TAP INTO NEWARKYOUR NEIGHBORHOOD NEWS ONLINE WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 01, 2023
By MARK J. BONAMO
PublishedOctober 31, 2023 at 7:03 PM Last UpdatedOctober 31, 2023 at 10:04 PM
A panel discussion held at the downtown main branch of the Newark Public Library took a close look at an issue that is impacting New Jersey’s classrooms and courtrooms – school segregation.
“Once a school becomes more than 50 percent nonwhite, it’s going to become 90 percent nonwhite. It’s going to move real fast,” said Dr. Charles Payne, director of the Joseph Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Research and professor of African American Studies at Rutgers University-Newark. The discussion was held before a crowd of more than 50 people in the heart of Newark, a city where the public school student population is 90 percent Black and Latinx. “The most devastating context is where you have both racial and economic segregation.”
The Oct. 26 panel, organized by NJ Spotlight News, WNYC, Chalkbeat Newark, and Montclair State University’s Center for Cooperative Media, was held within the context of a recent state Superior Court opinion. The October 6 ruling by the court came after a lawsuit was filed by the Latino Action Newark, the NAACP, and other plaintiffs claiming that because of a state requirement mandating children attend the schools in towns where they live, schools in New Jersey are heavily segregated.
“Our expectations have been collectively suppressed. I still don’t know what these kids can do,” Payne said, pointing out that students could be relegated to “second class” status without the vigilance of policymakers, educators, and students. “Segregation makes it easier to cheat children.”
David Allen, an African-American high school senior who was the student body president at Global Studies before transferring to University High School earlier this year in the wake of racial tension at his former school, said that those leading Newark’s schools have to play a role in fighting the effects of school segregation.
“I would like to see a change in leadership across the board,” Allen said. “It’s an especially cruel thing to be surrounded by people in power who look like you and have absolutely no compassion for the things you’re going through and the experiences they claim to have also been through. Newark has to take advantage of the students who want to learn.”
Educator Mark Comesañas added that a well-thought-out curriculum can break down the socioeconomic barriers that school segregation reinforces.
“This is our city. It’s very easy to tear down. It’s much harder to build up,” said Comesañas, executive director of My Brother’s Keeper Newark. “It’s us who have the decisions to make. We have to be focused on what we’re able to do, and not just complain.”
Yvette Jordan, history teacher and chairperson of the Newark Education Workers Caucus, underscored what’s at stake for Newark students.
“Imagine if you didn’t feel validated in any way. How isolating is that for somebody?” Jordan said. “Everyone has to feel a part of what’s going on.”