By Mabel Pais
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” – Arundhati Roy
The New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s (NJPAC’s) Community Engagement team has started a new series of social justice initiatives this summer. This begins with two series of events — both of them virtual – that will address these issues.
The first series is of online panel discussions around issues of race, equity and social justice.
“Democracy, Voting, Census: A Conversation about Power” was the first of these. It was a Zoom video conference event on July 6 at 7 p.m. that NJPAC hosted with colleagues at the New Jersey Institute of Social Justice and the Newark Branch of the NAACP. It was moderated by Andrea McChristian, Law & Policy Director for the Institute.
The goal for this event was to ensure that everyone understands the importance of taking part in civic life, and how to harness the power that we have as citizens, right before New Jersey’s next election, like completing the Census (and encouraging others to do so as well!), hosting a candidate’s forum, and advocating for criminal justice reform with our elected officials.
A cohort of activist thought leaders came together as panelists for this inaugural event. They included
A’Dorian Murray-Thomas, the founder and CEO of SHE Wins, a social action organization for middle and high school girls in Newark, who is also, at 23, the youngest person ever elected to the Newark Board of Education;
Shennell McCloud, the Executive Director of Project Ready, an education advocacy group;
Henal Patel, Director of the Democracy & Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice; and
Denise Quijada, Census and Partnership Manager for Sadie Nash Leadership Project, which promotes leadership and activism in young women.
Andrea McChristian, Law & Policy Director for the Institute, moderator
The Arts Center has formed a Social Justice Programming Task Force, to workshop ways we can examine the state of civil rights in our state and our nation, and how we can move progress forward.
“Dialogue can open a door. But to walk through that door, you have to actually ‘do’ something.” – Donna Walker Kuhne, Senior Advisor – NJPAC’s Community Engagement
The second series, which represents an evolution of NJPAC’s long-running PSEG True Diversity Film Series into the PSEG True Diversity Film Club. This series always focused on issues-based films; now it will highlight works that address race and social justice. To keep things safe during the pandemic, the Film Club is moving toward a book-club inspired model: Every month a film will be picked, and the public is invited to screen that film a week in advance of the event.
This is how it is done: For example, the documentary “13th”, the first selection, can now be screened for free on Netflix, even if you’re not a subscriber, or on YouTube.
Then, once all have watched the film, participants and observers get together on a Zoom video conference to discuss it, with a moderator who can bring context and insight to what we’ve seen. Our first entry, Ava DuVernay’s searing documentary “13th”, about the relationship between the abolition of slavery (established by the 13th amendment to the Constitution) and the mass incarceration of African American men, will give us many avenues to discuss inequality in our criminal justice system. Rick Thigpen, PSEG’s Senior Vice President, Corporate Citizenship, and the chairman of the PSEG Foundation, will host the first discussion on July 20 at 7PM. To join this live conversation via Zoom, you must register at www.njpac.org
There will be another panel conversation, and another film club meeting, every month.
“Conversations about justice, equality and access have always been an integral part of NJPAC’s role as an anchor cultural institution. As America’s most diverse performing arts center in terms of programming, staff and audiences, these values are embedded in our heart and soul.” – John Schreiber, President-CEO, NJPAC
About NJPAC’s Community Engagement
NJPAC’s Community Engagement is committed to being a resource for all who seek to educate themselves about the need for social justice, and to make their own voices heard. The organization will do its part to register voters, encourage Census participation, and make the contact information of our representatives in Trenton and in Washington D.C. easily available to anyone who wishes to speak to those in power about what their community needs. Links to all these resources are at www.njpac.org.
From interns to ushers, artists to donors, NJPAC is the most diverse performing arts center in the nation with the best people on the planet. They come from many backgrounds. They’ve taken many journeys to get here. And they’re all proud to be part of the NJPAC community. Those who work at NJPAC today embrace that same desire for systemic societal change. At NJPAC, they’re ready to fight for it.
NJPAC located in downtown Newark, N.J., prior to COVID-19, has been America’s most diverse performing arts center, and the artistic, cultural, educational and civic center of New Jersey – where great performances and events enhance and transform lives every day. NJPAC brings diverse communities together, providing access to all and showcasing the state’s and the world’s best artists while acting as a leading catalyst in the revitalization of its home city. Through its extensive Arts Education programs, NJPAC is shaping the next generation of artists and arts enthusiasts. NJPAC has attracted nearly 10 million visitors (including over 1.7 million children) since opening its doors in 1997, and nurtures meaningful and lasting relationships with each of its constituents.
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(Mabel Pais writes on Social Issues, The Arts and Entertainment, Health & Wellness, and Spirituality)