NEWARK, NJ — Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement fought for racial and social justice, but called for economic equality too.

“God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty,” Martin Luther King, Jr. once said.

In the last several years, the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark has hosted gatherings to examine the racial wealth gap in New Jersey, led by Rev. David Jefferson, Sr. 

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Though the event gathered hundreds of people including business leaders, local elected officials and residents, Jefferson cautioned against calling the event a success until action is taken. The last thing Jefferson wants, he said, is to have the same conversation next year. The group is planning a major rally on Trenton to address the wealth gap.

“Since 1968, the year Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the income gap between blacks and whites narrowed by just three cents on the dollar,” said Vivian Cox Fraser, Urban League of Essex County president. “The question is, what are we going to do about it?”

According to Fortune Magazine, by the year 2053, black wealth is projected to drop to zero, Fraser said.

While a consensus was reached that black communities must take efforts to vitalize their own economies, they also demanded state elected officials prioritize the economy and its disparities.

Blacks in America spent $1.4 trillion annually, however, black-owned businesses only generates approximately $200 billion, surmounting to a $1.2 trillion deficit within the black community, according to John Harmon, president and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker said he fully supports the initiative at Metropolitan Baptist Church, contributing his remarks via video.

“We have to make sure we are a nation that supports entrepreneurship and that we start to heal the racial wealth gap by focusing on minority business enterprises,” Booker said, touting the initiative for trying to ensure small businesses get access to capital and resources necessary for success.

Furthermore, in 2018, Gov. Phil Murphy elected Hestor Agudosi as the state’s first Chief Diversity Officer in the NJ Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and recently said he plans to create a task force focusing on wealth disparity.

Elizabeth City Councilwoman-At-Large Patricia Perkins-Auguste voiced frustrations for such a task force and instead called for a “solutions committee.” She questioned how state government could “hoodwink” communities for decades, centuries even. The councilwoman was applauded for standing up to the Gov. Phil Murphy earlier that morning on Monday, demanding Port Authority award jobs to more local residents.

“Nothing has changed, the wealth gap keeps getting wider and wider,” Perkins-Auguste said at Metropolitan Baptist Church. “Don’t let the laws stifle you from living the true life that God has for you, that’s what we have been doing here in New Jersey for so many years.”

According to Agudosi, the last time New Jersey conducted a disparity study was well over a decade ago. She said the money the state spends on women and minority-owned businesses was found to be less than 5 percent.

Echoing Martin Luther King, Jr., Agudosi urged the crowd to unite.

“Dr. King didn’t just walk in the room by himself. The civil rights movement was a movement of people who were engaged (which) caused the world to notice,” Agudosi said. “The time is now and we have an opportunity to rewrite history.”

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka also spoke in support of black-owned businesses on Monday evening, mentioning the Weequahic neighborhood of Newark alone spends $100 million annually outside of Newark. 

Those interested in joining the initiative with Metropolitan Baptist Church should visit mbcnewarknj.org/get-connected.