New Year’s Message from Montclair Councilor Renee Baskerville:
During this Season of thanksgiving, renewal, rebirth and reclamation, I thank the hundreds of Montclair residents who were engaged in the public discourses and actions in 2014, designed to Move Montclair 4Ward.
Throughout the year, parents, students, educators and the Montclair Education Association; faith leaders and parishioners; business leaders, merchants and consumers; environmentalists and residents wanting to preserve green, livable spaces in all Wards and a balance of housing for those with special needs and rehabilitative services in all Wards; community activists and ordinary citizens who moved to Montclair looking for that special something that makes Montclair an exceptional place to live, joined with the Townships elected leaders, public safety, environmental and other municipal leaders. They came together in record numbers calling for changes in the Township to ensure that all children have access to an excellent public education and the opportunities that come with it; that all residents are free from fear and feel safe and secure in their homes and in all areas of the Township; and that every resident has a sense of freedom, hope and opportunity in Montclair. I am so grateful for your voices, your time, and affirmative actions. We made incremental progress in moving Montclair 4Ward together.
As we go into 2014, there is so much yet to be done. Too many in the Township still have a sense of anger and alienation. Working together in the coming year, we must restore a sense of possibilities and belonging for all Montclairites. Your continued engagement and our accelerated actions are required for us to achieve this.
As I am writing, 1.3 million Americans — 260,100 of our brothers and sisters in the State of New Jersey — are in despair at learning that their long-term unemployment benefits — their lifeline as they seek aggressively to find employment — has been cut. With your help, we will seek to identify those hit hardest by the lapse in the unemployment benefits in Montclair and connect them with appropriate social services agencies, faith-and community-based support services.
As I am writing, little more than one year since Ben Wheeler was murdered by a gun in his Sandy Hook Elementary School classroom in Newtown, Connecticut, along with 19 other first graders and 6 teachers, more than 30,000 other Americans have been killed by gun violence. In Montclair, we grieved together their loss and the senseless loss of some of Montclair’s own as we reached out to families in town who lost loved ones to gun violence. Many of you joined Moms Demand Action for gun sense in America, Peoples Organization for Progress, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and me in Montclair, Newark, Jersey City, in Trenton, and in Washington, D.C., in saying, “no more,” and in calling for common sense gun violence prevention measures and stronger mental health laws. We are thankful that with leadership from our state legislators, the New Jersey Legislature displayed courage and conviction and stood up for our children and safer communities. This is just the first step toward ending the pervasive culture of violence and pervasive presence of guns in communities across the State and the nation that is threatening to permeate our beloved Montclair. In 2014, we will push back with greater force and determination.
After a long, challenging year in the Montclair public schools, during which we saw a re-entry of the use of a tracking system in Montclair High School, that had proven in years past to keep classrooms segregated by race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status– and after witnessing what some may deem a chilling and inhibitory atmosphere at BOE meetings, at the beginning of the last month in 2013, many of us in Montclair joined the AFT, NEA, SEIU and others in a National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education. Our numbers helped to swell the ranks of others in Essex County, the State of New Jersey, New York and elsewhere across the country in calling for all children to have access to a public education of equal high quality and the opportunities that come with it, regardless of race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, family wealth of other non-bona ide criteria. A Montclair delegation called for an end to the blackouts on those whose opinions might differ, an end to the vitriol and a return to the civility that has historically characterized robust debates in the Township about the public education system. Importantly, we called for public school policies and practices that will return Montclair Public Schools to the models for which they were nationally touted during the late 1980-90’s and even in 2004. We will continue this battle in 2014.
We will also move aggressively and with new resolve to change policies and practices that result in certain Wards in Montclair being home to disproportionate numbers of group homes for persons with special needs and rehabilitative services, large numbers of whom are not even Montclair residents; and which has resulted in more non-revenue-generating businesses, and fewer open, green, spaces in these same areas.
Nelson Mandela said, “We owe our children – the most vulnerable citizens in any society – a life free from violence and fear.” We do, indeed, and we owe our children—those in the dawn of life—and our seniors—those in the sunset of life—grace periods, safe, secure communities and human needs services that will enable them to thrive and transition with grace, to the next phases of their lives. I look forward to working with you and others of goodwill on this agenda and other opportunities in 20214 to continue moving Montclair 4Ward.
With Joy, Thanksgiving, a Renewed & Determined Spirit, I am sincerely,
Renee Baskerville, M.D.
Fourth Ward Councilor, Montclair, New Jersey