Updated: Aug. 24, 2022, 3:03 p.m.|Published: Aug. 18, 2022, 3:30 p.m.
By: Rev. Dr. Charles Boyer
The Rev. Dr. Charles Franklin Boyer is the pastor of Greater Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Trenton and the founder of Salvation and Social Justice. He says there has never been a call to dismantle segregation without the involvement of the Black church.
The level of segregation our Black and Latino children experience across the state’s public school system is not only a violation of New Jersey’s constitution, it is profoundly immoral and adversely affects their prospects.
The state’s zip code policies, which go back decades, require students to attend schools in the districts they live in; this has kept students segregated for years because it’s intertwined with the racially segregated demographics of New Jersey’s neighborhoods.
I know firsthand. I was born and raised in Plainfield, and for much of my youth, I attended a segregated school where opportunities for Black students were limited. Back then, segregated schools were blocked from receiving government resources, like funds for new books and programs to help empower students, which hurt the quality of our education and pathways toward prosperity after graduation.
As of the 2020/21 academic year, New Jersey’s public education system had 599 operating school districts, 2,493 public schools, and nearly 1.28 million public school students. Of this number, 31.2% were Latino, and 15% were Black.
According to a study by the Inclusion Project at Rutgers Law School, New Jersey ranks sixth among states with the highest segregation of Black students and seventh in segregation of Latinos.
In 2018, a group of students, their guardians, advocacy and faith groups sued the state of New Jersey to hold leaders accountable for creating this segregation crisis and requiring them to create an integration plan. While the case winds its way through the legal system, the segregation problem remains for Black and Latino students, who will return to school campuses over the next few weeks.
It is vital for all of us, particularly those of faith, to unite to end systemic racism in our schools and to create an atmosphere that will give the rising generation opportunities that others before them did not have.
There has never been a call to dismantle segregation without the involvement of people of faith, faith leaders, and Black church leaders in particular. The Black church’s influence on justice movements is rooted in equity and fairness. Historically, the prophetic voices in the movement to break down walls of injustice have been strong faith leaders in their communities.
Richard Allen, considered a forerunner of the Civil Rights movement and founder of the Free African Society, operated from the conclusion that segregation harms society, as did other trailblazers such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Dr. Martin Luther King.
The church as an institution offers an infrastructure and built-in constituency, unlike any other institution. It is also one of the oldest institutions Black people have in America. Faith leaders have the unique power to sit at the table with government officials where they can talk about issues and find solutions in ways that others do not. We must unite, lift our voices and demand justice for all students.
Here are a few suggestions on how faith leaders can activate their communities.
Invite local activists and community members to your church and engage your congregation in discussions surrounding housing and school segregation since they inform one another.
Set up “information tables” after service to provide information about desegregating schools in New Jersey and encourage them to sign the #IntegrateNJ petition.
Reach out to the Salvation and Social Justice office to receive a digital one-pager surrounding integrating NJ schools and talk directly to organizers about this issue.
Studies show that students benefit when exposed to students from backgrounds other than their own. That is why I’m calling on faith leaders to take segregation in our state seriously and to work toward solutions that will give the youngest in our communities a fair chance.
We must put an end to inequities and separation by race, which have no place in our New Jersey school system.
Rev. Charles Boyer is a third-generation African Methodist Episcopal preacher. He is the pastor of Greater Mount Zion A.M.E. Church in Trenton, and the founder of Salvation and Social Justice, a non-partisan, Black, faith-rooted organization that seeks to liberate public policy theologically by modeling the hope and resiliency of Black faith.
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