A New Day for NJ Legislative Black Caucus

NJLBC intends to continue with policy changes to uproot the systemic and racial disparities within government structures

Shavonda Sumpter Elected Chair

Focusing on staying safe from COVID-19, yet working for their constituents, The New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus (NJLBC) election for their 2021-22 leadership team proceeded virtually, successfully voting- in an uncontested slate with the confidence of the full body and the endorsement of Senator Ron Rice.

Elected Chair Shavonda Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic) takes the lead from Senator Rice, who has served as NJLBC chair since 2003. Senator Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), and Assemblywoman Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer) as vice-chairs. The following members were reelected: Treasurer-Assemblyman Herb Conaway (DBurlington), Secretary-Assemblyman Jamel Holley (DUnion), and Sergeant-at-Arms Assemblyman Gordon Jonson (D-Bergen). A new officeholder, Assemblyman William Spearman (D-Camden, Gloucester), will serve as chaplain.

“The devastation of COVID-19 last year laid bare the disparate impact of the loss of life to the disease. African Americans make up only 12% of the New Jersey population, but we made up 16% of all deaths last year. This glaring alarm charged the NJLBC into action,” said Sumter. “We began weekly meetings to work in unison from Cape May County to Bergen County to be sure that we were elevating the health disparities and economic needs of the African Americans in our state.”

We fast-tracked multiple bills throughout last summer to cover many concerns raised by the pandemic—legislation that required the Department of Health to work with hospitals and local health departments to report racial and demographic data on COVID-19 outcomes. Recently, the NJLBC worked diligently to ensure fairness in pivotal legislation spurring social change—the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana.

In the last year alone NJLBC fought to codify moratoriums on evictions, provide gap funding for food banks, and target grants to small and mid-size businesses. Then, with the historic pandemic compounded by civil unrest, we united with civil rights leaders and social justice partners to fight for the passage of over 40 policy changes to combat systemic and structural racism. The passage of a law mandating enforcement of the use of body cameras, defining the chokehold as a use of force, safe reporting of peers in law enforcement for excessive use of force, and a community civilian review board with subpoena power, was timely and most significant.

NJLBC intends to continue with policy changes to uproot the systemic and racial disparities within government structures. Sen. Rice will work in this capacity with statewide Black elected officials.

“We will continue to fight for the health of our communities and demand vaccines be supplied to African Americans with ease of access,” said Senator Rice. “This will be achieved through partnerships with our faithbased community. We will be undeterred in securing these life-saving resources even if it means that we must pursue legal recourse. Further, we will continue our fight for environmental justice, fair housing, economic opportunities, and equity inclusion at all levels of government.” Continuing to be engaged in the promotion of the NJLBC’s civil rights and social justice agenda, Senator Rice remains an advisor to Assemblywoman Sumter. He also chairs a newly created committee, InterGovernment Affairs.

In the coming months, NJLBC will engage in monitoring the apportionment of legislative districts; re-engage the African American Elected Officials Statewide Alliance; push for a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion officer as a cabinet level position; monitor the use of force; and continue to stand strong with civil rights leaders and social justice partners to champion policy reforms and criminal justice reforms. — NJLBC