Photo of Angel Fuentes courtesy of Angel Fuentes Facebook.

By Emily Hamilton | AC JosepH Media

CAMDEN — It has historic and impactful, but it as also personal for Camden City Council President Angel Fuentes when he organized and pushed for an anti-bullying legislation in the city.

The Camden Council’s Anti-Bullying Ordinance is intended to protect children under the age of 18 specifically and is tailored to address the concerns of parents within the area.

The anti-bullying ordinance establishes a board of four students and five adults as voting members while also having non-voting members consisting of a council member, a member from the mayor’s office, and a member of the county Police Department.

Highlighting the great culture and leadership in South Jersey’s Hispanic community.

Throughout Fuentes’s career, he has pursued and pushed legislation to better the lives of others whether through his own experience impacting that push or the stories of others. When it came to the Anti-Bullying Ordinance, Fuentes really took in the stories of parents in the community, specifically one young girl who was being targeted outside of school.

“And long story short, what I gathered was that the bullying started during Christmas in her neighborhood,” Fuentes told Front Runner New Jersey back in September when the legislation was passed. “She lived in the Cramer Hill neighborhood, and because of the fear, her mom decided to get her to another neighborhood in Fairview, a far distance from those young people that were bullying her.

“So, she stayed for a couple months at her aunt’s house in Fairview, a section of Camden.”

This led Fuentes to realize that although Gov. Phil Murphy had signed Anti-Bullying legislation across the state, the parameters of that legislation only applied to schools.

“When kids are not in school — if they’re, let’s say, going to the grocery store, walking from their home to a friend’s home or in the park, and there are people that would bully these individuals.

Then I started talking to the metro police, [and] talked to a detective that deals with juveniles, he said upfront, ‘Angel, during summertime, we get so many complaints regarding bullying assaults.’ And I’m like, ‘No kidding,’” said Fuentes.

For eight years, Fuentes would work closely with his attorney and Dr. Claudio Cerullo who would work directly with schools to provide anti-bullying training and get students acclimated to their school environment.

However, the conversations always turned to what could be done outside of schools which led to the drafting of anti-bullying legislation targeted toward the verbal, physical, written, and online bullying that takes place outside of school hours.

“I want this to be a model for other municipalities throughout the city of New Jersey, knowing that we are the first to pass this legislation in the city of Camden,” said Fuentes.

Fuentes worked closely with his fellow council members as well to address concerns with the original drafting of the anti-bullying ordinance like parents and their children having to go to court, finances, and the overall parameters of the legislation. Through these conversations, the right language and guidelines were created to bring this legislation to the families of Camden.

“Because I made it crystal clear that if they do end up in court, that’s like the last resort. Because what we want to do is really educate and empower young people to take a stand,” said Fuentes.

It wasn’t just the stories of the community that impacted Fuentes’s decision to pursue this legislation, but also his own experiences with bullying as well as his daughter’s. Fuentes has been a resident of the City of Camden since 1973 but was born in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, and at the young age of five, his family moved to Brooklyn.

His mother has remained an inspiration throughout his life by instilling in him the importance of core values like helping others that he has held close to his heart his entire career.

“I was bullied when I was in eighth grade. My daughter was bullied when she was in the ninth grade, which I didn’t know until my son told me after a couple of months when she was in her freshman year. And then I make a big issue, contacting the principal, but it happened in the neighborhood, that's the thing,” said Fuentes.

A major concern in all of this for Fuentes was the mental health of these young kids being bullied outside of school was their mental health, especially with the personal experience of his daughter.

“…for decades, we’ve [seen a lot] of the anxiety, the stress, the depression, and then eventually suicide [that comes with bullying]. And if not, kids will just drop out of school because they feel like they’re not safe there because those kids from the neighborhood are there as well,” said Fuentes.

In culminating the support for this legislation, Fuentes reached out to a variety of people and organizations to get Camden stakeholders such as the metro police and the Department of Health and Human Services on board.

“We reached out to Hispanic Family Center, we reached out to Center for Family Services, we reached out to Saving Grace Ministry. We made sure we had youth, we had faith-based, we have community leaders,” said Fuentes.

Through further lobbying, phone calls, and social media postings Fuentes was able to gather the support he needed to back up this legislation to address any and all concerns from the police department, school districts, state, and community members.

“This was a great opportunity to say, ‘Listen, I need people to talk about this or give testimonies to say why do they support this ordinance, and how would they benefit our community.’ And let me tell you, we had calls after calls after calls after calls that Tuesday night,” said Fuentes.

The last hurdle was the approval of the state for the anti-bullying ordinance, and after the 10-day period, Fuentes got the call that it had been approved. Fuentes pulled together the community, council, mayor, and press to watch history be made with this legislation being passed.

“I knew that we are the first in the state of New Jersey, over 500 municipalities in the state of New Jersey. And I felt that in my heart that this is going to be of value and it’s going to help so many kids, and especially in inner city schools, but even suburbs as well,” said Fuentes.

Now Fuentes seeks to bring this legislation to other parts of NJ to further protect children and their families from bullying that takes place outside of school hours.

Fuentes’s motivation and dedication to this anti-bullying legislation has created a model for other districts to follow his lead in Camden, and Fuentes hopes to keep pushing it forward to create a wider impact.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was based on an original FRNJ interview Angel Fuentes had with Editor Clyde Hughes in September 2022.

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