Rutgers University-Newark Joins Mission to Address Reparations

At the invitation of the University of Michigan Center on Social Solutions, Rutgers University – Newark has joined as 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.”

The goal of the project is to 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.

In collaboration with community partners, nine colleges and universities in the eastern half of the United States, with representation in the Midwest and Central North regions, will conduct a public history accounting designed to yield tangible, community-based racial reparations solutions reflecting the specific histories and contemporary circumstances of each community.

Rutgers-Newark will work with the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ) and Newark Community Development Network (NCDN) over the three-year project engaging Newarkers in this racial reckoning. The process will be founded on the understanding that today’s Newark was built on centuries of oppression that continue 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 says Newark is an ideal place to engage in this work. “This is a front-line 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 with 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 from both NJISJ and NCDN. Ryan Haygood, president and CEO at NJISJ, will serve as its community fellow. He sees the 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.”

NCDN Community Fellow Richard Cammarieri noted, “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.” NCDN, a group of Newark’s neighborhood-based community development corporations, has provided essential services and programs to Newark residents for decades. “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,” said Cammarieri. Quoting James Baldwin, Cammarieri 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.”

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 in collaboration with Mayor Baraka’s team in City Hall.

Newark’s 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, will be part of the collaborative work.

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.