BY CLYDE HUGHES, AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY – Voter registration and diversity concerns are just two of the issues the Atlantic City NAACP is taking up as the country move toward mid-term elections in November, according to president Kaleem Shabazz.
Shabazz, who also serves as the Ward 3 councilman for Atlantic City, said that two upcoming events highlights the branch’s push to expose members to some of the top issues in upcoming elections.
The branch along with the Prince Hall Masons will cosponsor the voter awareness event “My Vote Is Power” at St. James AME Church, 101 N. New York Ave. from 6-8 p.m. on Sept. 20. On Oct. 25, the branch will host Candidates Night, from 6-8 p.m. at Dr. Martin Luther King School Complex, 1700 Marmora Ave.
“Both of those events will be broadcasts live by WEHA Radio, our local gospel station,” Shabazz told Front Runner New Jersey. “Some people can’t come because their working and have kids. We want to reach as many people as possible with these events.”
Shabazz was pointed about the District 2 U.S. Congressional race, where Democrat Jeff Van Drews faces former Republican Atlantic City councilman Seth Grossman for the seat occupied by retiring Republican Frank LoBiondo.
LoBiondo, from Ventnor, has held the Congressional seat since 1995, but national Democrats are counting flipping it as part of their overall plan to take back the U.S. House of Representatives. Proven problematic for Republican has been Grossman’s comments on diversity and his dismissal of African-Americans facing discrimination that emerged this summer.
Shabazz said that Atlantic City NAACP and the national organization is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates but admitted that he found Grossman’s comments disturbing. He said, though, the Candidates Night event is open to all to explain their positions.
Another issue that concerns the NAACP is the current control of the Atlantic City governmental finances by the State of New Jersey.
The state, led by then Republican Gov. Chris Christie, took over Atlantic City finances in November 2016, giving state officials control over the city’s hiring, payroll, assets, etc. over the next five years, according to NJ.com.
Current Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned last fall on ending the takeover and currently calls the state’s work with Atlantic City “a partnership,” NJ.com stated. Shabazz said he believes to governor is committed to turning over the city’s financial reigns to its officials, calling it a civil right issue.
“Gov. Murphy has been very accommodating,” Shabazz said.
Shabazz said many of the today’s civil rights issues centers around health care disparities and economics.
“We can sit at the lunch counter to eat, but we have to be able to afford the food,” Shabazz said. “Then you have health care disparities where the high rate of diabetes, HIV and food deserts (in the African-American community) contributes to all of that. Those are quality of life issues, longevity and education.”
He pointed to Stockton University opening its new state-of-the-art campus in Atlantic City, between the Boardwalk and Ventnor Avenue as opening up new possibilities for the young people seeking higher education. He added that preparing young people for technical jobs at the Atlantic City International Airport is also important.
“There’s no need to advocate for those opportunities if we’re not ready to take advantage of them,” Shabazz said. “Not everybody will want to go to college, but in today’s world, you need to have advance skills. Retail is alright if that’s what you want to do.
“Our mistake (in Atlantic City) is that we made the mistake of putting all of our eggs in the casino basket. AtlantiCare and health care facilities are field areas of development for us,” Shabazz continued.
He said that the NAACP will be looking at statewide boards like the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority in hopes to increasing their workforce and board diversity.
“We’re concern about the board structure, but there should be diversity up and down those agencies,” Shabazz said.
Shabazz said that while New Jersey State Sen. Chris Brown has nominated Linda Steele, the secretary of the Atlantic City NAACP, for the CRDA board, that she would be one of only a few persons of color on a board of 16. Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam is listed as a board member along with New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
He pointed to two young members, both attorneys, as representing the future of African-American leadership in the city. Yolanda Melville, an attorney in Cooper Levenson, and Ciera Logan, an attorney with Fox Rothschild, are both volunteering for the Atlantic City NAACP and have been making a difference for its members, Shabazz said.
He said that the branch is looking to increase its scholarships from four this year to as many as 25 to 30 in the near future.
“I don’t think that’s unrealistic,” Shabazz said. “It’s an investment. My thought is if we’re not thinking like that, we’re not serving our community. If we’re just having meetings, talking about the past, beating up on Trump, who needs to be beaten up on, you have to be doing something. That is what we’re doing.”