The Undoing Racism Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair (UUCM), along with the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, the Montclair History Center, Montclair State University (MSU) Collegiate Chapter of the NAACP, and the AntiRacist Alliance of North Jersey, will be holding a “Rally for Restorative and Youth Justice” in Montclair on Thursday evening, October 24, 2019, from 6:00 to 9:00 PM.
The rally is being held to draw attention to the need for just and fair treatment of New Jersey’s young people of color. Black youth are 30 times more likely to be detained than white youth in New Jersey. Andrea McChristian, of New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, will call for change to this shameful racial disparity concerning New Jersey’s youth. The rally will be at 12 Church Street Plaza in Montclair from 6:00 to 7:00 PM.
The rally will conclude with a short walk to the UUCM’s Fletcher Hall (67 Church Street) for the premiere of a staged reading by MSU alum, Jessica Baskerville, which confronts that history, followed by a panel discussion with Jane Eliasof of Montclair History Center, MSU professors Dr. Leslie Wilson and Dr. Chris Matthews, and students from MSU.
The thrust of the performance, “Just as Cruel,” hearkens back to history of slavery in New Jersey. The inspiration for the play began when the play’s director, Mechi Antoine Brown, learned about an interview of two people formerly enslaved in Essex County, New Jersey, published in the New York Times in 1882. He reached out to Jessica Baskerville, a local playwright and 2018 MSU graduate, with the idea to write a play using the words of Anthony Thompson and Betsey Berry, two of the last living persons born into enslavement in New Jersey, interviewed in that article. Ms. Baskerville was eager to write a piece inspired by such little-known history.
“What was fascinating for me, was to learn just how close to home the holocaust of chattel slavery really was. To read the article and see mention of East Orange — where I live — and neighboring towns like Bloomfield and Montclair was illuminating, but also very disturbing. I think for many of us up North, it can be easy to attribute slavery exclusively to the South, but the reality is it existed everywhere; and those who endured it must be remembered and honored. My hope is that this piece helps to do just that.”
Similarly, Andrea McChristian, of NJISJ, notes that “many New Jersey citizens are not aware of the unjust treatment and incarceration of many of New Jersey’s young people of color.” The rally and reading of “Just as Cruel” are aimed at ending that ignorance and, as Mr. Brown states, “help bring about a change of hearts that will lead to justice for New Jersey’s black and brown youth.”
The Montclair State University Collegiate Chapter of the NAACP is actively supporting the rally and publicizing the reading of “Just as Cruel.” Chapter president Kalimah White notes the importance of the connection between New Jersey’s history and the need for “people to realize and appreciate what was done in our past and what still needs to be done” to achieve justice and fairness for all of New Jersey’s young people of color.”
Following the staged reading in Fletcher Hall, there will be a cupcake reception until 9:30 PM to honor event partners.