By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
POINT PLEASANT BEACH â€“ Kevin Jenkins and Billy Prempeh on Memorial Day added the voice of civil rights, a message African-Americans are personally connected with, to the call by some demanding that New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy open up the state’s economy.
Jenkins and Prempeh spoke to a crowd of about 1,000 in a parking lot that would have normally been filled with vehicles visiting the Jenkinson’s Boardwalk amusement park across the street that was closed because of statewide coronavirus restrictions.
While Jenkins and Prempeh were among just handful of African-Americans attending the boisterous rally, their message were resonated across cultural and economic lines, driving home the message that everyone is being affected by the COVID-19 shutdown.
Both of their speeches sparked loud applauds and approvals from the audience. Small crowds followed them afterward as they continued to preach their positions.
“(There was a time) when the government controlled our bodies, where we went to school and our lives,” Jenkins, of the Urban Global Health Alliance, said of past government-sponsored discrimination like slavery and Jim Crow laws. “I understand that. That’s up close and personal thing for me.
“That’s the same thing that’s happening in this country right now and we have to fight against it. You would think black and brown people would be paying attention to this more than anyone in this country. It’s going affect us 10 times more and that’s what I’m concern about. We have to get back to the business of empowering people. We should not be trapped in their homes,” he said.
While the rally was filled with signs promoting the Republican Party and President Donald Trump, Jenkins said the call to reopen businesses should be cross all political lines.
“There are some who are choosing party over their lives,” Jenkins said. “That’s not correct. I think when (minorities) learn more about these issues, they know what’s going on and are becoming more active.
Outside of New York, New Jersey has been hit the hardest in the country with coronavirus cases and deaths. As of May 30, New Jersey had 37,615 COVID-19 cases and 11,531 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
That has driven Murphy to take a hardline to coronavirus restrictions around the state, even shutting down Atilis Gym in Bellmawr when the owner attempted to defy his orders and reopen.
Prempeh is running against Timothy Walsh in the Republican Party primary in July for the Congressional District 9 spot for the right to go against Democratic incumbent Bill Pascrell in the November.
He said the shared experiences of past discrimination should make African-Americans more sensitive to the government shutdowns.
“We as African-Americans have been marginalized for a very long time,” Prempeh said. “If it’s affecting them, you can only imagine how it’s affecting us. We have to fight against this. We can’t allow our states to be locked up. We can’t allow our freedoms to be eroded bit by bit.
“If you’re an African-American, regardless of what you believe, if you support Trump or not, whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, you have to ask yourself a serious question. If you have a business and your business is being taken away from you and your kids can’t go to school, you can’t get the healthcare you need, how can you protect yourself against the coronavirus.”
Prempeh acknowledged statistics showing African-Americans and Latinos in New Jersey having been diagnosed with the virus disproportionately in comparison to their population, but said that is even more reason to open up the state’s economy.
“You’ve seen the articles how people in the African-American community are more likely to contract the virus,” Prempeh said. “How much longer can we put up with this? What is far worse than having the virus is the ramifications of having the country shutdown for any longer. People can’t get their benefits. They can’t get food. They can’t even pay their rent. This has been devastating. That’s why I’m speaking out.”
State Sen. Mike Testa, R-Vineland, who won last fall on a ticket that helped Antwan McClellan, R-Ocean City, become the first African-American to represent Cape May County in the New Jersey Assembly, said Gov. Phil Murphy continued to miss opportunities to help residents get back to work.
He said his South Jersey district has the fewest number of coronavirus cases and death and could be back to work safely now with proper social distancing restrictions.
“The government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers,” Testa told FRNJ at the rally. “People have realize New Jerseyans are strong. They did everything they were told to do, which was the flatten the curve. Nobody knew what it was going to do, so we listened to the experts.
“Someone once said Gov. Murphy’s moving the goal post. No, he’s playing a completely different sport. Once we flatten the curve, we should have taken a regional approach to opening back up,” he added.
Attendees at the rally echoed those feelings and said they want Murphy and New Jersey officials to recognize their concerns, regardless of party and culture.Note from AC Joseph Media: If you like this story and others posted on Front Runner New Jersey.com, lend us a hand so we can keep producing articles like these for New Jersey and the world to see. Click on Support FRNJ and make a contribution that will go directly in making more stories like this available. Thank you for reading.