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Liberty and Justice Forum

As part of the University’s commemoration of Black History Month, Walter Greason, Ph.D., Chair of Educational Counseling and Leadership in the Department of Education, hosted a discussion titled “The State of Black New Jersey 2019: With Liberty and Justice for All” in the Guggenheim Memorial Library last Wednesday, Feb. 13. 

Greason, former Dean of the Honors School, brought the discussion of discrimination, equal opportunity, and the status of New Jersey’s Black middle class to campus in his presentation. 

He discussed the idea of America’s pledge of allegiance, and how appropriate it is to say “liberty and justice for all” when there still exists such vast inequality across the country; an idea that has gained national attention after several athletes have knelt during the pledge.

“New Jersey, a century ago, was a hostile place…, certainly for African Americans, people of Mexican decent and native ancestry,” Greason explained in his discussion. Segregation was as severe a reality in New Jersey as in Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida, he noted.

From about 1928 forward through up until the late 1940s, New Jersey made a decision to change the way that it viewed diversity. Greason explained that the state made efforts to find a way to bring people of different cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds into the core of society. “New Jersey led the nation in that way,” he said.

New Jersey later amended the state constitution to include clauses of anti-discrimination protections.

Aspirations of high salary jobs, stable employment, good healthcare, and home ownership have been promises of being in the American middle class. However, for African-Americans, it’s very different.

“There was no access to those promises until 1970, the first time as a large group get access to higher education and secure degrees that would guarantee to obtain those higher salary jobs,” Greason told the audience. “Home ownership remained a rare commodity until the mid-late 1980s.”

Currently, “Declining incomes, increasing property taxes, low rates of business ownership, and the wholesale elimination of public service employment has destroyed the foundation of the Black middle class,” said Greason.

Although progress has been made to create racial equality in the state, disparity still exists in New Jersey.

The rate of arrests, incarceration, and denial of parole among African-Americans is 30 times higher than the average in New Jersey; high school graduation rate among Black students is 15 percent behind the state average, demonstrating that school systems are not working to close the racial gap; and completion of African-Americans enrolled in college is 20 points behind the state average.

Greason also said that the number of Black elected officials in the state is small compared to overall body of people who are serving in office and informing policies that are implemented in the state, and the average African-American net worth in New Jersey is $3,000 in debt.