IRVINGTON, NJ — Upholding the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, cities across the nation have made a point of giving recognition to their black communities. Drawing out a host of dignitaries — including the Rev. Al Sharpton, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, former N.J. Gov. Jim McGreevey and state Sen. Ronald Rice — Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss and the Irvington Council held a Black Lives Matter ceremony and mural unveiling in Civic Square on Sunday, Oct. 4.
“Today is a historic moment. I want to thank all of you for being a part of what is going to be displayed here today as we talk about Black Lives Matter,” Vauss said, opening the event. “Black Lives Matter. I’ve had conversations with people, and some people say, ‘All Lives Matter.’ I would say that may be so, but if all lives matter, we wouldn’t be having this conversation about Black Lives Matter. If all lives matter, we wouldn’t have to have a distinction of Black Lives Matter. So, it seems that all lives matter except black lives. That’s why we talk about Black Lives Matter.”
West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi spoke at the event about his longtime friendship with Vauss.
“I met Mayor Vauss a number of years ago, and, like all of you, I realized that he was the kind of guy I wanted to get behind and support,” Parisi said. “He speaks for people — whether you’re in West Orange, Irvington or whatever town, he speaks to what we all feel as people. We want strong communities for our children, we want schools for our community, we want parks for our children to play in and we want safe neighborhoods for our family. We want to be together and feel pride for our community. I’m honored to be here today and support him and Irvington, and to support all Black Lives Matters.”
Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee criticized attempts to delegitimize the Black Lives Matter movement by responding that “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter.”
“People talk about Black Lives Matter and they try to make it about Blue Lives Matter,” McGehee said. “But you can’t marginalize what Black Lives Matter means. When you go to work as a black man and you get paid less than your white counterpart — Black Lives Matter. When you go to work as a black woman, and get paid less than your white counterpart across all races and sex — Black Lives Matter. When your schoolbooks are 10 years older than the schoolbooks of white children in other communities — Black Lives Matter. The great slave passage where we’ve lost millions of us — Black Lives Matter.
“So, when they talk about Black Lives Matter being about Blue Lives Matter, that’s incorrect,” he continued. “Black Lives Matter is a culture. It is part of who we are, and never forget that.”
McGreevey discussed prison reentry during his speech at the event.
“We’re here for Black Lives Matter, but I also want to make a special appeal to the young men and women that are incarcerated in this state,” McGreevey said at the event. “We have the highest racial disparity in the country in terms of young African American men and women in prison. It’s not Alabama, it’s not Georgia, it’s not Mississippi, it’s New Jersey, and that’s a stain on our conscience and all of the good work Sen. Rice and so many are doing.
“But thanks to the pandemic legislation, in about three weeks, there will be a series of opportunities for young men and young women to be released,” he continued. “Why this is so important is, whether or not you have identification, food stamps, government assistance or Medicaid, it’s hard to come home. If you took any one of us in any city or community in New Jersey and put us there and asked us to survive, it would be hard. So, my plea is, Black Lives Matter. Think of what it’s like to be 17 or 30 years in state prison and coming home — many without family support or loved ones.
“If there’s a young man or young woman that you know who is in need of reentry services, please reach out to us at www.njreentry.org,” he added.
Baraka stressed the importance of black Americans taking leadership roles, both in the community and in the workplace.
“We need jobs, we need health care, we need quality education, we need black people in boardrooms, we need black businesses on our street, we need to be the head of all of these things,” Baraka said. “We need black people everywhere we go. We need to be treated equally and fairly. Lastly, we need reparations for slavery — Jim Crow, Emmett Till, poor housing, jobs, the educational system, negative marketing. I need reparations for everyone who has suffered.”
Photos Courtesy of Tony Vauss