class) for a fitness course to $60 per month for advanced technical classes, for example aerial silks. Hip-hop and contemporary dance classes cost $40 per month, which includes four classes.
Since her rates only cover her operating costs, Lovely said she’ll have to run a campaign to raise the money to buy the land and build a center.
Radi Lewis, a video game designer and comic book creator out of New Jersey, who came to Scranton to teach during the summer STEM program, said the greater community should see value in helping Newave succeed.
“The idea is to help people to see that you don’t have come from a triple-A company to design and create something of your own,” Lewis said. “That was the intent on speaking at Rashida’s studio — to get the kids to understand that whatever you create comes from your perspective and it’s something that can’t be replicated.”