Because of my passion around the issue of social justice, I became a Trustee of the South Orange Maplewood Community Coalition on Race two years ago. I won’t lie, it has been a tough two years. I was ready to hit the ground running when I joined, but found the red tape and layers of decision making a continual frustration. Because the organization is dedicated to a very sensitive subject – that has only become more sensitive during my tenure, the board has to be extremely careful in all of its communications.
Now, with my Coffee House Discussion Event # 4 a resounding success, I finally feel like I made a real contribution. About a year and a half ago, I suggested a new event series for the organization to consider. Now called “Coffee House Conversations,” – the series is an opportunity for residents to gather in small, informal, safe settings to discuss the challenges they face around race related concerns. The goal is to support our local coffee shops (businesses) and bring people together who might not know each other to create meaningful dialogue around issues not normally discussed at a dinner table or playground.
This new event series fits into the overall goals of the organization which is to encourage social integration in the two communities in order to celebrate our diverse towns and perhaps be a beacon to other places in the US as an example.
The first one took place on June 18th 2015, followed by one on October 17th, March 31st, 2016 and finally again on August 31st, 2016. The first three generated great dialogue, but were not very well attended. But the last one was a huge success.
For this event, we partnered with community leaders, the South Orange police force, the South Orange Maplewood Clergy Association, South Orange Village Trustees, the Maplewood Township Committee and most importantly the youth led organization “Movement with Purpose.” This partnership yielded an incredible response and attendance by more than 50 people including 2 South Orange police officers, Sheena Collum – South Orange Village President, Steve Schnall – South Orange Village Trustee, teachers, social workers, at least 5 SOMA CCR board members, concerned parents, and generally all of the stakeholders in our communities.
Movement with Purpose was formed this past spring after national headlines were repeatedly filled with black shooting victims by police. They call themselves a “black revolutionary organization” founded by 5 young black adults from Maplewood South Orange. Their intent is to make kids and adults aware of these ongoing activities by acting them out and protesting peacefully (learn more here).
Their presence gave all of the adults in the room a chance to hear how all of the profiling and police brutality acts are affecting our children. They expressed their concerns and fears and this made it extremely real. They also gave instances of it happening in our two towns (profiling – not brutality), which really drove the point home and gave us all an opportunity to discuss how to handle it.
We arrived at real action steps and will be able to more formally present them once they are ironed out. It was a very moving evening and we plan to keep this series going. Community feedback is incredibly important. If you have suggestions for topics, please feel free to submit them to me at [email protected]
Special thanks to restaurant Chez Dubois in South Orange for hosting the event – this one was way too big to host in a coffee shop. The food was delicious and the service was excellent. You can read more about them here.