People of all ages were paying their respects to Whitney Houston outside New Hope Baptist Church in her hometown Newark, New Jersey on Thursday, February 16th. It was a gloomy, rainy morning and the fence outside the church was no longer visible due to the plethora of flowers, balloons, pictures of Houston and posters covered with messages and signatures. Despite the melancholic mood, viewers outside New Hope shared why they were there and their personal stories.
“She was a legend,” said 27-year-old Peter, who moved to Newark three years ago from Miami. “I just came to pay my respects and see and read what other fans did. People really loved her. Back then, I never would have thought I was going to come to Newark and so was she. There is no denying—she was a legend” he repeated.
Officer Ortiz, who was monitoring the barricade around the church as media and more visitors poured around the decorated fence, said although he wasn’t a hardcore fan, he was surely a fan. “Everyone in my family listens to Spanish music, but we’ve always liked her music. I’ve been an detective here for 23 years and Newark hasn’t forgot about her, especially not the church.”
A Belleville resident the same age as Whitney agreed, “She was a religious person and so am I. Maybe she had her issues, but I don’t go to church every Sunday and I have my issues as well,” said 48-year-old Mike who was a huge fan and attended several concerts. “She was an absolutely breathtaking singer. A piece of my heart is gone with her, she was one of my favorites—or else I wouldn’t be here,” he concluded as he walked to sign a small message on a poster board.
As the rain began to come down harder, media crews grew as visitors continued to surround the fence. “I was a medium fan,” said the manager of NBC, “We’re trying to figure where the best location to set up is in order to film the funeral, despite denials from the police and the family.”
Perhaps the one visitor who stood out most in the crowd was 11-year-old Nasem Topp, a Perth Amboy resident. “My mom loves her songs and I think her music was cool.” When asked why Topp wasn’t in school, he said his elementary school, The Center School, was burnt down a few weeks ago. “No one got hurt, they are rebuilding it. We miss it but we’re waiting for a new one now. We’re here now to see the balloons and flowers.” The 11-year-old also said he has a love for music and the “Zulu drums” and the “rattle-thingy.”
Several Newark residents were standing and reading messages and humming to popular tunes by Whitney. “Oh, listening to her got you out of that funky mood you felt,” said 44-year-old Eban Waalis. “I would be listening to her album on my Walkman going to school.” Waalis said one of Whitney’s famous songs actually helped him in a romantic, murky situation. “In 1986, I had a breakup. I walked outside her window and played our favorite song, “You Give Good Love,” and we got back together. I don’t know if you kids do this now, but it’s a true story,” he said.
“She was very giving, she never forgot where she came from. People say she did this, she did that—but that’s not who she was,” Waalis said.
Another Newark resident, 43-year-old, who asked to be referred as simply Sean, agreed with Waalis. “The shelter right across New Hope is where the Houston family gave a lot of food and clothes. I met the family before, they were down-to-earth and very giving. She made “We Are the World” with Michael Jackson and donated all her proceeds to charities. She didn’t do it just in Newark, it was worldwide.”