A Citizen Go-Getter on Civic Participation and Democracy

We all know people who are hard-core doers, and the next model citizen, Rosemary Ryan, a life-long Highlands, New Jersey resident profiled this month for the Engaging People Series delivers in spades. She's been elected Board of Education President, is an Environmental Commission member, and also sits on the Hope for Highlands Commission, a group of like-minded citizens and business owners who are raising funds to help residents rebuild their lives after Hurricane Sandy. In 2013 Rosemary was encouraged to run for public office, and although she overcomes all obstacles in her way—including a bout with cancer in 2012, politics can sometimes seem like a daunting task.

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Engaging People Series: Citizens Working Hard for Urban Renewal

Next up in the series: Will Condry known to most as "Kasso" has lived his entire life in Trenton, NJ. Growing up on Martin Luther King Boulevard, Kasso says, "I've seen what the inner city can do to people—a lot of friends I grew up with are either dead, in jail or just kind of lost." 

As a father, he wants to see his daughter and his friend's children have a better life, "You know it doesn't have to be like this." 

 

Kasso uses what he knows—his art—to change the face and feeling of the community by painting positive representations of people who live there. Learning from the nation's largest public mural arts program in Philadelphia, he became tired of looking at the eye sores and decided to paint over them. The first mural he created was on a surrounding wall of a now long-gone factory where with friend, James Luv-1 they painted children and Dr. Seuss imagery.

Will says, "If art hadn't been in my life as a kid, I don't know what I would be doing, it could do the same thing for another kid. They just need to have an opportunity. Everybody doesn't play basketball or sports, you've got creative people who don't have an outlet and if it's not catered to they're going to wind up doing something destructive."

Their first mural helped establish a relationship with a local town official and slowly an arts community grew. People from all over New Jersey and even further come out to support urban renewal events through S.A.G.E. Coalition's beautification program, which  until recently was self-funded by the artist coalition.

S.A.G.E.'s diverse artists develop events, gallery showings, youth programming, and a community garden on 219 East Hanover Street and the surrounding neighborhood.  Both local residents and Trenton outsiders decide and participate in mural and gallery events as well as "Gandhi Garden" work, which began cultivation as an MLK Day of Service earlier this year. Now throughout the summer on Monday nights they also have garden meetings and a pot luck dinner. 

It takes hard work for citizens to organize a fight against drugs, gangs, guns, and violence in an inner-city community. Kasso and S.A.G.E. Coalition are making strides for positive change in Trenton. But, Kasso feels strongly about seeing that residents also become more economically empowered, which has been a positive addition to their work. 

S.A.G.E collaborates with local nonprofits, business owners and elected officials—all helping to build-up civic fabric in their community. More importantly, with small steps they're spreading hope in some tough neighborhoods in Trenton.

 Watch the video to hear how Kasso and the S.A.G.E. Coalition have actively engaged the community. 

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