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County Democratic Committee’s Black Caucus Celebrates Black History Month

Somerset County Freeholder Director Shanel Robinson speaks after receiving her commendation from the Somerset County Democratic Committee’s Black Caucus.

Township resident and Somerset County Freeholder Director Shanel Robinson was one of two African-American trailblazers honored Feb. 1 by the Somerset County Democratic Committee’s Black Caucus during its Black History Month celebration.

Robinson is the first African-American woman to serve as a Freeholder, and the first to serve as that body’s director.

Also honored during the event held in the Senior/Community Center was Mildred Scott, the first African-American Sheriff in New Jersey, and the first woman Sheriff in Middlesex County.

The celebrants also heard from former Union County Freeholder Mohamed Jalloh, the event’s keynote speaker, who said that African-Americans are facing a “blacklash” for recent gains made in civil rights.

He said the current theme for this year’s celebration of Black History Month, “African-Americans and the Vote,” is most appropriate for the current political situation in the country.

“The lesson in this year’s theme is that despite having the right to vote for almost 150 or 100 years, we constantly have to deal with the blacklash,” he said. “For each advancement we have made, we have been averted and diverted from the true power that our votes yield, and buy into this pie-in-the-sky narrative that there is some scarcity of resources and we have been precluded from doing what we should have been doing, which is working to build an infrastructure for our community.”

Part of creating that infrastructure, he said, is to create”a system that allows professionals in our community to flourish, grow and give back.”

“With the emergence of (Pres. Donald) Trump, I fear that things can be really bad once again, if we aren’t diligent, if we don’t exercise our right to vote and if we don’t exercise the power that our votes yield,” Jalloh said.

“How much better are we when voter intimidation is still a favorite tactic in many states, when there are ballot security task forces with loaded revolvers steering people away fro polling places?” he asked. “How much better are we when people are afraid that they will erroneously be deported even though they are US citizens?”

“How much better off are we 150 years later when Indiana denies citizens their rights to vote by creating strict voter ID laws and Republican-controlled state legislators have passed laws barring convicted felons, even those who have served their time, from ever voting again?” he said. “How much better are we when people at polling places search for warrants for voters, arresting them before they vote?”

“How much better are we when 100 years later, disinformation runs rampant, when voters in Nevada receive robo-calls informing them that they can vote on Nov 5, the day after the election, and Hispanic voters in Nevada receive similar messages, saying they can vote by phone?” he asked.

“But that’s not all,” Jalloh said. “Sadly, voter suppression is only part of this. Even though we live in an era when votes are welcomed from the black community, coveted even, our community still suffers from power suppression. Although our votes make up a strong power base, we don’t get the full value of our votes when it comes to sharing power.”

In thanking the Caucus for the commendation, Robinson reminded them that she did not achieve her political position alone, and she won’t be able to accomplish her goals alone.

“As I continue to serve the greater good of Somerset County and my community, I just want you to stand with me and stand by me and my colleagues, because when you ask us to do things, when I turn around and say it’s go time, I don’t need to be standing here alone,” she said.

“We have much work to do and it starts with each and every one of us,” Robinson said. “Don’t leave here today and say I’ve been to another black history celebration, go and actually do the work. Go out and bring somebody else along. Share the vision, share what it is to move the mission forward.”

Also speaking at the event was township resident and state Assemblyman Joe Danielsen. Danielsen told the crowd that he prays that “we continue to maintain that commitment to doing what’s right, go in a righteous direction and reach out to people who need help … we have to do things when they’re not comfortable, say things that not everybody wants to hear. We have to do the right thing.”

Mayor Phil Kramer spoke about racist events that happened in the township in its past history, including the expulsion of black residents from Franklin Park in the late 19th Century, and the mass gathering of Ku Klux Klan members in the early 20th Century.

“We have to remember our past, we must never forget or history will repeat itself,” he said.

During the event, attendees also heard musical selections from the group 2 Stick International Band, vocalists Andrea Tatam, Bryce Gray, William Mcleod and Syonna Amore’ Rodgers.

Kayla Hill, from the NJ Orators delivered a monologue, and Anisaa Jean-Pierre read an original poem.

Here are some scenes from the event:

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