EAST ORANGE, NJ — The Oranges-Maplewood NAACP is gearing up to take a leading role in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, June 4. The “catchment communities” the group represents include Orange, East Orange, West Orange, South Orange, Maplewood, Millburn, Livingston, Bloomfield, Belleville, Nutley and Verona.
“We have a meeting at noontime today with East Orange Democratic Committee Chairman and Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Leroy Jones, myself, our first vice president, and our newly appointed political action person will be meeting with Leroy to gather information about what’s coming up,” said Oranges-Maplewood NAACP President Tom Puryear on Tuesday, April 9. “Yes, the unit is involved and will be involved in the upcoming elections. The first election that we are aware of is the South Orange election. But first we’ll be doing voter registration for people in our catchment area. We are very concerned about the election in 2020, but we must prepare for that by dealing with 2019 first.”
Jones could not be reached for comment about his meeting with Puryear and the Oranges-Maplewood NAACP, or other members of the Essex 5 local Civil Rights and social and economic justice advocacy groups, by press time this week.
The Essex 5 consist of the local branches of the NAACP in Irvington, Oranges-Maplewood, Montclair and Newark, as well as the Urban League of Essex County; the groups were honored by Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. in February at the 16th annual Essex County Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Awards ceremony. DiVincenzo honored them as part of the county’s observance of Black History Month, but Puryear and his counterparts said this collaboration wasn’t a one-time thing. Puryear said the plan is to make the collaboration ongoing, concerning issues relevant to all participating communities.
“It is imperative that we civil rights units do not allow the acknowledgement to cause us to stray from our mission,” said Puryear on Tuesday, Feb. 19,and again on Tuesday, April 9. “Our catchment communities are experiencing the ‘difficult days’ that we were warned about. Now is not the time to allow accolades to deter civil rights organizations from our goals and objectives.”
Puryear said he does hope, however, that recognition for the Essex 5 from DiVincenzo and other county officials will lead to more progress on civil rights and other issues the groups champion regularly.
“It is my hope that our unit — Oranges and Maplewood — uses the acknowledgement that the county executive has graciously provided, to encourage our members to keep our eyes on the prize and to continue to address the civil rights issues of our time,” said Puryear. “Now is not the time to rest on our laurels. We must always remember, ‘if there is no struggle, there is no progress.’ The words of Frederick Douglass must be our banner in the days ahead: ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.’ ”
Irvington NAACP President Thurman Dancy attended the Essex County MLK Leadership Award Ceremony on Friday, Feb. 15, along with some of his branch members, including immediate past President Merrick Harris, who said this year’s county event and meeting with DiVincenzo were different, because it represented the first time the Essex 5 spoke with one unified voice. Harris also said he hopes the organizations continue to collaborate on issues, including voter registration and voter education.
“We’re called the Essex 5 and we got together because there’s strength in numbers,” said Harris on Monday, Feb. 18. “I do know that we want to make sure that our message is out there and they need to listen to us as a group. Not just one NAACP branch. We’ve all joined forces and make sure that we’re all heard.”