Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Mayor Sheena Collum of South Orange and Professor Ijeoma Opara of the Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences at the Yale School of Public Health will visit Seton Hall to present – and facilitate – at its Social Justice Certificate program on Monday, November 15.
Spearheaded by Jamila T. Davis as the Practitioner in Residence for the Center for Community Research and Engagement at Seton Hall, the Social Justice Certificate program has brought community members together to learn from experts, each other and a curriculum that historicizes the context of the Black and urban experience in America.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka
The mayor of New Jersey's largest city, Baraka has been at the forefront of the movement in the United States to reallocate resources earmarked specifically for policing to other means of addressing public safety and well being – including the use of credible messengers as community violence interrupters, social workers and the formation of the Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery, which is dedicated to violence suppression as well as healing, peace and recovery from systemic and more personal forms of oppression. Mayor Baraka's progressive approach to governing has won him accolades from grassroots organizations to the White House.
South Orange Mayor Sheena Collum
Sheena Collum is the Village President of South Orange and an alumnus of Seton Hall, where she graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and a Master's Degree in Public Administration with a concentration in public policy. As Mayor, Collum initiated the Community Care & Justice program (CC&J), which is a collaboration between the South Orange community, Seton Hall University and Essex County. The initiative seeks to reimagine traditional models of law enforcement by putting a greater emphasis on wellness and crisis prevention while embedding care and compassion service values into all facets of police operational strategies and enhancing training for de-escalation and implicit bias. Last month, CC&J's Outreach Team of social workers and student interns began receiving referrals from the South Orange Police Department and its Rescue Squad. Led by Seton Hall Social Work Professor Kristin Miller and Megan O'Brien, MSW '20 along with student interns, the team is providing supportive counseling and case management services to community members impacted by issues such as mental health, substance use, domestic violence, sexual assault, homelessness and elder concerns.
Yale Professor Ijeoma Opara
In addition to her role as a professor at Yale, Opara is a public health researcher whose focus is on HIV/AIDS, STI and substance use prevention for urban youth, racial and gender specific prevention interventions for Black girls, and community-based participatory research with urban youth. Opara was named the 2020 recipient of the NIH Director's Early Independence Award, which funds her 5-year community-based study on youth substance use, mental health outcomes, and neighborhoods in Paterson, New Jersey. Opara is Principal Investigator of "The Dreamer Girls Project"; Davis is currently working with Opara on the project.
Social Justice Certificate Program
The Social Justice Certificate program is a collaboration between the Center for Community Research and Engagement at Seton Hall, the South Orange Community Care & Justice program and Newark's Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery. The certificate program has been co-led by Seton Hall Professor Juan Rios and to date has featured presentations by Jamila T. Davis; Until Freedom's Angelo Pinto, Esq.; Seton Hall Professor Kelly Harris and Dean Georita M. Frierson of the College of Arts and Sciences; Professor Bahiyyah Muhammed of Howard University; LaKeesha Eure, director of the Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery, and Until Freedom’s Tamika Mallory, Mysonne Linen and Linda Sarsour.
$5000 Award to Implement Best Project
In addition to history and theories of social justice, the class emphasizes "actionable knowledge" and seeks to empower its participants as "changemakers" in search of equity and community well being.
To that end, participants in the class have been split up into cohorts of five or six team members each who have dedicated themselves to solving particular problems within their communities. These programmatic solutions will be presented before a panel of judges on the last day of class and the team with the winning proposal will receive $5,000 to implement their program.
Mayors Baraka and Collum along with Professor Opara will present to the class and help to facilitate these community-based student projects.
"It's not enough to learn," said Davis. "We need to learn and do. We need to do for others and we need to do for ourselves – and this class is designed to do just that – bringing together some of the country's leading experts on community advocacy to teach our students to effectuate change. Through the help of Seton Hall University we are reaching into the community and we will uplift – and make a real difference in the lives of real people."
The classes are held on Seton Hall's campus but include a large online contingent from Brooklyn (many from Man Up! Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to building safer communities through violence prevention, education, employment and the use of credible messengers) as well as South Orange, Connecticut and as far away as Cleveland, Ohio and California.
Projects in the class include a campaign against gender-based violence, an initiative that utilizes video storytelling and social media to emphasize the humanity of police officers and members of the community, a program designed to bring healthy food choices to those who live in a "food desert," a reentry resource guide, a financial literacy project and a gun violence prevention campaign.