Barbara J. Kukla has written five books about the people of Newark including the recently released America’s Music: Jazz in Newark. The others are Swing City: Newark Nightlife, 1925-50, which traces Newark’s jazz history; Defying the Odds: Triumphant Black Women of Newark, which documents the lives of eight great achievers; Sounds of Music: The Dolores Collins Benjamin Story, a biography of the founder of the North Jersey Philharmonic Glee Club, our nation’s oldest all-male African-American choral group, and Newark Inside My Soul: A 50-Year Memoir. In 2005, Defying the Odds was cited by the New Jersey Council on the Arts as one New Jersey’s best non-fiction works.
Before her retirement from The Star-Ledger in 2004, Barbara spent forty-three years as a journalist, most of that time at The Star-Ledger, where she first served as a general assignment reporter and Sunday city editor. In 1979, she created and was named editor of Newark This Week, a section focused solely on news of interest to the residents of New Jersey’s largest city.
Barbara holds a B.A. degree in English from Bloomfield College, an M.A. degree in sociology from Rutgers University and an honorary A. A. degree in the humanities from Essex County College. Through the years, she has mentored many Newark young people who have gone on to lead wonderfully productive lives. She also headed the Friends of Barbara J. Kukla Scholarship Fund, a non-profit group that provided $50,000 in scholarship monies for Newark public school students. For several years, she sponsored an annual jazz competition for Newark youngsters at Arts High School.
Barbara has served on the boards of the The Leaguers, Inc., the North Jersey Philharmonic Glee Club and the Newark Public Schools Historical Preservation Committee, She is a member of the Newark Athletic Hall of Fame and Bethany Baptist Church of Newark and is an ardent supporter of the Malcolm X Shabazz girls’ basketball team.
Over the years, she has been honored by more than 100 community groups. In 1998, she was the first woman selected by The Friends of the Newark Public Library to deliver the John Cotton Dana Distinguished Lecture for contributions to the City of Newark and State of New Jersey. She is a Living Legend at Metropolitan Church as well as one of the first recipients of Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver’s Shirley Chisholm Award and of Essex County’s Althea Gibson Award as has been Principal for a Day at three Newark schools.
In 2011, she was named Champion Reader of the United Way of Essex and West Hudson’s literacy campaign. In 2013 received that agency’s prestigious Reggie Harris Celebrity Read Award. More recently she was honored by the Newark Circle of Sisters’ Women of Fire luncheon by the Union Chapel Community Development Corporation and by the Newark-based We Care Partnership.
In 2015 she was featured in two Newark jazz exhibits –the Institute of Jazz Studies’ Women in Jazz showcase at WBGO/Jazz 88 Radio and Jazz, Jews and African-Americans: Cultural Intersections in Jazz and Beyond at the Jewish Museum. In June 2016, Barbara will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from by Project Re-Direct, a community group that campaigns against child abuse, domestic violence and juvenile delinquency.