Policy Forum on Race, Place and Opportunity in New Jersey - Princeton University, December 16, 2016
The conversation explored the intersection of racial justice and economoc inequlity making a compelling case that the enduring legacy and current crisis of racial and economic segregation in our society is preventing all of us from realizing our full potential politically, socially and economically.
Princeton professor Mitchell Duneierdiscussed his new book Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea, an important and well-timed examination of the legacy of the ghetto as a 500 year old social, psychological, and physical construct as documented by renowned African American scholars throughout the twentieth century. It is a history that informs our understanding of present day segregation in America including its impact on our current political dysfunction, policy failures and inability to respond effectively - and even speak coherently - to the overlapping issues of racial justice and economic inequality.
Other presenters provided important context including political analysis related to the recent election from Algernon Austin, former director of the Economic Policy Institute's Program on Race and the Economy, and Christopher Niedt of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University as well as a panel of local leaders including Rutgers law professor Elise Boddie, former director of litigation for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Gayle Shepard, President of the Montclair Education Association.
The forum closed with a holiday reception and award ceremony recognizing Building One New Jersey’s allies and champions of economic and racial justice including: Montclair Councilman and NJEA Secretary Treasurer, Sean Spiller; John Ballantyneof the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters; William Castner of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield; Reverend Dr. Lester Taylorof the General Baptist Convention; Antoinette Brevardof St. Luke CDC and Marlene Lao-Collinsof Catholic Charities.
There was also moveing a tribute to Mayor Lizette Parker, Building One New Jersey’s 2014 Elected Leader of the Year, who tragically and unexpectedly passed away earlier this year. It was delivered by Teaneck's Deputy Mayor Henry J. Pruitt.
In the aftermath of a bitter presidential fight and the opening of New Jersey’s 2017 race for governor, some might question the relevance of this topic or even its usefulness in light of the racial divide that seems to define our politics today. But racial justice and economic opportunity are not mutually exclusive nor are they competing interests. For working people of all colors and backgrounds, they are inextricably linked and must be untangled if we are to effectively build and sustain multi-racial coalitions powerful enough to advance our common interests and defend our shared values.