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New Social Justice Group Debuts with Workshop Encouraging Talks on Race

posted Jan 26, 2011, 7:25 AM by Sjm Administrator   [ updated Jan 26, 2011, 7:29 AM ]
Fanwood, January 17, 2011 - Social Justice Matters hosted a workshop entitled “What’s Race Got to Do with It?” as part of the Martin Luther King Day of Service on January 17. Nearly 30 participants, ranging from teenagers to senior citizens, engaged in a series of interactive, discussion-based exercises focusing on the role peoples’ attitudes about race play in their lives. Facilitated by the directors of the Beyond Diversity Resource Center (BDRC) of Mount Laurel, NJ, the workshop emphasized the importance of engaging in open and honest discussion about race as a first step in breaking down long-standing racial divides.

In the comfortable and welcoming lounge of The Chelsea on South Avenue in Fanwood, participants paired up to share early memories of how they were told to react to people who were different from themselves in terms of economic status, physical ability, and race. Many reported being forbidden to acknowledge differences in any way--they avoided looking at people in wheelchairs, referring to the financial problems of the poor, or asking questions about the lives of people of different races—mostly out of their own embarrassment or the fear of hurting the feelings of others. BDRC Executive Director Robin Parker then urged the group to consider the negative consequences of the avoidance and to imagine what benefits might have been gained from directly addressing the differences among people. He suggested that noticing and talking about present-day instances of racial disparity could eventually lead to more equal opportunities for people of color.

BDRC Training Director Pamela Smith Chambers offered the fable of the emperor’s new clothes to illustrate how easily people can be lured into a conspiracy of silence about issues that lie on the surface of the social fabric. Participants then discussed how and why the issue of race has become the great, forbidden topic of our time and explored the value of bringing discussions about race into the forefront of discourse with family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. A teenaged member of the group commented on the necessity of exploring one’s own racial identity as a prerequisite for understanding the experiences of others.

The workshop marked the public debut of Social Justice Matters, a group that is committed to achieving greater social justice by exploring the values, opportunities and challenges arising from the diverse communities of Scotch Plains and Fanwood. This initial event ended with an invitation to all from Social Justice Matters founding member Leland McGee to contact SJM through its website,, for information about taking part in discussions on race or for help in addressing specific issues in this area that are connected to race.