In 2010, when voters elected me to the Paterson City Council and then 2 years later to the General Assembly, the history leading to that moment wasn’t lost on me. After ending celebrations and putting my boys to sleep, my wife, Kimberlynn, and I found ourselves lying in bed. We spoke no words, yet together, we silently reflected on the wars fought and eventually won to secure basic human rights for Black people. Now, here I was, realizing the fruits of my dream of becoming the next great leader of the wars to come.
Some say progress is slow, and indeed it has been.
Ninety-six years after the Fifteenth Amendment passed, giving Black men the right to vote, my Civil Rights heroes marched from Selma to Montgomery for the right to vote—and for our lives. Many of the nonviolent protestors were beaten and murdered because they dared to demand basic human rights. Their sacrifice sparked the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the most far-reaching Civil Rights legislation in modern history. Black men and women registered to vote in record numbers; Barbara Jordan and Andrew Young were the first Black southerners elected to Congress since Reconstruction. We won.
Yet, we still have so many battles to fight.
I hoped my election would be an important step toward building legislative bodies that looked more like my community, but I knew building that body wouldn’t be easy. I knew I would have to consistently and forcefully fight for high-quality education for our children, economic stability of our families, and broader access to important resources. But I didn’t want to imagine a Donald Trump presidency and its blatant, out-loud assault on Black people.
Trump’s tax cut disproportionately left out Black households; he rescinded guidelines to consider race when diversifying schools; he eliminated funding for high-quality after-school programs; he cut support for citizens returning to communities from prison; he encouraged harsher drug sentences; and he refused to disavow violent white supremacists.
Our coalition of community leaders, legislators, and voters has been able to subvert some of Trump’s attacks on our rights here in New Jersey. We’ve passed legislation that gave voting rights back to 80,000 formerly incarcerated citizens, recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday, and banned discriminatory 911 calls, to name a few.
We must continue to build on the successes of the Civil Rights Movement—and now Black Lives Matter—by standing side by side, linking arms, and using our hard-fought right to vote to get Donald Trump out of the White House, turn the Senate over to legislators who will demand freedom and justice for all, and preserve the human rights and racial equity that we all deserve.
Join me by registering to vote now, and then vote early if you can. New Jersey is one of the few states that is implementing widespread mail-in voting, so you will automatically receive your ballot in the mail. You can mail your completed ballot back to your county election board, drop it off at a ballot box, or complete a provisional ballot in person. Find key dates and other important voting information here.
We cannot afford low voter turnout this year or any year hereafter. Stand with me and cast your ballot. Our lives depend on your vote.
Benjie Wimberly represents the 35th Legislative District, including the City of Paterson, in the New Jersey General Assembly.