In 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. looked to Newark and other Black communities and explained that the country consisted of “two Americas,” sharply divided by race, Ryan W. Haygood, president and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ), points out. In one America, millions of young people were growing up “in the sunlight of opportunity.” In the other, people were “perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”
Fifty years later, Haygood notes, too many people in Newark, and in numerous other cities throughout the country, still struggle under the weight of those conditions.
“On one hand, Newark is home to one of the largest transportation hubs in the United States, Fortune 500 businesses, world-class research universities and cultural institutions, and a large network of hospitals and community health centers,” Haygood adds. “And a majority of the people who work here earn more than $40,000 a year, according to a report released by the institute. But this prosperity is not shared by a majority of Newark residents.”
This lack of access to economic prosperity manifests itself in food and housing insecurity and an overall economic disparity that is reflective of larger trends in our nation.
Daryl Shore, vice president, inclusive communities for Prudential Financial, Inc., says systemic issues require systemic solutions. “At Prudential, we are focused on what we can do to help influence the system so as opportunity comes to Newark, all residents can share in it,” Shore adds. “Through philanthropy, impact investing capital, and activation of the talents of our employees, Prudential is helping the city, along with other committed partners, create economic, educational and community development opportunities that benefit residents citywide.”
Prudential’s decision to stay in Newark and contribute to its future as an active participant – when many other companies left – highlights a long view symbolic of Prudential’s commitment. “Newark received high marks from national observers in regard to the way the city has handled protests amid the pandemic and that’s a reflection of the hard work over many decades that Prudential, municipal leadership, and our corporate and non-profit partners have invested,” Shore states. “By working together as a community, we can contribute to Newark’s continued comeback as a city that is more resilient, equitable and innovative than ever before.”
In her June 15th article in the Harvard Business Review titled “We’re Entering the Age of Corporate Social Justice,” writer Lily Zheng notes that corporations have used “social issue marketing, philanthropic efforts, employee volunteer initiatives, and diversity and inclusion work, to build their brands and satisfy customers.”
Since the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, and the outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and racial justice, Zheng suggests that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is no longer good enough, that people want more, including corporate social justice. Zheng defines corporate social justice as “a reframing of CSR that centers the focus of any initiative or program on the measurable, lived experiences of groups harmed and disadvantaged by society.”
The Newark Regional Business Partnership (NRBP) is committed to working with its members to ensure that the city and region not only remain accessible and beneficial for business, but for residents as well. NRBP’s President and CEO, Chip Hallock, says the organization started its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative three years ago in part to strengthen CSR among its member companies, including those lacking the human and financial resources of larger corporations.
Through enhancing understanding and creating opportunities for dialogue, the organization hopes to inspire the business community to work toward meaningful change for people who have experienced discrimination and foster meaningful collaboration among groups that are different from each other.
“One of our objectives was to have small- and mid-sized employers understand that they don’t have to have a chief diversity officer or a training department to begin making changes in how they communicate, hire, promote or treat underrepresented people,” Hallock continues. “Any employer can take steps to become more aware of and act upon biases and practices that inhibit inclusion, limit equitable opportunities, and deprive themselves of valuable talent.”
NRBP partnered with NJISJ for two programs in its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Mini-Series that Haygood calls “an opportunity at a critical time for Newark’s business community to discuss the cracks in our society’s foundation, which are causing earthquakes in communities of color, and how we can, together, fill in those cracks to build a new foundation.”
The series, concluding this month, explores and offers solutions to issues around racial and economic equity, law enforcement and police community relations, local hiring and procurement, and education and healthcare.
One organization that is committed to increasing diversity among its talent and leadership is Mars Wrigley.
With historical roots in Newark, and now one of the standouts of the city’s growing corporate community with its recent return, Anton Vincent, Mars Wrigley president, says two of the main reasons the company chose Newark for its new headquarters was for its diversity and its ambition. “We are continually impressed with the community, its leadership and its history,” Vincent states.
Vincent adds that Mars Wrigley is partnering with organizations that fight for racial equity and supporting Black-owned businesses, among other things. “This is a work in progress, but you will see our efforts show up here in Newark as well as around the country,” he emphasizes.
Calvin Ledford, Jr., regional public affairs manager for Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G), notes that the company has made its headquarters in Newark since it was founded 117 years ago. “As an anchor institution in New Jersey’s largest city and one of the region’s key urban centers, we have always been committed to being good corporate citizens,” Ledford adds.
“For PSE&G and Newark, corporate citizenship is vital because we’re more than a business; we’re longtime residents and partners in the greater Newark community. What’s good for Newark is good for PSE&G. Ours is a relationship we hope will last for the next century and beyond.”
In July, as Newark battled the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Ras J. Baraka announced that Newark Working Kitchens (NWK), a free meal delivery service for Newark residents designed to create and sustain jobs while supporting those most critically in need of food, had delivered more than 200,000 meals during its first 12 weeks of operations. NWK meals are prepared by participating local restaurants and delivered to low-income senior, disabled and family housing residents, people without homes and other vulnerable Newarkers.
A $500,000 grant from the City of Newark added significantly to public, private and philanthropic support provided to date by Audible, PSEG, TD Bank, New Jersey Devils Managing Partners Josh Harris and David Blitzer, Fidelco Realty Group, and Thrive Global.
Newark Working Kitchens operations have sustained more than 200 jobs during the pandemic. The organization has commenced a fund-raising campaign to deliver 1 million meals and engage small businesses beyond the current crisis while continuing to serve those with critical food needs.
“Newark Working Kitchens has proven out a model that can be deployed to many sectors of an economy unequally impacted by COVID-related shocks,” says Don Katz, Audible founder, and executive chairman. “The commercial food economy in Newark is composed of a rich tapestry of small restaurants and food service companies that employ many people who need support as we face this historic crisis.”
“Investing directly in the community is a good first step to achieving greater social and economic justice,” Colin Newman, vice president public policy and community affairs at Audible, adds. “We recently announced that we’ll be escalating our longstanding commitment to creating opportunity and redressing inequality in Newark, including our paid internships for Newark high school students and Audible Scholars program, hiring locally, and providing Newark high school students free access to Audible.”
“We will also continue to increase opportunity in the city through Newark Venture Partners, an Audible-founded venture capital firm bringing high-tech startups to the city,” Newman further states. “A majority of NVP’s investments are early-stage companies founded by women or people of color, including MoCaFi, which delivers banking and financial wellness for the underbanked, and MindRight, which offers behavioral health services for underrepresented communities.”
“The good news is that there are several Newark companies that are serious about their racial/social justice commitment. The Institute has been a grateful beneficiary of some,” Haygood concludes. “But it is essential that all companies, in Newark and beyond, take a deeper dive and really hold themselves accountable in their commitment and actions, facing even the unintentional consequences of their practices, even when it doesn’t add to their bottom lines.”
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