These are tumultuous times, but also times of hope and progress. First, let me wish the African-American community a Happy Juneteenth (AKA Freedom Day) on June 19, a holiday celebrating the start of freedom for slaves at the end of the Civil War.
In the midst of fighting the coronavirus pandemic, our nation witnessed the tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, leading to demonstrations all over the country. These included three peaceful demonstrations of about 2,500 mostly young people here in Scotch Plains. I participated and spoke at two of them. The attendees were demanding an end to racism and an assurance of the equality of rights guaranteed to us all under our Constitution. Hopefully, these efforts will lead to real change and not just talk.
After a racial incident at the high school in October of 2018, Mayor Mahr of Fanwood and I began working with Social Justice Matters, a local grassroots organization, to develop a mechanism to identify and remove racism from our communities. As a result, the Joint Committee for Truth Racial Healing and Transformation (THRT) was created and sanctioned by the two towns and the Board of Education through unanimous resolutions.
Since early 2019, the Joint THRT committee has been training its members in the concept of “Healing Circles,” and formulating plans of action to address and break down racism in our community. During this training period, I have learned a lot. We were just about to go public with our efforts when the pandemic hit, delaying our ability to meet publicly. After the horrible murder of George Floyd, however, we could wait no more, and we have moved forward with live community calls carried on our towns’ Facebook pages and local TV channels.
On Wednesday, June 10, we introduced ourselves and announced a listening tour in an effort to learn the truth about the current racial climate in our communities. This past Wednesday, June 17, we listened to young adults who have either graduated from SPFHS or are currently attending. They told their personal stories of encountering racism in our schools and made suggestions for change. I have confidence that the Board of Education members and teachers who participated will take those suggestions and turn them into action and results.
If you have not watched the video, please find it here. It is worth the hour it takes to play.
This coming Wednesday, June 24, the same group of students will be meeting with Mayor Mahr and I, the two police chiefs, and the School Resource Officer (SRO) at 7:00 pm on the Scotch Plains Township and Fanwood, NJ Facebook pages. I welcome and urge every resident to tune in and engage with us.
Mayor Al Smith
Scotch Plains, NJ