By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
BRIDGETON – John Fuqua was rocked last Thanksgiving when he learned about the shooting death of 17-year-old Millville student Jason Jones.
The Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office charged a 16-year-old Vineland boy in Jones’ death. Two families and communities devastated by a single tragedy. Fuqua, who was born and raised around drugs and violence in Bridgeton, returned to Cumberland County because he wants to prevent these occurrences from happening.
But Jones death struck Fuqua, the founder and president of the local nonprofit Life Worth Living, hard because he knows on a very personal level what Jones’ family is going through.
“It hit me so hard because I remember being that family,” said Fuqua, who works in community outreach for Complete Care Health Network. “I remember having to deal with the impact of that day. Having someone died from an accident is one thing but violence is a different level. You have two families affected by this.
“What really sparked me with Jason was that Jason was a good kid. It’s heartbreaking to look across the country and see this happen, seeing what’s happening in Philadelphia with all of these young people getting killed every year. Thanksgiving will never be the same for Jason’s family and everyone who was associated with him. The scary part is that we won’t know the true ramifications of that for years,” Fuqua said.
Pain to Passion
Jones death, though, only inspires Fuqua to push harder for his vision of a better, safer, more giving Bridgeton and Cumberland County. He’s one man, but at 44 years old has proven to be a one-man whirlwind, putting his arms around local youth. Whether speaking to school group or engaging young people one-on-one, Fuqua has not only sustained but grown his laser-focused mission.
Fuqua emerged from that dark Christmas Eve night in 2008 and created Life Worth Living. Fuqua hopes to embrace not just local youth but their families as well. The nonprofit education, recreation, and family support. It offers college readiness programs, mentoring, tutoring, life skills, sports specific training, in addition to gang prevention and intervention programs.
“With Life Worth Living, I can focus more on my vision of changing my community,” Fuqua said. “I’ll never become a rich man but I love to see people smile. I would rather us have an organized positive event instead of me attending the funeral. I get the energy every day I wake up knowing that I’m out doing something that I love to do. I want to continue to do that as long as God gives me the ability. That’s what I’m excited about.”
Last October, the Cumberland County Democratic Organization made a $10,000 donation to Life Worth Living for Fuqua’s work in the community. Bianca’s Kids continued its support of Life Worth Living that month with a $1,000 donation.
Voices of Support
“John Fuqua is a staple in the Bridgeton, New Jersey and Cumberland County communities. He has lost so many family members to gun violence it’s too painful to mention,” said Debbie Debbie Savigliano, president of Bianca’s Kids in a moving Facebook post last October. “But John decided to use this pain for purpose and to give at risk kids in his community a life worth living. …These are the type of people our world is craving. … John’s work over the past decade has undoubtedly saved many lives from destruction. And that’s a mission I will always get behind.”
Fuqua is also a community advocate for the local nonprofit Stronger Families, where he provides support to children and families in Bridgeton with community programming.
Since returning to Bridgeton, Fuqua has organized youth basketball leagues as part of his effort to get them thinking positively and healthy activities. After more than a decade or organizing the leagues, he said they are something that will continue despite the coronavirus pandemic.
“We started our winter basketball season and we actually we will be signing up people to play year around Life Worth Living and Stronger Families,” Fuqua said. “That’s never going to stop. We play in the the Alms Center in the winter and Bridgeton City Park in the spring and summer, he.
Fuqua said while the pandemic has limited his numbers, he felt it was important to keep the activities going for youth elementary age through high school.
‘I Don’t Have to Run’
He said while growing up in a gang-infested areas in Bridgeton, he realized how important such activities are. Fuqua talked about one of those incidents that affected his life. About 12-years-old, he was watch young men gathered at his apartment complex when the police drove up.
Fuqua said all the men ran except for one person, the maintenance man at the complex. Fuqua said when he asked why didn’t he run? The man reached in his back pocket and pulled out a pay stub.
“He said, ”I don’t have to run because I work here,'” Fuqua said. “That stuck with me. I saw how drugs affected my family so it was already a negative. I didn’t want to run when I saw the police. That let me know there’s something out there that, something better.”
That lesson carried Fuqua through high school, graduating Bridgton H.S. in 1996 and then left town to earn his bachelor’s degree in English from William Paterson University. Fuqua was working in Jersey City when he was contacted by Stubbs, asking him for help and return to Bridgeton.
Instead of asking why him, Fuqua said he felt a calling, which was later explained to him by his pastor, Rev. Albert Morgan during a sermon one Sunday at Bridgeton’s Union Baptist Temple.
“He said God brings you to a certain place to help you help others,” Fuqua said. “I’ve never forgotten that. I came back here to help my nephew but when I heard that, I knew it was bigger than that. Life is good because of God. I follow my steps and it wasn’t easy, but I did it.”
Fuqua recently celebrated his 10-year wedding anniversary to his wife and has accepted two children from her previous relationship as his own. He credits her for providing the support he needs to carry on his mission of helping create a better Bridgeton and Cumberland County for at-risk youth.
He said many of the youth he encounter are not getting a chance to grow up because they are thrown into stressful situation, whether it’s providing for their families and protecting their siblings. Fuqua said that is why he like to approach their problems as family problems and not just the challenge the youth has to deal with.
“What I want to do is to inject the idea we’re going to make people in our community remember the importance of having fun,” Fuqua said. “I would rather see you smile than frown. I’d rather you give somebody a hug and throw a punch.”
Fuqua never has to run with police comes around and he is helping others do the same.
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