Sumter Becomes First Woman Chair of NJ Legislative Black Caucus

LD35 Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter of Paterson

The New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus (NJ LBC) held a virtual election for the 2021-22 NJ LBC leadership team, selecting an uncontested slate with the confidence of the full body of the caucus and endorsement of Senator Ron Rice.

The slate of new officers includes Shavonda Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic) as NJ LBC Chair, and Senator Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), and Assemblywoman Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer) as Vice-Chairs. The following members were re-elected to serve as Treasurer-Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington), Secretary-Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Union), Sergeant-at-Arms-Assemblyman Gordon Jonson (D-Bergen). A new officeholder, Assemblyman William Spearman (D-Camden, Gloucester) will serve as Chaplain.

Senator Ron Rice (D-Essex) has served as Chair of the NJ LBC since 2003, when the chair and former Senator Joseph Charles, D-Hudson accepted a judgeship appointment. Continuing to be engaged in the promotion of the LBC’s civil rights and social justice agenda, Senator Rice will remain an advisor to Assemblywoman Sumter. He will also chair a newly created committee, Inter-Government Affairs.

“The devastation of COVID-19 last year laid bare the disparate impact of the loss of life to the disease. African Americans make up only 12% of the New Jersey population, but we made up 16% of all deaths last year. This glaring alarm charged the NJLBC into action,” said Sumter, the new LBC Chair. “We began weekly meetings to work in unison from Cape May County to Bergen County to be sure that we were elevating the health disparities and economic needs of the African Americans in our state. We were laser-focused on stemming the tide of loss of life, loss of work, loss of housing, and food insecurities.”

Legislative leadership fast-tracked multiple bills throughout last summer to cover many concerns raised by the onset of the pandemic. Among them, legislation that required the Department of Health to work with hospitals and local health departments to report racial and demographic data on COVID-19 outcomes. And recently, the LBC worked diligently to ensure fairness in the state’s pivotal legislation spurring social change, the legalization, and decriminalization of marijuana.

“The LBC, in the last year alone, fought to codify moratoriums on evictions; provide gap funding for food
banks and target grants to small to mid-size businesses. Then, compounded with the historic pandemic, we were saddled with civil unrest incited by the excessive use of force— witnessed around the world— which caused the death of George Floyd in Minnesota,” said Sumter. “We united with civil rights leaders and social justice partners to fight for the passage of over 40 policy changes to combat systemic and structural racism. Of significance was the passage of mandating law enforcement body cameras, defining the chokehold as a use of force, safe reporting of peers in law enforcement for excessive use of force, and a community civilian review board with subpoena power.”

With new leadership, the NJLBC intends to continue with policy changes to uproot the systemic and racial disparities within government structures. Sen. Rice will work in this capacity with statewide Black elected officials.

“We will continue to fight for the health of our communities and command vaccines be supplied to African Americans with ease of access,” said Senator Rice. “This will be achieved through partnerships with our faith-based community. We will be undeterred in securing these life-saving resources even if it means that we must pursue legal recourse. Further, we will continue our fight for environmental justice, fair housing, economic opportunities, and equity inclusion at all levels of government.”

In the coming months, the LBC will engage in monitoring the apportionment of legislative districts; re-engage the African American Elected Officials Statewide Alliance; push for a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer as a Cabinet Level position; monitor the use of force and continue to stand strong with civil rights leaders and social justice partners to champion policy reforms and criminal justice reforms.

The new officers will officially begin their duties on April 6. Committee assignments for all members will be re-established and announced in the coming weeks.

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