Written & Illustrated By Morgan Spicer, Independent Candidate for AH Council
The American Dream…
I’ve lived it! Both of my parents are small business owners here in Monmouth County. I grew up in my mom’s Video Rental Store, “Video On The Ritz” in Fair Haven. It was a magical place, all the new movies arrived before their release dates and being able to pop that VHS into the VCR a few days early made me and my siblings feel like celebrities. The video store also had some toys and candy, so my expertise as a child came in handy when my mom would be placing orders with various sales representatives. I would help her fill out price tags and place them on the correct items. The very best though, was when we would go into the city for the Toy Fair or the Gift Show and I could see all the coolest and hottest new toys before they hit the shelves. My mom would bring me along, and from a very young age, I was able to watch her be an incredible business owner who knew what she wanted, and who still, to this day, cares deeply about her business and it’s customers.
My dad would put me to work filing papers. While his business was always a bit less exciting to a young child, he taught me from a young age to work for the things I wanted. I was always privileged to have what I needed given to me, and so if it wasn’t something I needed, and was just something I wanted, then I’d better be prepared to save up my money and work for it. My parents took a leap of faith by embracing my artistic abilities and encouraging me to pursue an unlikely career in illustration.
Even more blessed and many years later I was able to graduate from Syracuse University with a degree and no debt. I started my career off on the starting line. Not many other people my age can say the same. This is why I mention the American Dream. It does still exist, but not for everyone, as it’s gifts have become harder and harder to obtain.
After college I took a leap of faith and moved to Manhattan with three roommates. The four of us shared a two bedroom apartment, and I started walking dogs. I took an unpaid internship that eventually led to my first full time job at an animation studio. After a few months of working in a studio, I realized that freelance was for me. With my parents as perfect examples, I had the confidence and know how to build my own business, work my own hours, and pick projects I was passionate about. And so my business, Bark Point Studio, was born and my goal of being a work-from-home dogmom was finally a reality.
I watched from the sidelines, as countless peers of mine struggled to pay their student debt. They had degrees that should have enabled them to take jobs they loved but instead they were stuck working retail or sales just to be able to keep up. By the time they had enough money to think about paying rent to get out of their parent’s homes, that student loan payment would get in the way. It felt to me like my peers were being punished for seeking a good education. Something I was able to get, simply because of my parents, and not because I am special. Sure, I’ve worked hard most of my life, I also have a talent that not many other people have, but then again, many of my peers worked hard too, and had talents of their own. Why weren’t they able to reach their American Dream?
We wanted to take a leap of faith. My husband and running mate Zack Brown, and myself, decided to buy a home. We looked everywhere in New Jersey after living and working in the city for years. I was working out of Manhattan when the Boston Marathon Bombing took place and after that, I found it very difficult to feel safe in the big city. What used to feel like endless opportunity started to feel like omnipresent threats all around me. I was desperate to find a home in New Jersey, to be closer to my parents and family members.
Zack, as a native New Yorker, was very hesitant to become a New Jersey resident. At first we looked up north for a home, some place where he could get to the city for work relatively quickly. Nothing up north reminded me of home, which is what I was desperate to find. When we started looking at homes in the Bayshore, it felt like that would be just too good to be true. Why should I, at the time a 27 year old, be lucky enough to own my own home in Monmouth County, when so many of my friends and peers were paying more than 70%, if not more, of their income on rent or were still living at home with their parents?
When we found our home here in Atlantic Highlands, I carried around a picture of the house everywhere I went for months. It felt like if I didn’t have the photograph of the house on me at all times, then it could disappear, and with it, part of my American Dream.
Zack and I had three dogs at this point, and we loved our upper east side basement apartment with its tiny outdoor space, but we both knew the dogs deserved a big yard and long walks in the woods. We took our big leap of faith and put down a down payment on our American Dream Home in the Spring of 2017.
We had a lot to learn about mortgages, property taxes, homeowners associations, and how to get permits. We made mistakes, we budgeted tightly, but ultimately found paradise here in Atlantic Highlands.
The borough has given us so much over the years. A movie theater experience is just a walk down the street, and all it takes is a quick ferry ride to the big city to see Zack’s family and our old friends on occasion. The marina with its endless sights and smells, bringing joy to our ever growing family, and the Lenape Woods, with its untouched nature and diverse wildlife, keeps blessing us with peace and harmony even as the world around us gets more and more uncertain.
With so much to be grateful for, we both knew we would need to continue to give back. Eagle Scout, Zack Brown, started volunteering with the First Aid Squad soon after we moved in. I found book projects to work on that would partner with the Monmouth County SPCA, and sought out like minded activists in the area to organize for much needed environmental and healthcare reform. Throughout the last few elections we both got involved in various ways, from postcard writing for down ballot candidates, to traveling to early voting states to knock doors. This country has enabled us to live our American Dream, and we want that dream to be reality for all Americans. It isn’t just student loans that prevent others from obtaining their American dream, but it is also food and housing insecurity. Then there are increasing health issues that can cause even more debt or even bankruptcy. Diseases of despair and mental health crises are plaguing our peers and fellow Americans, oftentimes immobilizing them and keeping them trapped in a cycle of living month to month.
Finally, the planet. Our leap of faith to buy our home of course considered the climate meltdown. When Sandy hit Manhattan in 2012, my roommates and I were evacuated from our Financial District highrise for months. Unable to get cell service, I had to wonder what was happening with my family here in Monmouth County. My parents gathered our older relatives and kept them warm with the fireplace, and my peers from high school came armed with chainsaws to help clear the streets from all the fallen trees in the neighborhood. My roommates and I moved into Zack’s one bedroom, with two cats and one dog at the time. It was a packed small space, but we were safe. No power or running water, we would trek across the city daily to my sister’s apartment in Chelsea where we could shower, drink cold water, and watch the news.
Living in Atlantic Highlands during Isaias last summer, we got a little taste of what Sandy was like for the Bayshore. Now with these wind events and flash flooding, it’s never been more clear that we must honor our land and water and move away from industries destroying our planet and we must become more self-sufficient as a community as the storms increase in power and numbers. Zack and I became vegan many years ago, so that we can live our love for animals and the planet, every single day, with our diet and our wallets. We strive to always shop local and small, even if it means spending a little more.
Now here we are. Taking another leap of faith. This time, running for Borough Council as Independents. We are running a self-funded campaign as independents because our family is full of every political ideology out there, and we refuse to take a side or join a club. This is our American family, and that is what makes this country great. We believe we are prepared to find common ground, to work with anyone on anything when our values align. There has never been a better time to embrace independence than today, when divisiveness has grasped our national politics and in some instances our local politics as well. Zack Brown and myself, if we are honored with your vote and are lucky enough to serve you, will bring our sense of service, our compassion, a younger perspective, creativity, and patriotism to the Borough Council. We will not be in a club that may determine what we do, instead we will be indebted only to you, The People of Atlantic Highlands.
PS: You can find us, Morgan Spicer & Zack Brown, in Column 6 on your ballot! Bring Back Balance, this November 2nd. You can also vote earlier, visit https://www.monmouthcountyvotes.com/ to find out how, where, and when.