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Newark Mayor Addresses Pain of Blacks Living in Poverty

Fifty years after the Kerner Commission, and the birth of a mass movement to expand housing and employment opportunities to African Americans, racial inequities in those realms persist nationwide in major cities where gentrification spurs economic development.
During a spirited discussion at the National Museum for African-American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Northwest last weekend, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka bemoaned the complexity of his role as a city executive committed to the self-determination of the poorest residents in his east coast city, a significant number of whom are African American.
“I’m using the system that created those inequalities to mitigate them. It’s like shoring up a bee’s nest. If we hit it, it’s like we’re responsible for it,” Baraka, one of four speakers on the “Crisis in American Cities” panel, told the audience in NMAAHC Oprah Winfrey Theater on Saturday evening.
The hour-long discussion counted among three panels during the “Clement A. Price Lecture on Poor People’s Campaign: The Other America.” Other guests, including Julianne Malveaux, Marc Steiner, and Lata Reddy, graced the stage during two earlier conversations about aspects of the Poor People’s Campaign, a 1968 march on the National Mall for economic justice that the Rev. Dr. William Barber and others commemorated earlier in the summer.
“People have been living in poverty for so long, it’s been normalized. When you come by and say it’s not normal, you present a problem for yourself,” Baraka further explained. “Everything has market value, including poverty. There are people who make a living off of us being poor and Black. They mitigate those problems, but not find solutions.”
In May, Baraka won a second mayoral term with a campaign that pundits said struck a different tone than his first go around four years prior. Laying to rest developers’ concerns about economic stagnation, and that of longtime residents fearing displacement, Mayor Baraka announced policies involving rent control, and protections against evictions. His administration also touted its attempts to align business interests with that of the public.
Baraka spent Saturday evening explaining his strategy. For an hour, he along with Ryan Haygood, president and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, Nikole Hannah-Jones, investigative reporter for The New York Times Magazine, and Brian Gilmore, clinical associate professor and director of the housing clinic at Michigan State University, debated methods of dismantling systems that perpetuate inequality.
Pushing back against the notion that access to capital alone would change Black America’s fortune, Hannah-Jones gave a history lesson of sorts, making the case that African Americans need legal protections, now more than ever, against the entities that exacerbate inequality for their benefit.
“President Lyndon B. Johnson wanted to introduce housing laws, but it would upset white progressives,” Hannah-Jones said during the June 21 event when she likened housing discrimination in the north to Jim Crow segregation in the south. “Housing is very intimate; when you integrate housing, you can’t stop who you live with. There were people violently opposed. That’s the issue. You can’t have equality without enforcement of the laws,” she added.

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