About

OVERALL PURPOSE: Empower and listen directly to lesser heard voices in our surrounding communities toward action for peace, justice, and compassion.

BACKGROUND AND PROGRAM:

Community Peace and Justice Network began at Emmanuel Church of Ridgewood as a forum to listen to and empower those left out or discriminated against in our local communities centered in Ridgewood, Glen Rock and Fairlawn: African Americans, Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, women, school children threatened with school violence and more. It developed from a “forum” to a “network” of collaborating individuals and groups with its own non-partisan, non-sectarian Steering Committee from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Monthly Seminars led by Rev. Dr. Arturo Pierre Lewis and Growing Collaborations

The murder of George Floyd, Jr., on May 25, 2020, challenged us to go deeper into the roots of racial violence. We created a one-year, monthly seminar for the community called “Race Together: Learnings About Race and Racism in America” led by Rev. Dr. Arturo Pierre Lewis, continuing for the next few years as: “A New World: Growing Better Communities Together for All.”  We teamed up with Community Read (2 years) – and conducted a month-long study on the book Caste by Isabel Wilkerson (2021), and How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery in America by Clint Smith (2022). We have supported the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebrations in Ridgewood and Glen Rock and Monday Night Conversations with community leaders led by Rev. Mack Brandon that have been held continuously each week since.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Our Schools

In 2022, CPJN, added to our statement of purpose to: “listen, lead teach and organize to dismantle racism and move toward the “Beloved Community” envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” during and beyond the COVID 19, pandemic. Some of our present CPJN leaders had been working on DEI – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, initiatives in our local public schools for several years, attempting to take efforts to the next level. We came to realize through the experiences of our members, how deeply embedded racism, sexism, antisemitism, etc., are embedded in the practices and culture of even our “best” schools.

Through several workshops sponsored by Ridgewood Ambassadors for Global Citizenship (R.A.G.) with the N.J Division of Civil Rights, we came to understand the importance of school district commitment, the processes required to make measurable progress and the contribution that a strong DEI program makes to the school climate and the academic achievement and personal growth of all students. We began to consider that without a DEI Coordinator (there are many names for the position), whose sole purpose was to work with school administrators, teachers, support staff, students, parents and community members to change curriculum content, disciplinary measures, personnel policies, hiring practices, etc., over a period of several years, that DEI progress would be minimal.

We intensified our process of discovery by engaging two expert DEI consultants, Deborah Lee, Ridgewood, and Maggie Jacoby, Glen Rock, who both have children in their respective public schools, to work with us in conducting research on existing DEI school programs in New Jersey and beyond.

We presented our findings to Dr. Leonard Fitts, then Interim Superintendent of the Ridgewood Public
Schools. The presentation was made by Robyn Davis, Esq. Lynn Benson, MSW, LSW and Don Wheeler, Ph.D., all Ridgewood parents. We concluded that, indeed, the school districts where a DEI Coordinator was hired, step-by-step measurable progress has resulted. We also concluded that Ridgewood was the most ready to advance toward a DEI Coordinator of the school districts we studied, and we turned our focus to Ridgewood.

The “DEI Coordinator” role is to be a catalyst, resource and guide who works with those on every level in the school system and who will share in developing the vision, goals, targets, strategies, programs and accountability structures to assure due-diligence and steady progress. Bringing in a DEI Coordinator early in the school district planning process to assist in developing the collaborative working relations throughout the school district would be extremely helpful.

Of course, the DEI Coordinator can be successful, only if the Superintendent of Schools and their office, in accord with district goals set by the Board of Education, provides institutional support, champions the effort and truly believes that a diverse, equitable and inclusive school district is better for all participants. We are very hopeful that now the Ridgewood Public School District has the leadership, capacity, commitment, teachers, staff, students and community support to build an exemplary DEI program which will benefit all and inspire such efforts elsewhere.

Community Peace and Justice Network
Steering Committee Members
August 2023

Paul Aronsohn
Rev. Bruce Ballentine
Lynn Benson – Co-Coordinator with Donald Wheeler, DEI Public Schools Initiative
Rev Mack Brandon
Marc Cantor – Treasurer
Mary Ann Copp
Rabbi David Fine
Laurence Fine
Mamoud Hamza
Hans-Jurgen Lehman
Rev. Dr. Arturo Pierre Lewis – Coordinator
Avon Morgan
Carol Loscalzo
Carolyn Musser
Rev. Gloria Nobles
Jan Phillips
Mirelle Schuck
Michael Tozzoli
Rev. Dr. Joanne Van Sant
Donald Wheeler – Coordinator
Rev. Judy Wheeler