Diverse Voices: Black Lives Still Matter in NJ

EDITOR’S NOTE: The last names of the interviewees are not used in this article for concerns that they have been victims of “doxing” in the past, the practice of maliciously posting private information for use against them on the Internet.

OP-ED

BY SHELJA TOURI | AC JosepH Media

The Black Lives Matter movement had forced politicians to grapple with radioactive questions of race and justice.

Black Lives Matter New Jersey is an activist group that officially launched in 2016 as part of the global network and in 2020 they disassociated along with other chapters across America to form BLM10 plus.

Made up of volunteers, the dedicated activists who are passionate about a fairer world particularly, for the Black community, came together to address the injustices faced in New Jersey.

I spoke with activist Shevone, who comes from generations of freedom fighters and helped create the New Jersey chapter. She explained that they want to dispel the myth that New Jersey doesn’t have systemic issues regarding race, gender and immigration geographical location.

Since its inception, BLM NJ has worked tirelessly to maximize impact by causing discomfort to make society feel the pain and frustration of living as a black person in America. Black Lives Matter New Jersey is commonly associated with supporting or leading a protest/rally.

What many people don’t know is that the group is selflessly helping many members of all marginalized communities every day. Most members are lifelong activists from educated backgrounds and prominent families, who have their own lived experiences that encourage their commitment to activism.

Combining their experience, skills and knowledge, the group have become a powerful voice for the betterment of the Black and Brown communities not only in New Jersey but across America.

“We don’t have ‘leaders, we have core members and a general body,” Shevone said. “Our goal is to rebuild our community and get to a point where we [activists] are no longer needed because the community automatically does it.”

BLM NJ has been involved in various activist activities, a tremendous strength of their work is that it is not rooted in charity, but in solidarity.

“Our impact is important because we focus on the marginalized within the marginalized communities,” Shevone said. “We are a support system for folks who wouldn’t have one otherwise.

Shevone said “Black Lives Matter” is a political statement and way of life for the activists who pride themselves on taking bold and unapologetic action to secure opportunities that account for real change in the material conditions of Black and Brown communities.

Some of their impactful work has been across the country and in their first year BLM NJ participated in activism at Standing Rock Reservation between North Dakota and

South Dakota, Baton Rouge, La., and a protest against former President Donald Trump in Washington DC.

The activists also traveled to Washington D.C. in solidarity with the mothers of victims of state-sanctioned violence which include the aunt of Alton Sterling, a Louisiana man who died in police custody.

In 2017, they assisted in the coordination of one of the biggest protests in Boston and in 2018 they were part of the protests in Flint, Mich. In 2019, BLM NJ was involved in the Greenpeace Bridge Protest in Houston.

In 2020 and 2021, the team led countless protests, marches and vigils across Philadelphia and New Jersey, including Seaside Heights, Hainesport, Willingboro, Camden, Marlton and Mount Laurel, among others. The activists assisted in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE, protests at jails in Bergen County and Essex County, advocating for immigrants.

Across history, protests have shaped societies in tremendous ways. From Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Ida B. Wells to Shevone, Tae and Ty with Black Lives Matter New Jersey, they all share a common goal — to catalyze monumental change by taking action.

Activism is concerned with ‘how to change the world,’ through social, political, economic or environmental change. It has played a major role in ending slavery, challenging dictatorships, protecting workers from exploitation, protecting the environment, promoting equality for women, opposing racism, and many other important issues.

Activism is the practice of taking direct action including protests, sit-ins, lawsuits, lobbying, petitions, and strikes. The methods of activism will continue to evolve along with political opportunities and developments in culture and technology.

Activism has not received the same kind of attention from historians and media as conventional politics even though activism and conventional politics can operate side by side, such as the labor movement.

“We are seen as terrorists but what terrorists feed the people? As for elected leaders, if they misunderstand us at this point, I think it’s intentional,” Shevone said. “Elected leaders and others don’t like how we present our truths. It’s not ‘respectable enough’ for them. Or it makes them uncomfortable.

“They are so concerned about scaring off white folks and prioritize their feelings, positions and comfort above everything else. They want to believe that we are controversial and stick labels on us. The question I ask them is, what is controversial about wanting to live in peace? What is controversial about wanting our community to not always be in survival mode and have the ability to thrive?”

Shevone continued: “We have been in survival mode since the first slave ship arrived. At this point they don’t want to understand the reality, or they are ok with the fact that Black people continue to suffer because it’s not them or their one Black friend is doing well. Even though they are pushing out our homes, taking our children, and raising the rent so we have to choose food or a roof. Anyone with an ounce of humanity would see this isn’t radical.

“We just want to live. We want to have peace. We want to be able just to go anywhere without the threat of harm coming to us. We are tired of our community being used as political fodder on both sides and nothing is being done. We are tired of fighting while everyone else reaps the benefits and we are still left fighting,” she added.

The group continues to support many individuals, families and groups around New Jersey and throughout the country with both activism and general support and advocacy. The community outreach the group does is admirable and a priority for Black Lives Matter New Jersey.

In addition to their day jobs and family life, they work all year supporting to connect marginalized individuals and their families to many services. Those include legal support and representation, accessing a variety of services, and access to everyday needs like groceries, clothing, children, and baby supplies to name a few.

In addition, group members have been involved in helping people in immediate danger to access safety including domestic abuse and providing support to many individuals who are faced with injustice and hardship every day.

Since the pandemic, with an aim to build a sense of community and family, Black Lives Matter New Jersey has provided freshly cooked hot meals, snacks and personal items to over 100 people every month.

Earlier this year, when the group observed the need within the community, a free community food pantry was added to their monthly community outreach in South and Central Jersey. Their monthly presence has bought trust amongst the marginalized and vulnerable communities subsequently they are now experiencing high demand for support.

In recent months, a free community closet of new and like-new clothing has been offered along with any other support that members of the community have requested on the day.

“We want to do more than just monthly outreach,” Shevone said. “Unfortunately, people have a problem with giving money to us because they think we have so much of it from the global network that we are not a part of.”

Shevone joked when she added: “If anything, we should be the first people [to donate to] because ain’t nobody gonna make a dollar stretch like a Black woman.”

Be it a protest/rally, feeding people, housing people or clothing people, for anyone in need — the dedicated group has committed to showing up for the New Jersey community. Over the years of their work in this space, the team has seen many people come and go.

However, Shevone, Ty and Tae are motivated to remain working towards liberation, owed reparations and justice for the countless lives stolen from their people.

In late August 2022, the group hosted an incredibly successful back-to-school block party displaying the true meaning of community. The day gave out over 350 free supply, filled school bags, home-cooked food, and a community clothing rack.

There were a variety of children’s games, entertainment, face-painting and enjoyed by so many members of the community and all the volunteers involved.

People can support by donating directly to Black Lives Matter New Jersey or they can donate to Imperfect Village (https://imperfectvillage.org/) which is a fiscal sponsor and a registered 501c3 nonprofit.

The group generally seeks monetary donations due to emergency situations where donated goods are not necessarily the need. They explained that they have provided food to folks with dietary restrictions, and they continue to support women and children to safety who are escaping abusive situations.

They also provide help to individuals who have nowhere to go because they identify with the LGTBQIA community. They try to fundraise for hotel stays before they can be supported to apply for services.

In addition, they seek volunteers with grant writing experience or other services/skills that can help their mission for the betterment of marginalized communities.

As the winter months approach the demand for coats, personal hygiene, and warm essentials including socks, gloves, winter hats, scarves, hand warmers and blankets are in demand. To support their work, donate:

Cash App — $BlackLivesMatterNJ

Venmo — @BlackLivesMatterNJ

Paypal — SURJ-NJ@protonmail.com (Be sure to note for BLMNJ when making PayPal donation)

BLMNJ WISHLIST:

Cash app: $imperfectvillage

Venmo/PayPal: @imperfectvillage

DEON supports BLMNJ efforts with their community outreach, please support.

ITEM DONATIONS: For food pantry items, new or near clothing items that you would like to donate, please contact sayhello@deon4change.org to make arrangements.

DEON WISHLIST FOR BLMNJ:

Bio: Shelja Touri is an award-winning diversity and inclusion champion in Burlington County and the founder of the Diversity and Equal Opportunity Network (D.E.O.N.) that serves NJ with a focus on Southern New Jersey.

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