BLOOMFIELD, NJ – In an effort to bring the community closer together and help mend division, Bloomfield conducted the second ‘Community Conversation’ discussion about race on Wednesday, July 29, via Zoom.
The event, moderated by Bloomfield First-Ward Councilwoman Jenny Mundell and Councilwoman-At-Large Dr. Wartyna Davis, focused on the social construction of race and its real-life implications.
Wednesday’s guest speakers for the discussion were Desyra Highsmith, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Clara Maass Medical Center and Wendy Christensen, PhD, Associate Professor and Assistant Chair, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at William Paterson University.
“The discussion and topic of race can lead to a lot of concern about saying the wrong thing, but the beauty of these conversations is that we can all come to the table and have a safe place to learn as there are no silly questions in this open discussion and we can all come away with a better understanding of the issues,” said Highsmith.
Highsmith continued, “We all have certain biases, some are unconscious or implicit biases, and some are conscious and explicit biases, and since this is a safe and open discussion, it’s important to realize and be mindful that we all have blind spots. We have to be aware and realize we are all using these biases on a daily basis and we must undo these bias connections within us.”
The purpose of the community conversations on race is to allow an opportunity for residents to learn from experts what Bloomfield can be doing better regarding race issues.
“Race refers to physical differences that groups and cultures consider socially significant,” said Dr. Christensen. “Please note that race classification is not scientific, this is cultural and political.”
Christensen stressed the difference between common everyday prejudices and racism.
“Prejudice is different from racism – prejudice is when inferiority is attributed to people based on stereotypes or limited information, where racism is race prejudice meeting social and institutional power,” Christensen explained.
Other notable participants on the Zoom meeting were Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholder Patricia Sebold, Second-Ward Councilman Nicholas Joanow, Councilman-at-Large Ted Gamble, Councilman-At-Large Richard Rockwell, Township Administrator Matthew Watkins, Bloomfield Commission on Civil Rights members Dr. Djanna Hill-Tall and Maurice McLaughlin.
“These conversations are so important, and they are the essence of what we are trying to do as a community to help our understanding of these issues and facilitate our dialogue,” said Councilwoman Davis.
“This is a courageous conversation about race and bias,” said Councilwoman Mundell. “These are open community forums and not webinars, as chat messages and questions are always welcome. Our two panelist guide us toward an understanding as a community as what we all need to do together.”
With many conversations about race taking place in communities across America, Bloomfield feels strongly about including discussions about racial disparities into the ongoing discourse with the community.
“We need to figure out how we can address these issues from a township point of view,” Mayor Venezia said ahead of the event. “I believe that these conversations provide us with valuable insight that along with the Council, we will use to make meaningful changes in our community.”
The first community conversation on July 15 saw Michellene Davis, Esq., Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer for RWJBarnabas Health, serve as the guest speaker.
The next ‘Community Conversation’ will be conducted on Wednesday, August 12.
“Getting the opportunity to listen to both experts and members of the community about all of the different ways that systems in place impact racial inequalities has been invaluable,” Mundell added. “I am proud of our community for coming together over the last several weeks in solidarity around many of these issues, and we plan to take that energy to impact change.”