Hamm, others start crafting black agenda for NJ

Photo by Chris Sykes
People’s Organization for Progress Chairman Larry Hamm, seated right, leads the black agenda work session at the REFAL headquarters in Newark on Saturday, March 4, where members of his grassroots social and economic justice advocacy group gathered alongside representatives from other activist groups and elected officials, including Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Montclair 4th Ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville, to work on crafting a comprehensive list of needs and demands that can be presented to candidates seeking to win black votes in upcoming elections.

NEWARK, NJ — At the State of the Black World Conference in Newark last year, People’s Organization for Progress Chairman Larry Hamm said his organization would hold a meeting Saturday, March 4, to begin working on developing a comprehensive black agenda for New Jersey ahead of the primary election Tuesday, June 6, and the general election Tuesday, Nov. 4.

True to his word, Hamm and others gathered at the REFAL Headquarters in Newark on Saturday, March 4, to start crafting an agenda.

“We’re here today because the People’s Organization for Progress, prior to the State of the Black World Conference, had decided that we need to start putting together political agendas for these various upcoming elections — for the state election, the upcoming congressional election in 2018 and the presidential election that will be in 2020,” said Hamm on March 4.

“So today’s meeting is the first of a series of meetings that we’re going to have to try to put together a black agenda, that we can put to all major political candidates seeking state and federal offices over the next several years.”

According to Hamm, the meeting was really a work session designed to “get our input into what the agenda is going to be.” He said the goal was to “set the stage” for the “major effort to reach out to all other organizations” at their next meeting, which is scheduled for Saturday, March 11.

“The agenda that we’re trying to come up with is not going to be a People’s Organization for Progress agenda; hopefully, it will be the agenda of the black community and, hopefully, we’ll have the buy-in of everybody that participated,” Hamm said. “Our hope is that we will be finished (with) this work before the end of April, so that we can present this agenda to the various candidates that will appear at different gubernatorial forums in the area, in fact, by some of the people that are sitting around this table.”

East Orange resident Ingrid Hill, the P.O.P. vice chairwoman for internal affairs, agreed with Hamm that New Jersey needs a black agenda just as the United States needs a black agenda to address all of the longstanding issues regarding racial bias and inequality. She said additional issues to be addressed will include: the growing gap between the richest and the poorest in America; reforming the criminal justice system; and police training, tactics and techniques across the board, not just in mostly minority municipalities.

“Some of the major points that I think we’re looking for (are) accountability, because the reality is, a lot of times, the black community gets left behind in the process and, given the times that we’re facing right now, it is critical that we come out as a unified front, because we have a battle ahead of us and we have to be prepared to make it longstanding and as a commitment to our constituents,” Hill said Saturday, March 4. “The reality is we represent the masses of the people and that we have a responsibility of making sure that the people who are in office are responsive to our people as a collective.”

Aminifu Williams, a longtime P.O.P. member who resides in Irvington, was among the more than a dozen grassroots activists present at the March 4 meeting.

“What needs to be said has already been said, but we can never forget to keep this in mind that a very hostile administration in Washington, D.C., was just elected — hostile to the agenda of black folks in particular; hostile to immigrants; hostile to anything that involves basically working people,” Williams said. “You’ve got a cabinet of billionaires and multimillionaires who could care less about people like us, so whatever we pursue, keep that in mind. Governments come and go to varying degrees, but this is one of the most hostile we’ve had in awhile.”

“My agenda is trying to get justice for all the unarmed victims that were shot by the police,” said Sheila Reid. She is the mother of Jerame Reid, who was killed during a traffic stop by Bridgeton police officers in 2014.

“I agree with everyone trying to get all this stuff together on the agenda, but I also want to get on the agenda to try to get some of the mothers of the unarmed victims to come out to our meetings, because this is really a critical moment. Our children are getting killed every day; our husbands are getting killed every day, even their mothers; the handicapped are getting killed every day and it seems like no one cares. I care. I especially care about New Jersey, our people in New Jersey, because we’re not on the map and I would like to get our people on the map, just as well as New York or Ohio or Ferguson, Mo. We’ve got Ferguson right here and nobody seems to pay it any attention. We’re on the news for about five seconds and, after that, it’s done.

“Myself and (the P.O.P) have been in front of the U.S. Attorney General’s Building every Monday for 57 Mondays and we’re trying to get justice, so this is what I would like to have added to a black agenda,” Reid added.

Montclair 4th Ward Councilwoman Dr. Renee Baskerville said she was “fired up” to be at the March 4 meeting.

“I came prepared and I tend to be action-oriented,” Baskerville said Saturday, March 4. “I came with a list of things that I thought it would be very important for us to include in our black agenda. I think it’s very important for us, as we move forward, to include on an agenda, in terms of the workforce and education, and to make sure we have justice, and that’s what I’m here for today.”

Baskerville said a black agenda is needed to, “address the issues that we continue to have disparities in, whether that’s something like a contract and who we employ from that level and all the way up, whether it’s who goes to jail or wherever disparities exist.”

“The disparities are still there and so, while in Montclair, the section that I represent has historically been African-American, Latinos and brothers and sisters from the Caribbean, and people of lesser economic means,” Baskerville said. “And so, for me, a black agenda is my agenda, because that’s who I represent and who I am and so that’s what I’ll always be about.”

“These are the lists of things that we want our governor and our state legislators to do, once we send them to Trenton,” said Hamm. “It’s not a formal party platform, because we’re not here as a specific political party today, but it will be a platform that we can present to the political parties, because the political parties are fielding candidates that want our votes.

“So we’re putting this platform together to say: ‘If you want our votes, these are the things that we want you to do after you are elected, so that’s what the whole purpose of this is.’ A lot of times, people come in, they make speeches to us and they really have no specifics. They know what to say to make us feel good, but then, when they’re in office, what actually is churned out is not necessarily what we hoped that they would do, once they got into office. This exercise is about accountability and one of the things that required to have accountability is that you need an instrument of accountability. This agenda becomes that instrument.”