CAMDEN, NJ— A group of about 50 people stood on the corner of Broadway and Morgan Boulevard chanting, “People! Power!” Signs that read: “I am a product of working parents” and “The war on the poor is immoral” were held high by students from Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy, and Pan African flags blew in the wind.
Behind them was the Holtec International Technology Campus, its entrance guarded by barricades and Camden County Police officers.
The group of Camden workers, students, parents and activists were gathered for a peaceful protest Friday against the Holtec CEO Krishna “Kris” Singh who, in an article published on roi-nj.com Wednesday, was quoted as describing Camden’s workforce as lazy and difficult to hire.
"They don’t show up to work,” Singh was quoted as saying in the article. “They can’t stand getting up in the morning and coming to work every single day. They haven’t done it, and they didn’t see their parents do it. Of course, some of them get into drugs and things. So, it’s difficult.”
Holtec opened its 600,000-square-feet Camden facility in 2017 after receiving over $250 million in tax credits through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.
“There would be a lot more Camden residents here today, but they’re at work,” Pastor Amir Khan, a Camden activist, said at the podium.
Khan was flanked by Ronsha Dickerson, co-founder of the Camden Parent Union and the organizer of Friday afternoon’s demonstration.
“I am appalled and disgusted by the racial statement and behavior of Holtec International CEO Krishna Singh and the statement also by Congressman Donald Norcross,” Dickerson said. “The residents of Camden are employable … the insinuation that Camden residents are suffering from hereditary poverty is a false narrative.”
In the ROI-NJ article, Norcross was quoted as saying, “I say children are that one asset that you can’t blame them for anything … Same thing goes for people who have not had a structure that taught them. We saw the same thing (with the union) as Dr. Singh and Joe Balzano. There is mentoring that has to take place.”
Just 30 minutes after the demonstration, a joint press conference was held inside Mayor Frank Moran’s office at Camden City Hall, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcoss said the quote was taken out of context, and pointed to his work as an elected official, and said that he also believes Singh’s comments were inappropriate.
“Job readiness is something that isn't unique to Camden City, or Camden County, New Jersey. It is an issue that we deal with each and every day in Washington,” said Norcross, a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor. “Yesterday, we dropped a bill called PATH, pre-apprentice training for hardhats."
Singh, in a statement released Friday, said his remarks were misrepresented in “both the tone and the substance of the interview I gave them,” and reaffirmed Holtec’s commitment to the city.
“I am sorry that my misconstrued comments may have offended or slighted/disrespected some people,” Singh said in the statement, adding that he even though he believes his full comments weren’t reported, he could have been more articulate.
“I am enormously proud to work with a large and growing number of able and conscientious workers from Camden, and my comments were meant to explain the effort we are making to ensure that every Camden resident who wishes to work with us, has the pathway to a successful career,” his statement continued.
At the joint press conference, Mayor Moran, said he stood by his official statement yesterday, in which he called Singh’s remarks appalling, and said he spoke with Singh on Friday.
“I as the mayor of this city will always stand up for its folks,” Moran said, adding that he had a message for those out protesting on Friday.
“If we’re all fighting for the same cause, I expect you to unite with me, and my administration,” the mayor said. “We can disagree on certain things, but I think we can all agree that what was said has offended every single person in this city.”
Troy Oglesby, a former Cherry Hill police officer and activist in Camden, said he and Dickerson tried to speak with a representative from Holtec on Friday, when they were asked to leave the campus. Oglesby said he’s not buying Singh’s apology.
“Nobody from Holtec would come out and speak with us, so how apologetic are you? Genuine apologies should be accepted from the person you offended,” Oglesby said.
Oglesby has long been an advocate for the City of Camden hiring an affirmative action officer — a representative of the city government that would hold companies responsible for hiring Camden residents.
“What he [Singh] said, is a real indication as to why we need an affirmative action officer,” said Oglesby.
Mayor Moran said that the city has had an affirmative action council in place, along with an affirmative action officer. According to city spokesperson Vince Basara, the name of the individual cannot be released until the hire is approved by the state. According to Basara, the individual, a current City of Camden employee, has been acting in that role for a few months, and will not be earning an extra salary.
Moran said that in his phone call with Singh, he let him know that he was appalled by his remarks, but that the two leaders agreed to partner to fix it.
“My commitment, and what I expect his commitment to be, is how do we overcome this, and that’s where the successes are going to come from,” Moran said. “How do we overcome this, and work collectively with every CEO that is in this city, whether its Camden Yards, whether its Holtec, or whether anyone else for that matter.”
Norcross and Moran announced that on Wednesday of next week, there will be a summit on jobs and career training called, “Camden Working” held at Rowan University’s Camden Campus.
“We will be inviting all the major employers in Camden City, we’ll be bringing together all the education institutions and the training organizations,” Norcross said. Community leaders and public officials will participate as well.
“Now, as we move forward, we’re going to call every corporate individual and say, ‘If you don't have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all about my city.’ " the mayor said. "Guess what, you have opportunity because you came to my city, and we’re going to work as leaders to make sure we help fill those opportunities.”