She is Newark's community warrior and servant.
(In article mentions dying and and being comforted by family that had passed away)
She could barely breathe and felt like her life was slipping away. "I flatlined,'' she said. In that moment, she heard three voices from deceased family members telling her, "Everything would be alright."
Margaret Barnes-Williams a great role model and asset to her community.
September 22, 2017. Reported [here]. Margaret Barnes-Williams walked along Homestead Park the other day, pointing to the houses she's lived in on the street where she grew up. When she finished counting, it numbered 10. The owners either had sold the property she was renting or it went into foreclosure, but Barnes-Williams stayed glued to this secluded Newark neighborhood of two-family homes that surrounds an oval-shaped park. "It's a haven,'' said Barnes-Williams, 52. "Everybody knows who you are.''
Everybody knows she is the ultimate community servant, whose stature in the neighborhood has grown with each move she's made, with each unselfish deed. When she sees a need, she fills it. "If anybody needs information, look for Ms. Barnes. She's the go-to person,'' said Cynthia Truitt-Rease, a South Ward resident. Rental or utility assistance? She has a list of agencies to call. Legal advice? She told her neighbor, Lisa Neal, on Thursday what to do about a troublesome landlord. Bus tickets for students to get to school? She's on it. Clothing? Food? No problem. Don't have a computer? Parents at nearby Hawthorne Avenue School come by her home to use her computer for job searches, or to fill out the application for free or reduced-price school meals for their children. She worked at the school for years as a community engagement specialist, before leaving last year. But parents still call her if they need help. "If somebody calls me, I'm gone. Isn't that right, Boo?'' she said, looking toward her husband in their living room. Yusef Ali, to whom she's been married 18 years, nodded, his eyes peering above his glasses.
We first talked in 1999, when, as an emerging neighborhood leader, she called on city officials to stop stolen cars from speeding through the block and park. In 2004, she was the block president, keeping tabs on the city, this time to make sure it fulfilled its promise to redesign the park with new landscaping, benches and playground equipment. That summer, Barnes-Williams kept children busy on the block if they couldn't afford to attend camp. She bought balls, jump-ropes and games from the dollar store. A neighbor, Kimberly McLamb, has often seen Barnes-Williams spend her own money on the kids, like when she bought snacks for an after-school program at Hawthorne last year. Toward the end of this summer, she hosted a cookout in the park. No one was excluded, especially the kids, who came from other blocks. "We need more people like her," McLamb said. South Ward Councilman John S. James honored her in June with an unsung hero award for all that she has done over the past 22 years in the Newark Public School system and for people in the city.
She's been a school volunteer, a teacher's aide, parent liaison, youth counselor, summer camp coordinator, parent and teacher mediator, and attendance counselor. She has been a school aide at another building for over a year and still looks after kids and parents in her homestead. Where do people like this come from? How do they do it? Oscar James, a friend and former South Ward councilman, is in awe. "You don't meet people like this,'' said James, explaining her specialness. "People like her are irreplaceable.'' Barnes-Williams, a district leader elected last year as a write-in candidate, is always at somebody's meeting. Sure enough, I ran into her this week at a neighborhood roundtable on safety. When the discussion turned to community involvement, she spoke passionately, with tears in her eyes, about how she helped parents during her time at Hawthorne Avenue School.
The Newark Police Department sees her commitment, too, when she calls about stolen cars or issues that creep up on the Hawthorne Avenue corridor. "Me and her stay in constant contact,'' said Capt. Tyrone Broner. "She's constantly involved. I see her talking with the kids, uplifting them.'' Children flock to her. The older kids listen, too. They pull up their sagging pants and won't linger in front of someone's home when she asks. Adults respond, too, if she calls. When Hawthorne Avenue was targeted by the district to be a charter school three years ago, Barnes-Williams was urging people to attend a protest rally.
Her activism is always in high gear, except for the time four years ago when she was hospitalized and nearly died. Barnes-Williams has myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune neuromuscular disease that causes weakness in the skeletal muscles responsible for breathing and moving parts of the body, including the arms and legs. Diagnosed in 1989, Barnes-Williams said her condition was in remission until 2013, when she was laid off by the Newark school system. The stress of unemployment landed her in the intensive care unit, she said. She could barely breathe and felt like her life was slipping away. "I flatlined,'' she said. In that moment, she heard three voices from deceased family members telling her, "Everything would be alright." They were her mother, Mona Barnes, and her grandmother Louise Barnes, both of whom died on the same day in 2007, and her late brother, Bryant.
A pacemaker was implanted and she pulled through. Stress became an afterthought, even though you'd think community work would be a source of consternation. "When she works with the community, she doesn't get stressed out,'' her husband said. "She's cool with that.'' DaSean Barnes, her son, a graphic designer, summed up her outlook in an inscription on an oblong pillow that he made and gave to her as a gift. "It's not personal. It's business.'' Actually, it's both. She called code enforcement on a bodega selling food with expired dates. That's business. One of 13 siblings, Barnes-Williams was a foster parent for the last seven years, taking in 15 children. That's personal. "I just can't stop being who I am.'' You never will. You are Homestead Park.