First, let me just say welcome…welcome….welcome! All of us, from our leadership team, the deans of our schools and colleges, our student affairs professionals, our faculty, and our many partners in this great city of Newark – including our terrific Mayor (whom you’ll hear from soon today) – we all are so thrilled to welcome you to this university – a place where you will not only expand your prodigious talents, from the arts to the sciences, from business to criminal justice and public administration, but as importantly where you will use those expanded and ever-expanding talents to make a better, more just, more innovative, more thoughtful, more empathetic, more inclusive community of scholars and citizens – to create a model that can spread across geographies and inspire others to take up the drum beat of knowledge-informed justice. Now, that is a tall order, I know – but I also know how much hopeful energy, not to mention grit and perseverance, and of course just plain intelligence, individually and collectively, is in this room today. You can make a difference, and you will make a difference.
What would a world powered by knowledge-informed justice look like, and how do we – collectively – get there? Well, sometimes the best way to define or portray a desired state (of the world in this case) is by looking at its counterfactual, and in this instance, all we have to do is to look around our nation, our globe to see a landscape that is decidedly not powered by knowledge, not inching toward justice. If we were powered by knowledge would children be exposed to air and soil pollutants resulting in high rates of asthma and absenteeism in school? Just ask our earth and environmental scientists or our public health scholars or our advocates at the Health, Education, Advocacy, Law Collaborative, better known as H.E.A.L. If we were inching toward justice would we see sky-rocketing economic inequality even as the economic indicators all positively soar? Just ask our sociologists, economists, and those at the business school’s Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development. If our policies were shaped by accumulated knowledge would we ignore the contributions made over so many generations by the waves of immigrants coming to enrich our country whom we now choose to exclude? Just take a walk to Express Newark, the university-community arts collaboratory in the Hahne’s building and ask our artists and public humanists teaming up with journalists and citizens to produce the stories of the Newest Americans right here in Newark. If justice powered our practices, would the data – compiled by our very own Dean of Public Affairs and Administration Charles Menifield – show so starkly the racial disparities in police shootings and rates of incarceration across the nation? Just ask the researchers in criminal justice, the practitioners in social work and law, the citizens on the Newark Community Street Team. And, of course, let’s not forget education – the royal road to prosperity and well-being in a knowledge economy. If knowledge informed justice, would so many talented children be left on the side-lines of opportunity in under-performing, under-resourced schools -- schools in NJ now as segregated by class and race as those in the south, more than sixty years after the landmark supreme court case of Brown v. Board of Education? Just ask our colleagues in law and urban education and in the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, as they use data and history and precedent to right the ship of civil rights as rendered off course by the state of public education today.
Now, those are a lot of wrongs to right, and even more people to ask to help inform the process of change-making – to guide the future informed by what we know – and to steer it on a path toward empowerment and justice, toward equitable and inclusive opportunity for more people in more communities like ours. Yes, it is a tall order, and that change won’t happen over a night – after all it took decades if not centuries to get us now to the questionable state of our nation. Yet, the good – no great news – is that we have all that expertise, all those thinkers and doers steeped in their fields, ready to walk together – with you – right here at Rutgers-Newark, and as significantly, right here in Newark – where there is more knowledge-sharing, more collaboration, more engagement with the world, more recognition of the value of diverse perspectives and experiences, on the ground, formal and informal, amongst young and old alike, than anywhere I know – and I’ve been doing this work a long time, believe me. For what Rutgers-Newark and Newark share is an identity built around striving – nothing fancy, nothing coming easily, nothing handed to us – a history of striving that just doesn’t waver or give up – sound familiar – it’s in your DNA, all of our DNA, I’d argue. And with that willpower comes an eye on the prize that also doesn’t waver or ever close up. Even more than perseverance, that history brings pragmatic modesty – a willingness to value others’ expertise, to see the worth in on-the-ground authentic insights that come directly from many corners of life experience – so we – you – stand ready to stand together – to listen and to learn – to work on pooling knowledge for justice – and to act as change-makers for the world. If there is one motto I’d give you to live by here it is “we are the ones.” This is your university, your community, your world – so welcome, and take it on!
Now, as you do so, it always helps to have an inspiring model to follow – so it is ever so fitting that I turn now to our phenomenal Mayor, the Honorable Ras J. Baraka, an educator, artist, humanitarian, and civic hero, who works, collaboratively and assiduously, to move Newark forward – a change-maker par excellence. Mayor Baraka….