Kean University’s Watson Institute lays the groundwork for New Jersey’s urban policy agenda

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The John S. Watson Institute for Urban Policy and Research at Kean University is working with black and Latino caucuses in the Legislature and the Association of Urban Mayors of New Jersey to lay the groundwork for creating a program statewide urban policy. (Photo credit: Kean University)

The John S. Watson Institute for Urban Policy and Research at Kean University recently brought together key leaders of the New Jersey Legislative Assembly, representatives from the Black and Latino Legislative Caucuses, and members of the Association of New Jersey’s urban mayors to lay the groundwork for creating a statewide urban policy agenda.

The Watson 2022 virtual political retreat, held Friday, Feb. 4, reflects Kean’s commitment to urban centers across the state since being named New Jersey’s premier urban research university in late from last year. It was also the first time the Institute had brought together elected leaders from these core constituencies to intentionally identify, analyze and prepare to act on the political priorities of the three groups.

Joseph Youngblood, II, Ph.D., JD, senior vice president for transformational learning and external affairs at Kean, said the event marked a significant step forward for the University’s urban research initiatives.

“This historic meeting is the first in a series of engagements designed to leverage Kean University’s extensive policy and research capabilities to meet the policy needs of legislators and urban mayors,” Youngblood said. “Our partnership with legislative caucuses, urban mayors and urban communities enables the Institute to support policy development and provide evidence, analysis and policy recommendations that help move all of our urban communities forward.”

The virtual retreat featured discussions on four main policy areas: basic needs, including food and housing insecurity, homelessness and poverty; public safety and health, including violence as a public health crisis; education and positive youth development; and the environment, including infrastructure, environmental justice, and economic and community development.

Barbara George Johnson, JD, vice president of external affairs and urban policy at Kean and executive director of the Watson Institute, provided insight into the policy content that needed to be discussed.

“New Jersey’s urban communities are overstretched and in crisis on many fronts, and only by working together, with a strong commitment to finding lasting solutions to our challenges, can we bring about meaningful change,” said Johnson said. “Kean University and the Watson Institute will work with leaders at all levels to improve the economies of our cities and the lives of people living in our urban centers.”

Assemblywoman Shavonda E. Sumter ’96, Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, noted the historic significance of the political retreat as it brought together legislative caucuses and urban mayors to collectively discuss hard-hitting policy issues.

“We are committed to continuing this dialogue and working together to create a policy framework that ensures the issues of marginalized communities are addressed,” Sumter said. “We will document the areas of policy focus we discussed at the retreat so that we are very specific in our efforts in Trenton, with action-oriented elements that respond to the needs of our communities. »

Sen. Nellie Pou, chair of the New Jersey Legislative Latino Caucus, said dialogue on critical issues creates an opportunity to work together to find solutions.

“While our groups share many common political goals and often work together on various related issues, it was insightful and enjoyable to be able to come together and share ideas and thoughts on the challenges, both economic and social, facing our communities are facing and to define some of them. basic strategies for the best way forward in 2022,” Pou said.

New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz and General Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin attended the policy retreat and pledged to work with Black and Latino caucuses and urban mayors for federal resources that will help meet state needs, including funds from the Federal Infrastructure Act.

“I appreciate the Kean University Institute for Urban Policy and Research for giving me the opportunity to join the Association of Urban Mayors and other Black and Latino Caucus legislators for a in-depth discussion of the challenges facing our state,” Ruiz said. “Being able to share ideas and talk about issues that affect us all can lead to the development of new policy initiatives and actionable items to improve the lives of state residents.”

Ruiz and Coughlin stressed the importance of working together to combat a healthcare system that disadvantages urban New Jersey residents, especially people of color; curbing the rise of armed violence in urban areas; and reverse entrenched and long-standing policies that perpetuate substandard education in some urban municipalities.

“Maximizing the benefits of federal dollars and state resources requires continued collaboration among all levels of government to identify and prioritize community needs,” Coughlin said. “As we face the opportunity to create transformative once-in-a-lifetime change, I was honored to join members of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucuses and the Urban Mayors Association to share where the Assembly sees a strong need. Housing and food security, mental health, access to child care, small business resilience – all of these are critical to the success and prosperity of New Jersey communities, especially our urban communities. . By working together, I know we can make great strides.

Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka and Plainfield Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, president and vice president of the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association, also attended the virtual session. Mapp called the meeting inspiring.

“As elected officials, we sometimes feel isolated in the face of the daily problems of our municipalities; having the opportunity to share and present ideas with others facing similar issues has not only been productive on many levels, but cathartic,” Mapp said. “I thank the John S. Watson Institute for Urban Policy and Research and Kean University under the leadership of President Lamont Repollet for facilitating such a historic first session and for providing expert guidance throughout. long. I look forward to participating in more collaborative efforts like this.

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