BY CLYDE HUGHES, AC JosepH Media
EAST GREENWICH TOWNSHIP – Wilfredo “Wil” Rojas came up in South Jersey and Philadelphia during the Black Liberation Movement of the 1970s where he counts the late Huey Newton and Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) as his inspirations.
The son of a Puerto Rican migrant worker and a civil rights activist for most of his adult life, Rojas said he feels right at home fighting alongside African-Americans and others for justice and inclusion. The retired corrections employee said he has found his activism avenue as vice president of the Gloucester County NAACP.
“Diversity means nothing without inclusion,” Rojas recently told Front Runner New Jersey. “I was doing that in the mist of all my work. … As minorities, we have to use whatever weapons we have to depart information to the public and strategize with them in an effort to get them to take action.”
Along with serving as an officer with Gloucester County NAACP, he serves as the branch’s communication arm. He also writes a regular column for the South Jersey Journal, an African-American themed newspaper.
“Know that I am laser focus on empowering people to take up the continuing fight for justice and equality of opportunity through diversity and inclusion of folks of all backgrounds.” – Wilfredo “Wil” Rojas
Rojas said he believes he complements the branch’s president Loretta Winters well.
“I like Loretta’s style because she’s very diplomatic,” Rojas said of the longtime Gloucester County branch president. “I learned to temper my style from her because I’m like a Bobby Rush. I found somebody I can really work with.
“She’s such a hard worker. She works full-time and has kids and grandkids. I’ve got ADHD. I don’t get medicated,” Rojas joked. “I just get bored. I’ve got to be doing something. The first year of my retirement was the worst. I was driving myself up the wall.”
Winters was equally as complimentary of working with Rojas.
“Working with Wilfredo is a very rewarding experience that is awe-inspiring and amazing,” Winter told FrontRunnerNewJersey.com. “He is constantly at the table, not only to speak his mind, but to give warmth to those in need, to listen to ‘everyone’s’ problems and to present real solutions to those problems. He has said on many occasions that being able to volunteer is a privilege and a tangible way of making a difference in your community and loving your neighbor.”
Rojas was recognized for his work and longtime activism last year when he was given the 2017 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Champion for Justice Jefferson Award.
“I am proud of what we’ve done together as New Jersey residents of diverse backgrounds in striving to realize Dr. King’s vision … but we still have a lot of work to do in affording every single New Jersey resident the dignity we all deserve,” Rojas said in NJ.com then. “This prestigious award serves to embolden my volunteer leadership in articulating a bold vision for the future of our great state, based on the strength of our diversity.”
According to NJ.com, the award, done in partnership with the New Jersey MLK Jr. Commemorative Commission, recognizes those who continue the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through their work to promote Dr. King’s message of civil rights, justice for all, peace and non-violence in communities and the state.
“Oh man, that was a really big deal,” said Rojas, who was photographed with then New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie when he received the honor. “My wife nominate me. I was thinking, ‘Wait. I’m the one that nominates people.'”
Rojas said he ended up working with corrections after a college roommate told him that he was applying for a job with the city.
“The prison called me and I did well on the test,” Rojas said. “I was working as a drug and alcohol counselor right in the minority neighborhood. I saw a lot of people in the building trades. They had a lot of excess money that led to drug problems.
“I looked at the benefits and stayed (in corrections) for 25 years, but I always had a passion for writing. I enjoy it. I love writing and doing press releases. You have to make (the press release) sexy in order for reporters to cover it,” he added.
Rojas said when he settled into Gloucester County in 2012 after retirement, he almost immediately saw a need for minorities to organize and speak out what was going on there.
“Soon as I got here, there were only 250 African-Americans in (East Greenwich) township,” Rojas said. “The parents were complaining about the way their kids were being treating at school. I’m a pro-active kind of person and told them to come to my house.
“We formed the Parent Diversity Committee to promote diversity at the schools. The superintendent was reluctant but he got it was then eager to work with us. It was 2012 and we did our first Black History Month celebration within months after first meeting.
Rojas said that is where he met Winters, who did a proclamation and both attended the local NAACP meeting to continue to talk about the issues.
“I was here when Ferguson (Missouri) went off,” Rojas said, referring to the police-involved shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown that led to violent riots and helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The (local) prosecutor met with Lorretta and asked how can we make sure we don’t have a Ferguson here. Lorretta told him that there were no opportunities here,” he continued.
Rojas said the NAACP helped with getting the largest number of ethnic minorities and women hired at police departments in Gloucester County. Rojas said that he was later asked to be on the county’s planning board, helping diversity that public body.
Tragedy struck Rojas’s family in 2015 when his son, when his son Alex Rojas-Garcia, 34, was killed in Philadelphia in 2015 after his Chevy Trialblazer was shot into. Rojas-Garcia, a father of two, had just made the honor role at Temple University, according to media accounts.
The May, the man convicted of shooting him, Leonaldo Rivera, was sentenced to a life term for first-degree murder.
“One door closes for the person who murdered my son, but another does not open for Alex,” Rojas said after the sentencing, per NJ.com. “My son is not coming through my door again.”
Winters said that regardless of the adverse situations Rojas has faced, he has always shown “humility, common sense and professionalism.”
“He has a sense of humor that will keep a smile on your face even under stressful conditions,” Winters said. “I have to say he is the most energetic, creative, selfless person I know in the fight for civil rights.”
Rojas said, though, he has found inspiration in working with students in the Gloucester County NAACP’s ACT-SO program, some with whom went on the win gold medals in subjects like essay writing at a state level. He has also become a realtor in retirement.
“I’m also trying to write a book,” Rojas said jovially. “It’s going to called ‘Purple and Gold.’ Purple for my radical days and gold for my retirement badge. I’m taking it from the very beginning to the end.”
And Rojas has a lot to tell in between.