NJEA establishes Office of Human and Civil Rights, Equity and Governance

NJEA has created the Office of Human and Civil Rights, Equity and Governance and has promoted Gary Melton to be its first manager. The creation of the new office highlights NJEA’s commitment to justice and equity in all aspects of the union’s work and the recognition that such important work needs a permanent home within the union’s structure.

Melton will manage staff assigned to the new office to develop and implement programs designed to carry out NJEA’s social, racial and economic justice initiatives. Melton also will provide guidance to NJEA’s officers, executive director, and staff concerning governance issues.

“My vision for this new office will hit on four areas,” Melton says. “Professional development, leadership, conferences, and staff development, all related to issues of equity. We are going to be taking a close look at where there are inequitable practices and address them so that we eliminate barriers for members and staff.”

Melton is working to build a team that will address equity issues across the organization. While much work has already been done, particularly with the REAL Movement, the Equity Alliance, the Members of Color programs, and the NJEA Minority Leadership Committee’s work, Melton is working to provide a fresh vision for the future of the organization.

“In terms of my logic map for the first year, it’s going to be about building understanding,” Melton says. “Each year, we’re going to be providing a vision for that year so that we are constantly moving the work forward.”

One of Melton’s first initiatives is to use NJEA’s monthly governance meetings to provide racial and social justice training for members who have been identified by their county leaders as influencers who will push the social justice work forward.

Melton also emphasizes that while a lot of the work is focused on issues confronting Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), human and civil rights also must include LGBTQ+ and women’s issues.

“The Black experience in America has been a driving force in terms of ensuring equity, ending prejudice, stopping discrimination and eliminating systemic racism,” Melton says. “These are all human and civil rights issues, but we can’t just stop there. There are injustices affecting our LGBTQ+ communities as well as indigenous and other people of color. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.’”

Melton has been employed by NJEA since January 2018 as an associate director in the Executive Office. Prior to that, Melton was employed for 21 years as an educator in the Atlantic City and Egg Harbor City Public Schools. Melton served in various local association capacities at the local level, including senior vice president, treasurer, negotiations chair, legislative chair and building representative. For the Atlantic County Council of Education Associations, he served as president and chair of the Minority Leadership and Recruitment Committee.

In his position as associate director in the Executive Office, Melton has managed association work around racial and social justice issues. He led the creation of the NJEA Equity Alliance and has helped coordinate the work of the related committees. He has been instrumental in helping drive NJEA’s internal work around race and equity through his position, but also as part of the NJEA/USA Labor-Management team developing strategies for training and learning.