NUTLEY, NJ - John V. Kelly III, less than a month as Public Affairs commissioner, took initiative and created the Cultural Inclusion and Diversity Council headed by Courtney Johnson, assistant to the commissioner. The Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the resolution during the June 16 public meeting.
The idea of the council was something Kelly intended to do however; he said, “The climate in the country propelled the need for sooner rather than later. A vision that I think is much-needed for the town.”
Representing the groups on the council, as well as residents who expressed interest, includes Janice Fraser (secretary), Desyra Holcomb, Rhonda Frobose, Mike Celona, Catherine Pezo, Maria Hamlin, Chris Cullari, Christine Villanueva, Taji Reisch, Vincent Banez, Yaruby Petit-Frere, Patrick Koslecki, Danielle Schaefer, Alfredo Huaranga, and the Rev. Jill Fenske of Franklin Reformed Church.
Johnson said in time he plans to continue to include more diversity to the council. “We are just getting started and still growing,” he said in a separate interview.
The council held a “meet and greet” with each other via Zoom in June. They anticipate holding a more formal productive Zoom meeting on July 22.
According to Kelly, the council intends to promote dialogue through events and panel discussions to build conversations. In addition, Johnson said that classes and celebration dinners would also be included. “Education as well as celebration. Lectures, classes, a lot of one on one and Q and A. In New York a lot has been lost in the parade,” he said.
Johnson also plans to ask the Nutley High School newspaper, The Maroon and Gray, to do stories on the council and events.
“We want things go together. Along with celebrating gay pride [June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month], we want people to be included; we want classes and celebration dinners. I do not want people to just celebrate Gay Pride or Juneteenth,” said Johnson. Juneteenth acknowledges the last notification of emancipation of those who were slaves in the United States; celebrated on June 19 each year.
“Nutley has never celebrated Juneteenth, nor do they know what it is. [We can] celebrate their culture as the Italian and the Irish are, as a family,” said Johnson.
“There is a sexual identity crisis – coming out, mental health is important,” he said.
Johnson added, “The way the world is going right now and the way the atmosphere is, we need a place to safely hold a discussion. Our town really needs it; [the council is] a safe place to come to without being looked like a troublemaker. […] Our government and environment should reflect on the town.”
Johnson said he often feels people are afraid of him because he is a “6-foot-4-inch, 250 pound Black guy.” Through the lectures, panels and discussions the council plans to break the stereotypes and fears. He hopes that people will learn from each other’s differences. “It really will drive what we are going to do,” he said.
Johnson said he is excited about this new endeavor.
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