June 19, 2023
PERTH AMBOY – Against the backdrop of waters that once carried ships of enslaved Africans to the shores of Perth Amboy, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice today gathered with esteemed advocates, experts and elected officials to announce the launch of the New Jersey Reparations Council. The Council will be the first of its kind to acknowledge, confront and repair New Jersey’s deep and often overlooked involvement in slavery and its lasting impact on the contemporary life of Black people in the state.
“We are incredibly excited to be convening this groundbreaking Council, and could not ask for a more talented, motivated and accomplished group of members,” said Ryan Haygood, President & CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “This is a tremendous undertaking, but one that we can no longer avoid if we are ever to live up to our ideal as a multiracial democracy in New Jersey and across the country. If there were ever a team that could accomplish this, it is this one.”
Perth Amboy Mayor Helmin Caba provided welcoming remarks at today’s event, and other guest speakers included U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Asw. Shavonda Sumter. A flyer for the event listing all speakers, including Institute representatives, can be found here. Video of the event can be found on the Institute’s Facebook page.
The Council’s unique collaboration of leading experts from various disciplines around New Jersey and the country is co-chaired by Taja-Nia Henderson (Rutgers Law School) and Khalil Gibran Muhammad (Harvard Kennedy School) and is comprised of nine subject matter committees: History of Slavery in New Jersey; Public Education & Narrative; Economic Justice; Segregation in New Jersey; Democracy; Public Safety & Justice; Health Equity; Environmental Justice; and Faith & Black Resistance.
“Given the generations of unaddressed, compounded and systemic racial oppression that advantaged white people at the expense of Black people, how could New Jersey not suffer from the vast racial disparities that we have today?”, said Jean-Pierre Brutus, Senior Counsel in the Economic Justice Program at the Institute, who is representing the Institute in its role as Council Convenor. “We like to think of ourselves in New Jersey as progressive and enlightened – and in many ways that is true. But, in other ways, our self-generated narrative has forestalled our reckoning and our acknowledgment that when it comes to racial justice, we have a long way to go. The time has come to confront and repair.”
Unknown to many, New Jersey was so reliant upon slavery that a New Jersey historian has called it “the slave state of the North.” At New Jersey’s founding, English settlers were given 150 acres of land to get started – plus an additional 150 for each enslaved person they brought with them. This “slavery bonus” began the Garden State on its journey of economic and other racial oppression and stratification that carried through to future practices like the cottager system, racially restrictive deeds, denial of GI benefits to Black people, redlining, mass incarceration and more. This history logically led us to today, when New Jersey – one of the most diverse states in the nation – has some of its worst racial disparities, including a staggering $300,000 Black/white racial wealth gap.
“We understand that people have questions about what reparations should look like and who should get them,” added Haygood. “This will be up to the Council, after it studies New Jersey’s unique historical and current landscape. As Convenor, the Institute is encouraging the Council to think boldly and imaginatively, and to propose solutions that are commensurate to the enduring harms Black people in New Jersey continue to face from slavery and the anti-Black policies that followed.”
According to the Institute, on the table for the Council to consider are investments in Black communities that will create lasting, societal change as well as cash payments for the harm of lost earnings and wealth.
“We are looking for policies that will go beyond harm reduction and will be an answer to the question of what it will take to fundamentally empower Black New Jerseyans so they will be truly liberated and thrive,” added Haygood.
Over a two-year period, the Council will study New Jersey’s history and its connection to its current racial landscape, making strategic and bold policy recommendations for reparative justice policies in New Jersey. The nine Committees will hold virtual open meetings for which public comment will be solicited.
On Juneteenth 2024, the Council will provide a midway update on its work. On Juneteenth 2025, it will release its final report, which will be a compilation of writings produced by the Committees and can inform a state-based reparations task force, should pending legislation be passed to establish one – or stand on its own as a blueprint for New Jersey’s work of reparative justice.
The Council’s website, including names and biographies of its over 45 members, can be found here.