ROXBURY, NJ - In a year of division, the thoughtful Common Grounds series produced by Unity in the Community, Roxbury Coalition for Social Change and the Roxbury Public Library opens up civil conversations on themes where people may disagree, but need not be disagreeable. 

Next up on the Common Grounds virtual series is “On Race and Racism: A Roxbury Conversation” on Wednesday, Dec. 2 at 7 p.m.

“On Race and Racism: A Roxbury Conversation” will feature panelists from in and around Roxbury, offering their point of view on what it has meant to be an immigrant or person of color in our community, and viewpoints and stories that might enlighten our mostly white demographic.

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"I am extremely excited to participate in this safe conversation on race and color within Roxbury, and the opportunity to hear the stories of our community members,” said Ariel Ravell D'Anton, volunteer with Unity in the Community. “Their stories are our stories, Roxbury stories. These discussions, while uncomfortable, are important to continuing a culture of respect within our town. Unity in the Community is extremely excited to work with the Roxbury Library, and encourage all to join and participate in an opportunity for personal and community growth."

The panelists of the “On Race and Racism: A Roxbury Conversation” include:

Radwa Ali, Library Director of Roxbury Public Library, started her library career as a middle school volunteer at the Plainsboro Public Library. Through high school and college, she continued to work there, gaining experience at the customer service desk, reference and children's departments, volunteer management, collection development, and the technological needs of a public library.

After she attained her BA in Information Technology and Political Science, as well as a MLS degree from Rutgers University, Radwa worked at the Johnson Public Library in Hackensack as their Technology Librarian, then as Director of the Bogota Public Library. She has been the Director of the Roxbury Public Library since 2017.  Radwa is currently a board member of the Morris Automated Information Network (MAIN) consortium of libraries in and around Morris County,  co-chair of MAIN's DigiTech committee, former board member of NJLA, former co-chair of the Bergen County Cooperative Library System Technology Committee, and a member of the Roxbury Rotary Club.

Jakki Cobb is a wife and mother of three daughters and “Mimi” to one granddaughter.  Born and raised in Morristown, Jakki and her family moved to Landing 15 years ago.   After a 30-year career with CIT, most recently as Vice President of External Reporting, Jakki was downsized in January 2019. 

She describes herself as semi-retired, splitting her time as a basketball mom and serial volunteer.  She serves as Executive Secretary of the Morris County NAACP, Treasurer for Carette’s Inc., and is an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and the Morristown Area League of Women Voters.  Previously, as a licensed minister, Jakki’s advocacy and volunteer service was through her faith community, and she led bible studies at the Morristown Correctional Facility and Market Street Mission. For years she encouraged people to “look up and live” and wait for change; now she actively looks for ways to bring about changes she had prayed about for so many years.  She reminds us that we have to be the change we want to see.

Juan Morales resides in Succasunna with his wife Elizabeth and two children Giovanni and Sabrina and his two dogs Frosty and Princess. As a technical training manager for Samsung Electronics, Juan has traveled across the US and around the world giving presentations on the latest consumer electronics technology. Juan was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico. 

In his childhood years, Juan knew he wanted to excel in school and someday be able to give his family a better life.  Juan immigrated to the US in 1994, where he continued his educations and graduated from college with Honors.  It is also the place he met his wife. His first few years in the US were challenging, as Juan did not speak any English.  To make ends meet, he worked a variety of jobs including landscaping, gas attendant and stock boy among others.  It was the latter position where he began to actively speak to customers as he loaded products into their vehicles. 

Management quickly noticed his rapport-building skills and encouraged him to work on the sales floor.  This change would offer Juan a world of opportunities, and catapulted him to become the extroverted person he is today.  Juan adores all animals, and in his spare time loves to sing and play the guitar.  

Gehad Moustafa is a resident of Roxbury, and a junior at Roxbury High School. When she is not involved in academics, she is a part of the Roxbury Library’s Teen Advisory Board and participates in extracurricular activities at school including being an officer and leader of Equal Rights Advocacy, which is a club dedicated to promoting education and encouraging action on contemporary world issues.

She has done work in the club participating in raising funds for Equality Now, an NGO dedicated to protecting the human rights of women and girls around the globe. Her goal is to push her peers to advocate for those who do not have a voice to do so.

Kristen Simon is a graduate of Hofstra University and longtime activist. In her undergrad years, Kristen was a board member of the Hofstra Chapter of the NAACP and student leader in Hofstra First’s, an organization dedicated to First-Generation students. In her post grad life, Kristen has remains active in social justice initiatives. She is a board member of the Morristown chapter of Black Lives Matter and has participated in conversations where the topic of race and gender collide.

Jade Turner is a Roxbury alumna, who attended Roxbury between 2009 and 2012. Jade went on to attend The University of Tampa and received a BFA in Musical theatre. After college, she has worked in numerous regional theatres around the country, and before COVID was Performing in Jimmy Buffets “Escape to Margaritaville” first Broadway national tour. Jade was a part of Broadway Directors Jeff Calhoun's first African American lead musician man, she also appeared in Ragtime at Asolo Rep, in Sarasota Florida. Jade also can be seen in Ben Platts Music video “Temporary love” with Atlantic records. Jade is a person of color, a woman, and a member of the LGBT community. During her free time, Jade was a GOTV organizer for New Jersey Congressman Tom Malinowski in 2020, while also taking part in Roxbury Coalition for Social Change. Jade currently lives in New York City and intends to be back on tour by the end of 2021.

Ollie Starnes, panel moderator, was born in 1988 at Morristown Memorial Hospital. His family moved repeatedly across the county from Morristown, to Randolph and Budd Lake before settling on Woods Edge Drive in Succasunna. Ollie attended Jefferson Elementary, Lincoln-Roosevelt, then Eisenhower Middle School before his family moved to Ledgewood, where Ollie’s primary education culminated as a member of the 2006 Roxbury High School graduating class.

Ollie chose to pursue higher education at Trinity College in Hartford, CT and returned home with degrees in Political Science (B.A.) and Public Policy (MPP). Since 2014, Ollie has been actively involved with grass-roots community organizing throughout Morris County. In 2015, he served as Campaign Manager for Dan Kline (RHS ’06) who became Roxbury’s youngest-ever Councilman and the first Democrat on Township Council since 2003. In 2020, Ollie was appointed to the Morris County Human Relations Commission, the Morris County NAACP Executive Committee, and currently serves as Executive Director at the Sankofa Heritage Collective of Morris County.  As of writing, Ollie is 1 of 4 candidates vying for 2 seats representing Morristown on the Morris School District Board of Education.

“The library has been extremely intentional about getting people from Roxbury to participate.  With that, everything that is being shared, that may be uncomfortable, comes from a place of caring in Roxbury, an opportunity to jump into a safe space of conversation – here is an opportunity,” said Starnes, who serves as moderator of the panel and Executive Director of Sankofa Heritage Collective of Morris County.  “Don’t feel inhibited because you want to ask a question that might label you a racist.”

The panelists may only also have Roxbury Township as a unifier, and will deliberately represent a variety of generations, ages, race and ethnicities. 

“I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable to listen.  We have more in common than we have differences,” said Jade Turner, member of the Roxbury Coalition for Social Change.

The panel will be presented virtually, and those who would like to attend should register at www.roxburylibrary.org, under the “On Race and Racism: A Roxbury Conversation” event date of December 2.  All are welcome.

Through workshops and panels, Common Grounds is designed to help the community share differences of opinions and understand different points of view. By exploring differences through civil conversations, we can promote a common level of human understanding and compassion on different topics.  Past presentations include “Bridging the Political Divide with Braver Angels, “How She Leads” on women and leadership, and future presentations are in the works for generations in the workplace, corporate sustainability, and LGBTQ+.

Unity in the Community believes that there is more that unites us, than divides us.  Motivated by the ongoing tensions within our country, a group of Roxbury residents banded together to spearhead initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion within our town, celebrate diversity, and meaningfully educate one another.  Trusting that our differences and diversity of thought make our community stronger, Unity in the Community is happy to partner with the Roxbury Library to co-produce 'Common Grounds' - a series that explores and facilitates civil conversations on the topics of race, political beliefs, gender, creed and more.

Roxbury Coalition for Social Change represents an alumni-founded coalition that is committed to the creation and implementation of diversity initiatives starting in our local community. RCSC believes that a holistic approach to inclusive education begins with the sharing and education of diverse perspectives and uplifting of individual’s realities. Through education and outreach, we believe the creation of a safer Roxbury community is possible for all.

The Roxbury Public Library is our community crossroads for learning and discovery.  Each year, Roxbury Public Library serves more than 200,000 visitors through our offerings of educational and enriching programs, concerts, our lending books and audiovisual materials, and offering a wide array of digital content that allows our community members to access a vast array of books, audio-books, music, and film on their personal devices via their library card.  Since March, the Roxbury Public Library has been offering digital services, virtual programs, and now visits to the library and curbside service by appointment at www.roxburylibrary.org.