Gov. Phil Murphy joined NJEA President Marie Blistan, New Jersey Commissioner of Education Dr. Lamont O. Repollet, members of the Amistad Stakeholder Group and other educational leaders and advocates at the NJEA Convention in Atlantic City to highlight work being done to integrate New Jersey’s Amistad Curriculum more deeply into our public schools and to announce an exciting new opportunity for New Jersey educators.
Following a rousing keynote address by noted scholar and civil rights advocate Dr. Cornel West, Blistan and others took to the stage to announce some of the work that NJEA is doing to ensure that students in New Jersey’s public schools are educated in the state’s Amistad Curriculum. After praising Dr. West for his challenging remarks, Blistan said, “we all know that the work of racial justice is hard, but it’s far too important to let that stop us. We need to take challenges like what Dr. West presented us with today and turn that into real action for real justice for our students, our state and ourselves!”
To highlight that, she pointed to the work of the Amistad Stakeholder Group. “Though the law establishing the Amistad Commission has been in place for 17 years, and much work has been done by educators to bring the Amistad Curriculum into our schools, we believe there is more that can be done. This group of advocates is committed to elevating the importance of that curriculum. We are working to ensure that it is taught – and emphasized — in every public school in New Jersey.”
Following Blistan’s remarks, Amistad Stakeholder Group chair Brenda Brathwaite, an NJEA member and teacher in Atlantic City, said of the group’s efforts: “Our work this year has been driven by the purpose statement we developed together:
‘The purpose of the Amistad Stakeholder Group is to ensure that students receive an intentional, authentic, and inclusive learning experience, which will develop students’ academic strengths and cultural sensibilities about the inclusive nature of history, and acknowledge the contributions of Africans and African Americans to US History through New Jersey’s Amistad Curriculum.’
With that as our core principle, we have begun to develop a set of recommendations that we will be sharing with the Amistad Commission.”
Ed Richardson, NJEA’s outgoing Executive Director, then spoke about a new program that excited many of the educators present. He announced the creation of the Amistad Journey, a program designed to allow educators to travel to some of the historic sites of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Modeled on a similar program run by the New Jersey Holocaust Commission that helps educators visit historic Holocaust sites, the Amistad Journey, according to Richardson, “will include opportunities for educators to visit sites in Africa. But the history of slavery in America did not begin and end in Africa. In fact, after ending the practice of forcibly bringing people to America, the enslavement of African Americans continued here for 150 years. And so the Amistad Journey will also include experiences for educators in the United States.”
Following Richardson’s announcement of the Amistad Journey program, Commissioner Repollet shared some of his own experiences traveling to those sites with students and how powerful and valuable that experience was. He also reiterated his commitment to ensuring that the Amistad Curriculum is fully integrated into New Jersey’s public schools. “The Department is committed to better ensuring that every school and district has the resources needed to honor the promise of the Amistad Commission to embed African American history in their curricula. We are committed to using every tool at our disposal to make that promise real.”
Gov. Murphy, who came to the Convention to participate in the Amistad announcement, praised all the groups that had worked together to elevate the Amistad Curriculum and create the Amistad Journey. “The contributions of our African American community to our state, and to our identity as New Jerseyans, are immeasurable,” said Governor Murphy. “I applaud the Amistad Stakeholder Group and their efforts to create the Amistad Journey to ensure that our students learn about the history of African Americans and their fight for social justice that helped shape New Jersey, and this nation.”
In addition to NJEA and the New Jersey Department of Education, other groups participating on the Amistad Stakeholder Group included:
Information will be forthcoming for educators interested in participating in the Amistad Journey.