Making a differenceARTICLE BY JORDYN IVES, DOWNTOWN WESTFIELD HIGH SCHOOL INTERN & JOURNALIST
- Pictured: James Ward and his son, Ethan, walk the permanent rainbow crosswalk he sponsored in downtown Westfield.
James Ward, real estate developer and owner of the James Ward Mansion, has funded the permanent addition of the Rainbow Crosswalk to downtown Westfield. Originally commissioned to celebrate Pride Month last June 2020, the crosswalk was not meant to be a long-term project, but when Ward heard that the town wanted to keep it up, he jumped right in to ensure the longevity of a cause close to him. Ward has been aware of the struggles of the LGTBQ+ community for decades and uses his banquet hall and resources to give back.
His care for LGBTQ+ issues started when he was working in Key West during the 1980s. For people who were not accepted in their hometowns, Key West was an oasis. “I would interact with LGBTQ+ people there every day and it was eye-opening. They would talk about the towns that they came from and how they were not accepted, and a lot of them felt like they couldn't really be who they were. I found that to be awful and it really stuck with me over the years.”
After gay marriage became legalized during the 2010s, Ward and his business partner and brother, John Ward, wanted to make it clear that they would provide a venue for all couples to get married in. As owners of one of the most popular venues in the area, they wanted to make it a point to welcome LGBTQ+ couples and provide a lovely space for them to get married. “We made it very clear that we were supportive of this movement and we wanted people to know that we embrace LGBTQ+ marriage,” Ward said. “ At the same time, we were reading in the papers that many vendors throughout the country were saying they wouldn't participate, so we wanted to get out in front of it. We reached out to people in the community and publications to make it clear that we would love to have their business.”
Ward’s support for the LGBTQ community ties in with his love for weddings. “I think that a wedding is a commitment between two people when they are stating how much they love each other and that they are spending the rest of their lives together. That's what a wedding represents to me.” So during the beginning of COVID, when a gay couple lost their venue for their upcoming wedding, Ward reached out to them and offered the mansion for free. “They had a wonderful wedding, they were extremely thankful, and it worked out wonderfully. That is something that made me feel very good,” he said.
Earlier this year, when Ward found out that the town government would allow the Rainbow Crosswalk to be permanent, he jumped right in and knew he would love to get involved. Ward admires the crosswalk not just for its looks, but more for what it represents and reveals about Westfield. “ I think it looks beautiful, but more than that I think it means that we are an open-minded town, are all-inclusive and it lets people know a lot about Westfield. I am very proud that I live here and that my 10-year-old son attends school here,” he said.
Tying all aspects of Ward’s story together is the quote that he lives by, “You have enemies. Good. That means you've stood up for something in your life.” (Winston Churchill). “I admire Churchill very much. He was a very strong person and when he had to, he would use force to accomplish what he had to get done. And I fully believe in that. I grew up in Northern Ireland and joined the Troubles, which is a war. I would see the Irish fighting for their rights against the English — and even though Churchill was English, I happen to agree with a lot that he said. What you need to stand for, you must do,” he said.
Additionally, Ward owns Selfie Stations NJ and plans to promote Pride month there as well. “I built Selfie Stations NJ and we are designing some of the booths for Pride month. We are adding the colors of the LGBTQ+ flag and on the window, we have a sticker that says proud sponsor of the crosswalk. It's something that's very near and dear to our hearts, and it's something that my brother and I both stood up for. We are raising my 10-year-old boy so he understands acceptances and that all of us are equal, regardless of whom we love.”