Baraka on court ruling: Newark will continue efforts aimed at lifting residents — without apology

Mayor, on heels of SCOTUS decision on affirmative action, says city needs to be purposeful in efforts to counter programs that were purposely designed to hold minorities down

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, in an impassioned speech coming on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could upend affirmative action policies, said he will not back away from deliberately creating, promoting and implementing programs in Newark that will directly impact the residents of the city.

He won’t apologize for it, either.

Baraka, speaking last week at a State of DEI in New Jersey event sponsored by the African American and New Jersey chambers of commerce, said the Supreme Court ruling is alarming — and must be addressed through intentionality.

“When the highest court of the land attacks affirmative action, what it is in essence saying is that it is not necessary for us to apply any policy, any law, any set-aside, any activity for African Americans in this country,” he told the crowd. “What, in fact, it does say is that inequality does not exist. And, because there’s no inequality, that we do not have to remedy that.”

A lifelong resident of Newark, Baraka obviously is well aware of how inequality impacts so many in the city.

Because of this, Baraka said underserved communities must continue to take on inequality by themselves.

“All of us are marginalized because of that court case,” he said. “We have to be on alert and alarmed by what’s happening. And we have to work harder to be able to get what we need in a place that has been designed so that we have nothing. And we have to do it on purpose.

“That’s the thing: We’re afraid to do these things on purpose, to be intentional about it, to be deliberate about it, to do it on purpose — the same purposefulness that they had in demeaning and demoralizing you. The same intention that was put in the laws to make sure you got nothing is the same intention that we have to have to make sure that we get rid of that (wealth) gap.”

That wealth gap is an approximately $300,000 difference between white families in the state and Black families (based, in large part, on the ability to own a home). That difference is even greater when you realize the net worth of the average Black family is less than $20,000.

Here are some of Baraka’s solutions to these issue — and how he is being purposeful in the pursuit of them:

  • Expand homeownership: The average family in Newark makes $35,000 — the average home is now $350,000. “How do you fix that without creating opportunity for people to buy homes?” he asked. “How do you fix that without creating Section Eight homeownership programs? How do you fix that without trying to give people city property for a dollar. How do you fix that? We’re trying to mitigate the effects of decades of forcing people to be in a position where they can’t even own the (homes) that are in their community.”
  • Enable entrepreneurs: “We have to do things to create ownership,” he said. “If you look in downtown Newark, you probably see more Black and brown businesses downtown that are coming up now, that are growing in our city than ever has been — purposefully and deliberately and intentionally. We have to do that in order to mitigate the kind of investment that’s coming into our city that creates the opportunity for a lot of people, just not us.”
  • Create jobs: It’s simple, Baraka said: Get companies to be willing to train the people who need the work. “You keep saying you can’t find enough employees, because you refuse to train the people to work at your place who can’t find a job,” he said.
  • Share in government contracts: Baraka pointed to the $200 million effort to change 23,000 residential water service lines. “We had to make sure that they not only hired local residents, but we got a piece of the pie,” he said. “If we’re going to spend $200 million to change lead service lines in a community that’s predominantly Black and brown, then businesses that look like us should also benefit, on purpose and unapologetically.”

The city should also help businesses that can’t afford the upfront money that’s needed to get a government contract that often only pays once the work is done.

Doing so has another benefit. It not only helps local companies get business, it enables them to get additional business in other municipalities that need the same work done.

Fixing inequity won’t come easily — or quickly, Baraka said. And it won’t come from one person.

“This took hundreds of years to get us to this point where we are today — and it’s going to take a collective effort of all people to get us out of the situation that we’re in,” he said. “We have to make people understand. In order to create an opportunity, or create advancement in this country, and in this state, we have to take care of the least of us.

“And, because we have refused to do that, we’re stuck like a hamster on a wheel — running in circles. All the problems that we are complaining about tie to our inability to tackle inequity in this country and inability to tackle inequity right here in New Jersey.

“Your taxes are high because you’re segregated. Your school bills are too high because your schools are segregated. Your fear of violence and crime is because you won’t hire people and train people and invest the money in areas where it’s needed so that you don’t have these problems.”

That’s why Baraka is doing so.

He respects the Supreme Court’s decision, but he’s determined to find workarounds — just as he did for affirmative action concepts that weren’t as helpful as they intended to be.

He’ll do it unapologetically — and he hopes others will follow his lead.

“You shouldn’t have to apologize for doing that,” he said. “Nobody apologizes for taking care of their kids. Why are you apologizing for taking care of your own?”