With the Rev. Al Sharpton at his side, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy made a campaign stop today at a hi-tech education center in Newark's South Ward, saying the state needed to support urban youth to succeed in a globalized and digitized economy.
"We've got to be here, backing up these kids, to make sure that they can achieve all that they can achieve," said Murphy, flanked by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Newark native Sheila Oliver, the Democratic lieutenant gubernatorial candidate. "Centers like this are at the very center of our economy. This is the future of our economy."
Murphy appeared at NAN Newark Tech World, a center dedicated to improving Internet-based technological skills critical for many careers in the increasingly digital economy. A key part of the center's mission is to provide access to opportunities available through the Internet by offering classes in computer training skills and other technology programs.
The center is run by the National Action Newark, an organization that provides services to those in poverty, including supporting small community businesses.
Lord Dowdell, director of NAN Newark Tech World, located on Hawthorne Avenue, spoke of the need to narrow the socioeconomic digital divide in order to boost employment opportunities for all Newarkers.
"We've heard from corporate leadership that they wish to hire more minorities, in particular in the black and brown communities, but they don't have the skill set for the jobs available," Dowdell said. "Our job is to target the skills that they're looking for and train people in those disciplines so that they can move in to fill those jobs."
NAN was founded by Sharpton, a widely-known urban issues advocate and media personality. Sharpton was present to show support for the Democratic ticket and assert that the educational technology gap is a national issue that has a serious impact in cities such as Newark.
"A problem that we face in this country is that we have ignored the impact of the digital divide. Automation has cost more jobs than immigration. If you're not talking about closing the digital divide, we still will be losing jobs, particularly in our community," Sharpton said. "If we don't bring a generation up that is very literate in terms of using the technology of the day, then we are rendering them toward being unemployed."
Serving in the 1970s as soul legend James Brown's tour manager, Sharpton has been well known since the 1980s for his fiery advocacy for a range of causes, including protesting against police brutality in cities around the country and his support for Tawana Brawley, who falsely accused four white men of rape in the late 1980s. He is now the host of a Sunday morning news program on MSNBC.
Murphy has been no stranger to Newark, New Jersey's largest city, during his campaign. His decision to concentrate heavily on Newark, the source of the largest number of Democratic votes in New Jersey, in the fall of 2015 helped clear the field of several potential primary rivals and played a critical role in his eventual Democratic primary win this June.
But as the campaign moves closer to November, Murphy will need to win critical independent, moderate suburban voters to win the election against Republican candidate Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. Murphy said he sees no problem campaigning in Newark with Sharpton.
"We're not talking any vote for granted no matter where people live," Murphy told TAPinto Newark. "I've said so many times that as Newark goes, so goes the state of New Jersey. But I'm doing a town hall tonight in Middlesex County. We're walking and chewing gum. We have to do both."
While Murphy referenced New Jersey's urban-suburban divide, Sharpton stuck to crossing economic boundaries in an already divided country.
"The civil rights issue of the 21st century is that we already have a racial divide. Now we've got to deal with the digital divide," Sharpton said. "If not, we only bring racism to a new level. That we cannot do."