From the Towns: Hopewell Township honors Black history month

On February 1, the Hopewell Township Committee met and recognized February as Black History Month in New Jersey and in the Township. Using an updated version of the Resolution written in 2020 that included local history by Beverly Mills and Catherine Fulmer-Hogan, they honored prominent African Americans, both current and historic, including Elaine Buck, William Stives, Friday Truehart, and Frost Blackwell. The Resolution was read in its entirety by guests Assemblymembers Verlina Reynolds-Jackson and Anthony Verrelli.

Reynolds-Jackson thanked the Hopewell Township Committee, which, she said, recognizes and celebrates contributions from African Americans and people less privileged throughout the year, not only in February. She held up the Committee and the Township as a model for other boards.

Reynolds-Jackson discussed a new bill she and Verelli sponsored, A4454, which requires schools to include education on equity and inclusion in their kindergarten through grade 12 curriculum. It will be implemented in New Jersey for the 2021-2022 school year. Reynolds-Jackson explained that topics such as unconscious bias and economic disparity will be included, with the purpose of encouraging a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for all students, regardless of race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, mental and physical disability, and religious beliefs. She encouraged everyone to get involved in this effort.

Mayor Julie Blake welcomed this law, expressing that she felt that this was missing in the current anti-bullying and anti-harassment education that already exists in the schools. Reynolds-Jackson agreed, saying that this was a great way to move forward, recognizing bias, and being more conscious of bias in the delivery of services, including by law enforcement, judges and healthcare professionals.

The meeting continued with a report from Bonnie Williams, the chair of the newly established Citizens Equity Advisory Committee, which was formed on the recommendation of Committee Member Michael Ruger and started meeting in September, 2020. The Committee is comprised of members who represent different segments of the Hopewell Township community. They have been discussing equity, and plan to systematically review Township regulations and practices. They have been researching organizations that focus on inequities that could be used as a model for ideas, policies and procedures. They also are looking at police policies regarding recruitment and emergency services, and have indicated that they are pleased that Police Director Bob Karmazin has been attending their meetings. Other topics they have discussed are equity in health, mental health and mentoring.

After Williams’ report, Committee Member Kristen McLaughlin thanked her and the entire committee for their work. She acknowledged that the work they were doing is exciting and important, but difficult, and asked if they intend to produce a written report of the work they are doing, explaining that this was important both for the historic record and also for the next generation of equity leaders to build upon. Williams agreed that was a good idea and that a written consolidation of the things they were working on was something they could put in place. Ruger also thanked Williams and the committee for their work. He invited the public to join the meetings, which are monthly on the second Tuesday of every month. He said that hearing the discussion is a real learning opportunity, and expressed his confidence that the committee will produce concrete suggestions for improvement. Mayor Blake also expressed her appreciation and emphasized the importance of their work and how the past year has been a learning experience for many.

The next meeting of the Hopewell Township Citizens Equity Advisory Committee will be on Zoom and is scheduled for February 9 at 7:00pm.

Contributed by Hopewell Township

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