Councilman Jermaine Robinson
Bergen-Lafayette (Ward F)
Elected in 2017, Jermaine Robinson and his family are lifelong residents of Ward F, and he is a small business owner of the Light Rail Cafe, also located in Ward F.
1. Why do you think Jersey City is so great?
There’s so many things that I see that are really great about Jersey City. I guess number one, is the cultural diversity of the city. You can get everything in Jersey City. If you want Chinese food or Korean or Indian, it’s all here. I think that’s probably the number one thing that I believe is the greatest thing about Jersey City. The second part honestly is, the Statue of Liberty. When I wake up and I get to see the Statue of Liberty every day, it’s knowing that, it’s a part of Jersey City. It is just knowing what it stands for, knowing that people from all around the country will give anything to be here to see the Statue of Liberty, to know that it’s freedom. It’s what it stood for hundreds of years ago and it’s what it stands for now.
2. Looking back, what is your best memory here in Jersey City?
Playing baseball and really having friends that I grew up with. As adults we are still friends and brothers and we’re still here in the same city. Now we’re men, we’re running businesses and raising our children, having families. But the greatest memory I could point to is, when Jackson Avenue was Jackson Avenue. It’s Martin Luther King now, but when I was a baby, Jackson Avenue was the place to go. There was no downtown and this is where all of the stores were. This is where everyone shopped. I think that’s probably my greatest memory because now we don’t have so much. We have stores but we don’t have the hat shop, the Manhattan shop. The shoes, when you shopped for shoes and you shopped for clothes and you shopped for groceries, there was a meat market, it was everything here. With the city reinvesting back into this part, in Ward F, you can see the interests growing higher and higher and everyone wants to live here now.
Me and my friends call it, World F. We say World F, because you can get anywhere in the world from here. You can get to Manhattan, we have three airports, Newark Airport is 10 minutes away.
3. As a Councilperson, what are your goals for Jersey City?
The number one goal is to put a youth development center in each ward. Of course, since I represent ward F, I’m going to start with ward F. We’ve been working with some developers in the Greenville County Redevelopment Authority (GCRA) and the city as well, trying to figure out the best location and all of those details. If you go to different cities, they have YMCA’s, they have recreation centers that the city owns for kids. Now the YMCA is closed. We used to play basketball there. Now, if it’s not a summer program, if it’s not Jackie Robinson Little League or one of the little leagues, there’s really no opportunities. With the world changing so much, that’s why we’re not calling it recreation centers, we’re calling it youth development where we’re looking to do coding, music, TV production, things like that inside the center because we want to give kids an opportunity other than just playing baseball. I believe that if we had that now especially with the younger kids, we’ll be able to create not just counseling people, we’d be able to create astronauts and lawyers and doctors, attorneys and computer technicians, because everything in the world is coming to tech. We want to be able to teach that and have a place where the city offers it to the youth. The other thing, if I can talk about that, my background is in real estate. I got my real estate license 20 years ago, 1999 was when I first got my real estate license and the mission was to turn every person into a home buyer.
When I went to high school, it was at St. Anthony’s, we were downtown by Newport mall and it was only two towers there in the mall. That was the only thing there. I saw that 10-15 years ago and I wanted to make sure that people had an opportunity; one, to stay here in case taxes or prices went up, and two, to have wealth, generational wealth. I was lucky. I grew up with two parents. My father was an entrepreneur, he used to drive trucks and he had an accident and hurt his back until he couldn’t drive anymore so he became a barber. After becoming a barber for a few years, he purchased his own barbershop. Few years later (in 1999), the family came together; the brothers and my father and we purchased the building and the barbershop is on Ocean Ave right now, The Real Deal Barber Shop. My parents had already owned their home but that was my first time witnessing the process and the money and the down payments. I said, “Everyone should own their own home.” That was the reason I went to become a real estate agent. Those are my two goals to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to own a home.
4. What inspired you to reach the position of a Councilperson?
My father is in the service industry, I’m a realtor, we just purchased a pizzeria and we also have a restaurant here. My father has always been really big on giving back. Those were the lessons he taught me coming up. It wasn’t to go get rich and be a millionaire, become a councilperson, it was always giving back. Well before council, I was a baseball coach and I also coached some basketball, I was better at baseball and I love baseball more so I really spent a lot of my time coaching baseball.
It’s just a service and giving back to the community because what I believe in my heart is, the better the community is, the better it is for everyone. Then your business will be better, or the barber shop will be better, and the community will be better and you’ll have better friends and better people to have fun with and clean the streets. I’ll tell you, my father was really big on giving back and not just to the community but to your family, to your brothers. If you have more than them, you give back. The older I got I started reading and studying a lot more into spirituality and listening to Gandhi and he’s saying, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” If you want people to give, then you give back.
We grew up religious and going to church and you learn the lessons from a child and it says, “It’s better to give than receive; and the more you give, the more you receive.” Things like that. It’s just been in me to really give and try to make something really nice. I wanted to give the neighborhood something better with the Light Rail Cafe.
5. What do you feel are the benefits of Jersey City being rated the number one most diverse city in the United States this year?
One is the opportunity for everyone, and two is the cultural benefits for kids growing up not just in a town where it’s just you, right? You can learn culture from everyone. You have the opportunity to experience the life of these cultures right at home. We visited the Pakistani church, the Sikh Temple for Let’s Share a Meal. They feed like a thousand people a day. You go in, you have to take your shoes off, and it’s a whole culture thing. Being able to experience that in schools, we speak the most languages so kids get to grow up and experience life and have friends that don’t look like them. I think that’s really important. It goes a long way for adulthood because if you grow up in one place and you only experience one thing as a grown-up, you really tend to just want that. Everyone being able to experience different cultures and having different restaurants and different places to eat. That’s really important. If you only grew up in one area, it would be this kind of food and this kind of food only. That’s really the best part, experiencing the world right here. There are so many great people. The world lives here. There’s so much to do. Every day feels like a vacation. I wake up happy.
6. What is your favorite place in Jersey City to eat?
Besides the Light Rail Cafe of course, it’s Surf City. They have lobster rolls. That’s my favorite, the lobster rolls from there and it may be more about the ambience than the food. I love the boats; I love the sand. It’s so sad because it closes in the wintertime, but you have a view of the city, you have a view of the harbor, you can sit at the bar, you can sit in the beach area. It’s like you’re on vacation right here in the city. I just named 25 more right before, but if I had to pick one place that I had to eat at every single day, it would be Surf City on a beautiful day like yesterday; where the weather is nice and you can take your shoes off and sit in the sand. To have that in Jersey City is an amazing thing. I’m a foodie and I love to go out and eat at different places.
Everybody is going to be mad I didn’t mention them. The Caribbean and Harry’s Daughter, their food is excellent if you like Caribbean food, Latin, or Asian.