Photographer Donna Gioia Volpe has been attending and documenting the weekly Black Lives Matter protests in her town of Somerville throughout the month of June, as young activists take to the streets and demand change. Attendees gather at the old Somerset County Courthouse, march up Main Street, around Town Hall, and then back to the Courthouse to hear speakers and others inform and educate the crowd. This is what democracy looks like.
Many of you will agree that we are living in a time of plague and disease, and it's laid bare the prevarications of modern society and its loftily-stated intentions of providing for the welfare of all citizens, near and far. The burden of disease falls most harshly on those least able to protect against it, namely people of color and the elderly, and its opportunistic nature on morbidity tears back the blinders of any belief in our ability to protect ourselves…or anyone else…from the scourge of disease and the ravages of death. A plague that brings infectious disease also exposes the strength or weakness of any systematic effort to combat its wrath, and it enforces the need to isolate so as not to contaminate.
However, isolation is separation, and fear & anxiety grow in the darkness that has been overtaking America during the age of pandemic.
Last Saturday, I participated in the Black Lives Matter protest in Flemington, New Jersey. As people wrestle with the issues taken up on streets throughout our country, I am compelled to share how I ended up in front of the Hunterdon County Court House with hundreds of others wearing face masks as the sun beat down upon us, listening intently to the words and voices of a remarkable cast of high school students. I’ve lived in Ringoes, New Jersey for almost 23 years. My husband and I purposely moved here in order to provide what we believed would be a better and safer place to raise a family. We researched the region thoroughly and were impressed with the Blue-Ribbon high school and the semi-country lifestyle situated between New York and Philadelphia.
Recently, our initial perceptions of our choice for a safe place to live was more than substantiated in a June 2, 2020 article posted on an NBCNewYork.com story, “NJ County Is the Safest Place in America to Raise a Kid, New Report Says.” The article references a Save the Children report that identified Hunterdon County, NJ #1 out of the 2,617 counties in the United States as the safest place in America to raise a child. The report based its determination on four factors; per-capita deaths before 18, per-capita teen pregnancies, food insecurity and high school drop-out rate.
While I understand how data was collected, analyzed, and conclusions drawn, I was troubled by this ranking, having experienced a much different and extremely unsafe environment for my two Black American sons.
For days now I have been trying to find other words for my speechlessness. Inarticulate, dumbfounded, voiceless, mute. My soul feels all, and more. Yet I find it important to finally sit and try to put into words, the emotions that seem to engulf me in every moment of these past few days. First, to my black friends, peers, and strangers I have yet to meet. I am sorry. I am sorry that this country has been failing you for centuries, I am even more sorry that you have to explain this to people-you shouldn’t have to. For those who have been using your voices to educate, please know, if you haven’t realized already, how powerful and patient you are. I hope that those with whom you have shared your story with realize the blessing of your voice and time. I stand with you, yesterday, today and all of the tomorrows I am granted.Read more
The George Floyd killing stirs up all kinds of emotions. Why does this keep happening? Will it come to my door? What type of world have I brought my kids into? I am a married, black man living in a fairly affluent suburban community in New Jersey. My wife happens to be white. Our town is diverse while still being segregated. I am close friends with many police officers and hold them in high regard. However, living in this community and coaching baseball does not inoculate me from the realities of my existence.Read more
Yes, my name really is Karen. And it’s not a surprise: I am white and middle aged. I grew up in suburban, segregated New Jersey (a state that likes to pretend it’s not segregated, when it’s one of the most). I didn’t learn about race and racism in K-12. I didn’t learn that race is a social construct, much less that whiteness is an invention. I didn’t learn that I, as a white person, was benefitting from advantages that I did not earn but rather were built into our systems. I didn’t learn any of that because it was not taught.Read more
As it relates to America’s racial progress, a black elder recently said to me, "Ain't nothing changed but the weather." And then America saw the heartbreaking footage of the brutal murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man who was out for a jog in Brunswick, Georgia. Arbery was murdered in February of 2020. There was a police cover up, but upon the release of the footage, murder charges were subsequently filed against the three vigilantes – two months later. The charges were not filed because the “authorities” saw the footage, the charges were filed because the public saw the footage and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was forced to intervene.Read more
Messages from Media
We cannot underestimate the tremendous power of advertising and media to influence our perceptions and standards of beauty, particularly images in magazines, music videos, TV shows, and movies. Not only is there power in advertising and media, there is also great thought given by people who study how to get consumers to respond to an image. Research has shown over time and from the testimonies of people I’ve worked with, most of the images seen on television hold lighter skinned people in higher esteem than darker skinned people. Because of this messaging, many people hold lighter skinned people in high esteem and aspire to be lighter. This aspiration manifests itself in skin bleaching. Globally, one of the most popular products is skin-bleaching cream. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on skin bleaching products every year all across the world because of the idea that lighter skin is to be preferred over darker skin.Read more
PHOTO: Hazel Bryan, one of the nine black students to attend Little Rock, Arkansas' Central High School in 1957 after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that "separate but equal" segregated schools were unconstitutional.
Photo by Ira Wilmer Counts, Jr.
As public school segregation increases, what are the consequences?
According to a study published last year by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, nearly 50 percent of African-American students in New Jersey attend schools where less than 10 percent of the student body is white. And the typical white student attends a public school in which two-thirds of the population is Caucasian.
Racial segregation is not a problem that exists only in the past. Despite widely documented progress in U.S. history to limit racism, studies suggest that segregation is still an issue in today’s world. Especially right here in the schools of New Jersey.
Yes, it’s true.Read more
In 1963, Birmingham, Alabama found itself at the center of the Civil Rights Movement. Local black activists protested against Jim Crow laws and a decade of racially motivated bombings of the houses of black families who moved into new neighborhoods or were activists. Hoping to de-escalate ricing tensions, a group of local religious leaders wrote a public letter, "An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense."Read more