Rutgers-Newark, Community Partners Join University of Michigan Center on Social Solutions to Explore Racial Reparations

Multi-institution project funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to facilitate community-based solutions in Newark and cities nationally

Newark, NJ, January 14, 2021 - Rutgers University – Newark, at the invitation of the University of Michigan Center on Social Solutions, has become a partner in a major new grant-funded project sponsored by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. As part of the foundation’s Just Futures initiative, the center is creating “Crafting Democratic Futures: Situating Colleges and Universities in Community-Based Reparations Solutions,” a partnership with nine colleges and universities located in cities spanning the eastern half of the United States, north and south, with representation also in the Midwest and Central North regions. Through this project, participating colleges and universities in each city will collaborate with community partners in a public history reckoning designed to yield tangible, community-based racial reparations solutions that reflect the specific histories and contemporary circumstances of each community.

For their part of the three-year project, Rutgers-Newark will work with the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ) and Newark Community Development Network (NCDN) to engage Newarkers in this racial reckoning. The process will be founded on the understanding that today’s Newark was built on centuries of oppression that continues to constrain opportunity for Newarkers, even as the city’s vibrant tradition of community activism and innovation fuel the city’s ascendancy.

Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor believes that Newark is an ideal place in which to engage in this work. “This is a frontline community built by waves of migration and immigration by people who, in pursuit of opportunity, continually have met the walls of systemic racism, embedded in red-lining practices, in toxic environmental dumping, in school segregation, and in economic marginalization,” said Cantor. “Even so, their dreams never died, evident in the activism of community-based organizations that still center the struggle in every ward of Newark, more than fifty years after the Newark rebellion. This city has a strong right to reparations and a strong, well-organized collective committed to seeing racial equity realized that encompasses community-based organizations, Fortune 500 companies, ‘Eds and Meds,’ and City Hall. Rutgers-Newark is both honored and obligated as a major anchor institution in this city to be a fulsome partner in imagining reparations that reflect Newark’s history and Newark’s priorities.”

Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka, sees this new collaboration as building on a great deal of work already being done in Newark to realize racial equity. “In Newark, we have been methodically working to level the playing field by dismantling core elements of persistent racial oppression,” said Baraka. “Among many other initiatives, we introduced an inclusive zoning ordinance, created a Commission on Equitable Growth, established priorities to invest in small business development and local real estate developers, and sought commitments from Newark’s largest employers to hire more Newarkers, increase purchasing of Newark-based goods and services, and encourage more of their employees to live in Newark. Initiating a community-based discussion about reparations is an important next step, recognizing how essential it is that visions for truly achieving equity must come from our community.”

Rutgers-Newark faculty members and students will work with designated Community Fellows for this initiative from both NJISJ and NCDN. Ryan Haygood, President and CEO at NJISJ, who will serve as its Community Fellow, sees this project as a natural extension of the civil rights organization’s work. “The public health and economic crises we are currently experiencing have exposed the cracks of structural racism deeply embedded in our foundation—generations upon generations of cracks that have erupted into earthquakes in communities of color in New Jersey,” said Haygood. “It is time we finally repair these cracks and build reparative systems that create wealth, justice, and power—from the ground up—for Black, Latinx, and other people of color in the Garden State.”

Richard Cammarieri will serve as the Community Fellow from NCDN, a group of Newark’s neighborhood-based community development corporations that have provided essential services and programs to Newark residents for decades and share a mission to advance just and equitable housing and community development. “In Newark, resident-driven community development groups have been modeling service and advocacy work deeply rooted in principles of equity and social justice for over 50 years,” noted Cammarieri. “We understand the moral imperative and critical real-world need for addressing the challenge of community-based reparations solutions to address the systemic racism embedded in our society. James Baldwin once said ‘History does not refer merely to the past; history is literally present in all that we do.’ We know this work is not just about repairing what happened in the past but learning from our history and building upon it in order to realize a future that is collectively racially just and equitable. We look forward to continuing our work with the City of Newark, Rutgers-Newark, and the NJISJ, who have shown steadfast support in working with community groups in policy development and advocacy to move us closer to that just future our city and residents deserve.”

Together, Haygood and Cammarieri will take the lead in organizing community dialogues on reparative solutions for Newark reflecting the historical record and narrative documented by the interdisciplinary Rutgers-Newark team of scholars and students, conducted in collaboration with Mayor Baraka’s team in City Hall.

The collaborative work of this collective will be informed by research engagements with Newark’s energetic local-history community, which includes research institutions such as the Newark Public Library and the New Jersey Historical Society, as well as citizen groups such as the Newark History Society and the Newark Schools Historical Preservation Committee.

It is anticipated that the different communities participating in Crafting Democratic Futures will construe reparations as forms of compensation, which, depending on the community, may include a national apology, educational, housing, and healthcare programs, and financial redress from the U.S. government for the historic and persistent effects of systemic racism. The aim is to create scalable models for university-community partnerships that focus on social justice, specifically addressing local nuanced reparations solutions.

Other higher education institutions working on this geographically diverse project under the Center for Social Solutions’ leadership will be Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, Emory University in Atlanta, GA, Spelman College in Atlanta, GA, Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, Connecticut College in New London, CT, Wesleyan College in Macon, GA, and Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC.