Cranford inclusivity initiatives to address the social injustices caused by racism

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CRANFORD, NJ — A lot is happening in this nation that is killing the United States’ black community. The most recent killer has been COVID-19, which statistics show is killing black people and other people of color at a higher rate than white people, due to health care access inequities, among other issues. An ongoing killer is continued racism. Cranford has joined the mission to end all killings stemming from skin color.

With a desire to include and unite people of all races, Cranford Township is embarking upon an Equity and Inclusivity Initiative. The initiative, which was largely driven by Cranford Superintendent of Schools Scott Rubin and resident Chris Chapman, was created by the Cranford Township Equity and Inclusivity Committee and is slated to bring everyone in the community together. Chapman, a professor in the City University of New York system, is an expert in police practices and procedures, as well as in the use of force.

Rubin spoke on behalf of the committee to explain the purpose of this initiative.

“We want to create a structured and sustainable vehicle that promotes equity and inclusivity throughout our community,” Rubin said on July 6. “The purpose of this initiative is to come together as a community to first, examine and identify current strengths, weaknesses and opportunities that will advance our efforts; second, determine a shared vision of inclusivity for our community; and three, formulate a strategic plan, inclusive of goals, objectives and actionable steps, that will, ultimately, realize our vision for an equitable and inclusive community. In the end, we hope to increase knowledge and improve communication among different cultures throughout our township.

“This is truly a collaborative effort among individuals and organizations in the Cranford community who are committed to ensuring an equitable and inclusive community for everyone,” he added.

According to a media release, the initiative hopes to draw upon the full participation of the Cranford community to promote inclusion. Community members will be able to provide input throughout the process through multiple means, including surveys, information sessions, review and feedback periods, municipal and Board of Education meetings, and more.

As such, the committee invites residents to participate in three ways: the Strategic Planning Opportunity, the Equity and Inclusivity Strategic Planning Survey, and The Talk launching event.

According to the media release, the Strategic Planning Opportunity is described as a Cranford Township Equity and Inclusivity Strategic Planning Steering Committee, as well as multiple subcommittees, which will provide opportunities for the community to be active in this effort.

Rubin expressed his desire for a representative committee.

“We hope to establish a committee that is fully representative of Cranford Township and supports the overall administrative and logistical needs of the initiative,” Rubin said.

The Equity and Inclusivity Strategic Planning Survey is described in the release as an online survey, which will require five to 10 minutes to complete.

“Specifically, the survey will help to formulate a list of civic, grassroots organizations within the township that are established and/or anticipate formation that are attempting to individually address the issues associated with racism, so as to connect similarly focused individuals and allow the township and other organizations the benefits of collective knowledge and different perspectives so as to move towards the vision of and for an equitable and inclusive community,” Rubin said.

The Talk launching event was described in the release as the first of a series of conversations on racism.

“This special launching event invites all members of the Cranford Township community to come together to engage in a structured conversation on racism, one that will provide an opportunity to exchange perspectives, foster a greater sense of empathy, and envision a desired future for Cranford Township. The Talk is scheduled to take place on July 16 at 7 p.m., which will broadcast on TV 35 and will be streamed through the TV 35 Facebook page.”

Elsewhere, an organization in Cranford has similar goals in mind. Resident Karen Bennett has been working on grassroots efforts with the Cranford Inclusivity Project.

“I am a part of the Cranford Inclusivity Project,” Bennett said on July 5. “The organizers of this group are Cranford residents who came together because of a shared passion for inciting positive change in our community. After the death of George Floyd, we listened to the concerns and stories of our neighbors, and we were inspired to be proactive and began working together to form a grassroots organization aimed at bringing our community together.

“Our commitment is to promote equity and safe spaces for people of color, LGBTQ+, religious and other marginalized groups through community and school education, work with the local public service groups and community development,” Bennett continued. “We have created a framework as well as a mission and plan to bring in more voices within leadership as we continue to work.”

Taking pride in their efforts, Bennett highlighted what the Cranford Inclusivity Project has done so far.

“It’s important to note that we are in the beginning stages of this group but have already had great traction and involvement from the community,” Bennett said. “As we begin to expand and gain more members, we are hopeful for the change that we can make collectively with the township, aligning with their efforts.

“So far,” she said, “we have created a list of 50-plus volunteers that have given us a commitment to do this work, met with leaders from SOMA Justice and Social Justice Matters, two local organizations running similar groups, to learn what has worked best for them and get support for moving forward.

“We developed a framework for our group with goals and pillars, which was presented to the mayor and deputy mayor,” Bennett continued. “We’ve started a book club focused on ‘Me and White Supremacy,’ with small groups broken down for work sessions; working with the library director to broaden this idea to a townwide read, successfully petitioned Mayor Giblin to issue a Juneteenth proclamation and worked with local businesses to stock books on racism. Our group plans to follow up with the chief of police on data collection and transparency after a community member brought this up to him last month.”

Bennett is excited to see where the organization is headed.

“We are excited about the momentum so far, and we all recognize that this is not something of the moment but instead something which will require long-term involvement from our entire community to truly make change,” Bennett said. “With the support of the mayor and in partnership with Cranford’s town organizations, we feel that this change is possible.”

The Cranford Inclusivity Project is open to everyone. The organization wants the public to know that whoever is interested in working with them can contact them at cranfordinclusivityproject@gmail.com.

Photos Courtesy of Karen Bennett

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