A Social Justice Vision for Our Towns

In the following post, outgoing GlobalSOMA Founding President and current Trustee, Wayne Eastman, writes about his social justice vision for South Orange and Maplewood, New Jersey.


As a new South Orange resident in the 1990s, I worked with many other people in our towns to support a vision of stable, successful integration in a vibrant community with high and rising property values.

The time has come for a refreshing of that vision. The vision remains right in its basics—but we need to adjust it to make it work in a new era of people coming to America and New Jersey from all over the world.

We have the potential to be an outstanding, widely recognized exemplar of a 21st century global suburb that is a vibrant, flourishing center of inclusive integration.

According to the 2010 census, nearly 20% of the residents of Maplewood and South Orange were born abroad. For black, Latino, and Asian residents, the proportions are yet higher—27%, 40%, and 76% respectively.

In the 1990s, it was inspiring to aim for being a successfully integrated community of African-Americans and European-Americans whose families had been in the U.S. for generations.

A new vision for South Orange and Maplewood that inspires needs to include that traditional meaning of integration, which remains important.

But it also needs to include families who have come more recently to America from Nigeria, Nicaragua, Britain, India, China, and other places from around the globe.

It also needs to include individuals and families who themselves embody integration.  Maplewood and South Orange stand out as communities with over double the statewide proportion of multi-racial, multi-continental individuals who identify as having origins in Asia and Europe, Africa and Europe, or Asia and Africa.

We also stand out as communities in which many parents—including many gay and lesbian parents—have adopted children with different origins from their own. A new vision of inclusive integration in our community needs to take that inspiring reality into account.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, those of us who worked in Friends and Neighbors, the Community Coalition on Race, and the MUSE Fair Housing Council were not afraid to tackle tough issues.

As president of MUSE, I supervised real estate tests aimed at seeing whether black and white buyers were being racially steered. Those tests resulted in a settlement against an agency that showed white testers apartments in Millburn, while showing black testers apartments in Maplewood.

When I ran real estate tests, the aim was not to scapegoat individual brokers or brokers in general.

The aim in the “tackle the tough issues” integration drive of the 1990s and early 2000s that included testing was to support a combined social justice and rising property values vision.

The aim now should be the same, only broadened.

Once more, we need to be ready to tackle tough issues. Is it still the case that black renters and buyers are less than welcome in Millburn? Is it the case that Asian and Latino buyers and renters are steered away from Maplewood and South Orange? We need to know—and if there are problems, as we found there were in the past, we need to address them.

Inclusive integration is both a moral cause and a dollars and cents cause.

If buyers and renters of all groups are not being shown our communities and surrounding communities in a nondiscriminatory, equitable fashion, we all lose.

We lose because we have a less vibrant, less diverse community than we might have. We also lose because we have fewer people than we could and should have participating in the real estate market in Maplewood and South Orange.

Before, we joined together across lines of race and ideology in a drive that was successful in its time.

The time has come for a new drive for inclusive integration that also reaches across lines of ideology and identity and is not afraid to tackle tough issues.

That drive could be spearheaded by GlobalSOMA and its excellent new President, Andrew Lee, or by other groups, now in existence or as yet unformed.

What will make a new drive for social justice work is not the detail of which group or groups or individuals take a leading role. Rather, what will make it work is the mobilization of many dedicated volunteers.

I am optimistic about the prospects for a new social justice drive in our community.

We have an excellent tradition of morally serious and economically beneficial activism in South Orange and Maplewood.

Together, we can build on our tradition and accomplish even greater things.

– by Wayne Eastman –