SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The MAPSO Youth Coalition accepted the Villager of the Month award, complete with a proclamation from South Orange's Board of Trustees, and clapped back at the governing body while doing so.

After the proclamation was read, praising the group for having "an important impact in creating dialogue around social issues within our community" and saying "They embody traits and characteristics in youth that we want to see in our leaders," Jordan Muhammad, speaking for the group, said the Village has listened to youth activism "with generally open ears, but with what has felt like insufficient effort to actually address our concerns." The MAPSO Youth Coalition has done a lot in a short time: although formed in late May, they have organized several events and protests this summer; they have also met with elected officials to discuss what they call their "demands."

Muhammad, a South Orange resident, said that although "we know this award is well intended  — and a number of our members greatly appreciate it as we have been working pretty tirelessly over the last few months — we often don't need recognition from adult local officials to know that we are making a powerful impact."

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Calling the award "performative" in nature, as "all awards inherently are," Muhammad, who recently graduated from Columbia High School, said the Coalition "has chosen to consider this award a foot in the door. And we appreciate the South Orange township greatly for providing it to us. And we intend to utilize it consciously and actionability. Please hear our demands and study how each is an opportunity for our community to truly work productively. And we hope to do it together."

The award was the first that the Village’s Community Relations Committee has given in two years, and highlights residents who have contributed to their South Orange community. It was presented last night at the Village Board of Trustees meeting; a video highlighting some of their active members was not shown at the meeting due to a technical difficulty, but is up on the Village website and can be seen below. Village Trustee Summer Jones, the trustee liaison for the CRC, gave credit for the video to Cassie Black, the CRC interim chair, based on questions Black presented to group members.

Nominations for future Villagers of the Month can be made at the new website for both the Villager of the Month and the CRC.  



WHEREAS, it is the intention of the Village President and the Board of Trustees of the Township of South Orange Village to monthly recognize individuals in the Village for their noteworthy contributions to the betterment of the Village; and 

WHEREAS, upon recommendation of the South Orange Community Relations Committee (CRC); the Township of South Orange Village ("Village") is pleased to honor the members of the MAPSO Youth Coalition for their social justice work in the Village; and 

WHEREAS, Carmen Maitinez, Former Director of the Oakland Library, said: "The more we increase the active participation and partnership with young people, the better we serve them. And the more comprehensively we work with them as service partners, the more we increase our public value to the entire community."; and 

WHEREAS, in early June 2020, the MAPSO Youth Coalition formed and is composed of youth from South Orange and Maplewood to promote racial justice in policing, education and action. These youth, up to the age of 26, have worked to embed anti-racism in SOMA, Essex County and NJ at large; and 

WHEREAS, many of the MAPSO Youth Coalition faces have become familiar to the community as they took part in other groups that focused on climate change, student rights and rights for the disenfranchised; and 

WHEREAS, during the height of the COVID pandemic, the country witnessed the murder of a George Floyd in Minneapolis by a Minneapolis Police Officer and the subsequent Black Lives Matters protests that began forming; and 

WHEREAS, the youth that makeup MAPSO Youth Coalition organized quickly to create and promote visible protests and events through our community. These protests and events created a way for the South Orange community to take part locally and provide our community with a way to express their views on racial inequities and negative policing practices. Recognizing the continued impact that COVID has on the community, each protest and event encouraged people to be socially distant and to wear face coverings; and 

WHEREAS, the first event that the MAPSO Youth Coalition organized was a Juneteenth Celebration, which celebrates the commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States which happened two years earlier under the Emancipation Proclamation; and 

WHEREAS, the MAPSO Youth Coalition next focused on the importance of voting and understanding who our elected officials were by co-hosting a Town Hall on Freeholder Candidate Q&A Forum; and 

WHEREAS, recognizing injustices for students in our schools, they assisted on creating a Student Bill of Rights to be provided to the local elected officials; and 

WHEREAS, the next event was an Independence from Independence Day Walk and Rally in conjunction with SOMA Justice that focused on recognizing Juneteenth and educating the community on the disparity of perceived freedom by recognizing Independence Day over Juneteenth; and 

WHEREAS, since then, the MAPSO Youth Coalition has attended many BOT meetings, the Community Police Collaborative and more to ensure that they are being heard; and 

WHEREAS, the MAPSO Youth Coalition continues to have an important impact in creating dialogue around social issues within our community. They embody traits and characteristics in youth that we want to see in our leaders in recognizing an issue, bringing attention to it and providing forums and solutions to rectifying it. They continue to grow in numbers to more than 30 youth and are constantly mentoring the next generation; and 

WHEREAS, our South Orange community prides itself on the diversity of our residents and in 2017 declared that "Everyone Belongs Here". In order to continue to ensure that is occurring, we honor organizations like the MAPSO Youth Coalition in keeping us motivated, bringing light to the tough issues in our community and looking out for their fellow citizens. NOW, THEREFORE, I, SHEENA C. COLLUM, Village President of the Township of South Orange Village, County of Essex, State of New Jersey, on behalf of the residents of the Township of South Orange Village, the Village Board of Trustees and myself, hereby do recognize and commend the MAPSO Youth Coalition and its members as "Villagers of the Month" for August 2020 for the work they have done in, and their wonderful contributions in the Township of South Orange Village and I encourage all citizens and residents to celebrate the valuable contributions of this dynamic group of youth and to encourage the members of MAPSO Youth Coalition to keep up the outstanding work.


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