NJ Spotlight: 50 Years Later - Fight for Racial Justice Continues, From Ground up

Institute President and CEO writes for NJ Spotlight:

Fifty years after it was conceived, it is long past time to finally make real the promise of the Poor People’s Campaign, and to grapple with the divisions detailed by the Kerner Commission. It is entirely clear, particularly at this moment in history, that resistance and change must happen from the ground up in our communities.

If there is a lesson for progressive people to learn from the past 50 years and today, it is this: People who care about racial and social justice cannot afford to be timid.

New Jersey, which embodied so many of these challenges in 1968 and today, can chart the path forward for the nation.


Aspen Institute: Resistance and Change From the Ground Up

Institute President and CEO Ryan Haygood writes for the Aspen Institute:

The city is home to one of the largest transportation hubs in the United States, Fortune 500 businesses, world-class research universities and cultural institutions, and a large network of hospitals and community health centers. And a majority of the people who work in Newark earn more than $40,000 a year, according to a powerful report written by Demelza Baer, my colleague at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.

But this prosperity is not shared by a majority of Newark residents, where 33 percent of Black residents live in poverty.

It is therefore not uncommon for me to see residents waiting to receive unemployment and other benefits in a line that extends as long as a city block, while on the other end of the street, billion-dollar construction projects are underway.

This is part of a broader, troubling picture: Newark residents hold only 18 percent of all jobs in the city. In this regard, Newark is a stark outlier among similarly situated cities. In Baltimore, for example, residents hold 33 percent of jobs. In New Orleans, it’s 46 percent. And while almost three-quarters of Newark residents are people of color, 60 percent of the people employed in Newark are white.

Importantly, these disparities in employment cannot be explained by a lack of desire or ability to work. Newark has the same labor force participation rate — the percentage of the population that is either employed or actively seeking work — as the rest of the United States, about 63 percent. However, we have higher unemployment. This leaves Newark with a troublingly high proportion of residents ready and willing to work, but unable to find either full- or part-time jobs.

Instead, these racial disparities reflect systemic failures, which require systemic solutions.

Voting Rights Bills Pass Senate Committee, Step hailed by voting rights advocates

Today, the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee voted to advance three voting reform bills that will modernize New Jersey’s elections and reduce barriers to participation. Automatic voter registration allows eligible voters to be automatically registered to vote or to have their voting information updated when interacting with the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) unless they decline registration. Legislation to expand access to in-person early voting and to establish online voter registration also passed out of the committee.

“New Jersey’s current election system is outdated and does not adequately serve the needs of our voters," said Jesse Burns, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey. “These secure and commonsense measures remove barriers to participation while ensuring the integrity of our democracy.”

The League of Women Voters of New Jersey was joined by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (Institute), as well as other voting rights advocates, in testifying in support of the legislation. 

“Our democracy is strongest when more people are able to have their voices heard and when the electorate is representative of the state’s population as a whole,” said Ryan Haygood, President and CEO of the Institute. “These reforms will help create a vibrant and inclusive democracy in New Jersey by increasing access to voter registration and expanding the time during which a voter can cast a ballot.”

Automatic voter registration has been shown to significantly increase the number of people who register to vote when interacting with a motor vehicles office. In Oregon—the first state to implement automatic voter registration—nearly 100,000 of the new registrants turned out to vote in 2016. By making it easier for a voter to update their information, automatic voter registration also helps improve the accuracy of the voter rolls. New Jersey would join ten other states and the District of Columbia if automatic voter registration is adopted.

New Jersey is one of only a handful of states that does not currently allow for robust in-person early voting opportunities or online voter registration. The bills passed today by the committee would provide for expanded early voting hours, including on evenings and weekends, at more locations as well as permit an eligible citizen to register to vote using a secure website. All three reforms have been passed by the legislature in some form only to be vetoed by former Governor Chris Christie.  

“These reforms have proven successful in other states and New Jersey is falling behind,” said Burns. “Voters are telling the League that the current system is failing them, and they shouldn’t be asked to wait any longer to ensure their voices are heard.”

The three bills approved by the Senate Committee today must still be passed by the full Senate and the Assembly before going to Governor Phil Murphy’s desk.

The League and the Institute are also advocating for other reforms to make our democracy more inclusive and accessible, including restoring voting rights to people with convictions and same day voter registration.

“These three reforms are necessary to helping position New Jersey as a national model of what an inclusive democracy should look like,” said Institute Associate Counsel Scott Novakowski. “We look forward to working with legislators in both houses as well as Governor Murphy to further build a robust democracy in New Jersey that includes all of our voices.”



Star Ledger: In fair housing, residential integration is key - and it's up to you

Senior Counsel and Director of the Economic Mobility Initiative writes for the Star Ledger:

From 1970 to 2015, the homeownership rate among black people actually declined from 41.8 to 41.2 percent, while it increased less than 1 percent among Latinos (44.4 to 45.3 percent). Meanwhile, the homeownership rate of white people increased from 66.1 to 71.1 percent. These disparities are the primary driver of the racial wealth gap, which has nearly tripled in the past 25 years. To put this in perspective, the median net worth of black and Latino families is $11,000 and $14,000, respectively, compared with the $134,000 median wealth of white families.

Times of Trenton Editorial Board: One ancient law is stopping thousands of people from voting

The Times of Trenton Editorial Board writes

The current ban "remains a moral stain on our state," says Ryan Haygood, president and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, which recently released a report noting that more than half of those disenfranchised here - about 47,400 people - are African-Americans.

The Legislative Black Caucus has been advocating for the change for years, and now momentum seems to be building in its favor...

Many people believe that a convicted murderer or a rapist forfeits the right to take part in the democratic process. Or that their lack of wisdom or judgment should make such felons ineligible to cast a ballot.

But the rights of citizenship still pertain, even to those behind bars. Furthermore, judgment and wisdom have never been prerequisites to voting.

Burlington County Times: Group seeks to make use of former boarding school in Bordentown Township

The Burlington County Times reports:

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice lays out its vision in a report released last week called “Bring Our Children Home: A Prison-to-School Pipeline” that calls for the closing of both Hayes and the nearby Juvenile Medium Security Facility, which is considered the state’s most secure youth detention facility for boys, and the reopening of the Bordentown School. It also calls for a statewide study of disciplinary actions and policies in schools, and how they may contribute to the racial disparity among black and white students in youth prisons.

According to the report, black students in New Jersey are four times more likely than white students to receive out-of-school suspensions and are twice as likely to receive expulsions, even though white and black students commit most offenses at similar rates.

Similarly, the report found that while black students make up about 16 percent of the total enrollment in New Jersey schools, they make up about 34 percent of school-related arrests and just over 31 percent of law enforcement referrals.

The racial disparity was even greater among girls, with black girls accounting for over 50 percent of out-of-school suspensions by female students, 30 percent of expulsions and nearly 38 percent of in-school arrests.

1844NoMore: Media Round-Up

On February 26, 2018, historic legislation was introduced to restore the right to people in prison, on parole, and on probation. Elected officials and eighty organizations joined the Institute's call to say: We are 1844 no more. Check out the media round-up below and the photo gallery here

Wall Street Journal 

Huffington Post

NJ Spotlight

NJ 101.5

Star Ledger

CBS Philly

Insider NJ




Burlington County Times




The Trentonian