Our History

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice was established in 1999 by Alan V. and Amy Lowenstein and a group of visionaries steeped in the Civil Rights Movement. 

Over the course of their shared life together spanning more than 60 years, the Lowensteins were passionately committed to social justice. 

In 1993, Mr. Lowenstein proposed the establishment of a New Jersey law institute to advance social justice. Armed with a vision for what this institute would look like, Mr. Lowenstein sought the advice of friends and experts who could best help him shape the organization and purposes of the institute. Two participants in the earliest discussions included New Jersey Chief Justice Robert N. Wilen and Justice Stewart G. Pollock. 

 Key among the issues they considered were: whether the institute’s goals should be scholarly or activist; how to best compose a board of trustees that would serve the institute’s mission independent from influences of governmental, business or other interests; development of a mandate focused enough to provide direction to trustees yet adequately broad to afford them the ability to address the issues they deem most important and relevant; and how to articulate the institute’s goals in a manner true  to its mission. 

 By late 1996, with resources it gained through the sale of the Lowensteins’ family business, United Steel and Aluminum Corporation, the Alan V. and Amy Lowenstein Foundation prepared to incorporate the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.  

 But there still were two remaining steps: filling out the Board of Trustees and determining more precisely the mission of the organization. 

 Mr. Lowenstein asked several friends who shared his passion for social justice to serve as the initial Officers and Trustees, and all accepted. They included: Nicholas deB. Katzenbach, former U.S. Attorney General; Dickinson R. Debevoise, Senior U.S. District Court Judge; Douglas S. Eakeley, Chairman of the Legal Services Corporation and former Assistant Attorney General of New Jersey; Theodore V. Wells, Mr. Lowenstein’s former law partner and nationally prominent attorney; and Roger A. Lowenstein, Mr. Lowenstein’s son and New Jersey and California attorney. Joining this group were another six distinguished Trustees. Some of the original Trustees remain on the Board today. 

 At our founding, Mr. Lowenstein designed the Institute to be “totally independent” so that it could consist of truth tellers who hold people in positions of power accountable to the people.  

 Without independence, he believed that “pressure could be brought to bear” to influence the Institute’s advocacy “when the Institute [took positions] contrary to the views of the state administration.” 

 Mr. Lowenstein knew that the Institute’s advocacy would require independence to take necessary stands and positions. He also understood that it would be vital to helping design, advocate for and implement solutions to systemic racism that were at once transformative, achievable and replicable in communities across New Jersey – and, ultimately, the nation.  

Who We Are Today 

The Institute has stayed true to the Lowensteins’ vision of bold and independent advocacy for almost two and half decades, proposing and effectuating an ambitious and strategic roadmap for racial and social justice in the state. 

 Known for our dynamic and independent advocacy aimed at toppling load-bearing walls of structural inequity, we have remained committed to exposing and repairing the cracks of structural racism in our foundation that erupt into earthquakes in communities of color. 

The Institute’s advocacy has become a model for states as places to build community power from the ground up.  

No organization in New Jersey or in the region has done this power-building racial justice work better – or more boldly, courageously or successfully – than the Institute.  

 At the Institute, we listen to communities, advocate alongside them to build reparative and liberatory systems and – over and over again – achieve powerful results. 

And we do all of this work centering the voices and lived experiences of Black and other people of color impacted by structural racism. 

 Go here to learn about our work. 


Our Theory of Change 

Our racial justice advocacy is grounded in a five‐part community‐centered theory of change that guides our work.   

First, we engage deeply with, listen carefully to and learn directly from the Black and other communities of color we serve to understand the systemic issues they confront.  

Second, we use research, writing and policy analysis to incorporate these community issues into advocacy reports that include reparative policy proposals aimed to repair the harm.  

Third, through public education, we engage communities across New Jersey to build coalitions that will use their collective voice to advocate for solutions.  

Fourth, we create campaigns and advocate for policy and legislative action and systems change to turn our policy proposals into meaningful reform.  

And last, on the other side of policy change, we engage with key stakeholders on implementation to ensure that our successful advocacy returns resources to the communities where we began.   

Our Core Values  

 Our core values shape our culture and inspire, guide and ground us as we go about our advocacy. 

 Collaboration: The Institute culture is one of robust collaboration. We believe that the whole of our individual contributions is greater than the sum of its parts.  

Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging: Just as we strive to create communities that are vibrantly diverse and inclusive, so do we work to achieve an internal culture that is inclusive not only on paper but also in spirit.  

 Independence: The Institute prides itself on being independent – not motivated by political concerns or parties but rather by our commitment to justice and equity.  

 Boldness: The Institute’s independence allows us to be bold and liberated. Not beholden to interested parties, we are free to innovate, inspire and develop unique, creative and courageous strategies that push the limits on what’s possible.  

 Excellence:  A culture of excellence underlies everything we do at the Institute – from our community engagement to the high quality of our research, writing, advocacy and administration.