Larry Hamm, Founder of People's Organization for Progress and 2020 U.S. Senate for New Jersey candidate delivers a speech at a sidewalk demonstration called Justice Monday's in Newark, New Jersey on April 19th, 2021. This demonstration focuses on the recent murder of 20-year-old Daunte Wright and the verdict of the Derek Chauvin Trial. (Photo/Julian Leshay)
This article is part of ‘Leaders of Impact’ – a series brought to you by WeekenderNJ, a community news media publication for the people, by the people. The series, which comprises essays and conversations over the course of this year, points to everyday individuals, community leaders and organizations, social justice and systemic racism activists – who contribute to making our communities a better place to live.
This week, I spoke with Lawrence ‘Larry’ Hamm, a New Jerseyan, father of three daughters, a Princeton man, a grassroots man, a corporate man, a political candidate, a leader and icon in the movement in our state against police brutality, a human and civil rights activist, a protester, an organizer, a man boldly and unapologetically causing ‘good trouble’ for over 50 years, and the Chairman and founder of the People's Organization for Progress (POP), a grassroot group, founded in the 1980s.
During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed his first moments of his activist awakening, the walkout and sit-in he led as a 17-year-old student at Arts High School in Newark, N.J to protest educational issues, that marked 50 years this past March, the famous protest in Newark in 1967, the current racial justice movement across our nation, COVID-19 and white supremacy, his advice for young activists, and what’s next for him.
Hamm’s track record is impeccable. He has unapologetically been fighting for racial, social, political, and criminal justice reform. Raised in Newark, New Jersey, ‘Larry’ attended public schools and emerged at age 17 as a forceful activist and spokesperson for the educational needs of Newark students and the community. He was appointed to the Newark Board of Education, making him the youngest school board member in the United States. As a Princetonian and contemporary black student, ‘Larry’ Hamm organized a student take-over of Nassau Hall in 1978 to pressure the Princeton Board of Trustees to divest in companies doing business with the apartheid regime of the Republic of South Africa.
His organization, People's Organization for Progress (POP), where he serves as Chairman, takes up broad causes boldly ranging from ending police brutality to creating economic equality in Newark and surrounding communities.
Throughout the 1980s until this present day, Hamm has been constantly called upon to bring attention to racial and police brutality in communities in the state of New Jersey, as well as around the country.
He successfully called for an independent investigation if someone dies during interaction with or while in custody of police, and to have officers who abuse their power prosecuted to the law's full extent. It is a selfless and courageous path, that not everyone is willing to take on, or understand.
Although ‘Larry’ is a powerful civil and human rights activist, political leader and icon, he comes across as a rare, down to earth mentor, never wavering from his original mission, to see that Black and all marginalized people in America are treated justly, equally, and with dignity.
Q. You have been a civil and human rights activist for over 50 years. What does it mean to you?
I'm glad that I have lived this long. I'm 67 years old now. I started on this path when I was a senior in high school, although I had some scarring in my social consciousness before I was 17. I couldn't help but have that. We lived in an all black poor neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. I literally lived in the Central Ward, where the rebellions started in 1967, what people call the North riots. Probably one of the most intense of the more than 160 rebellions that took place in cities across America, only preceded by the uprising in Detroit, that is likely the larger scale and maybe Los Angeles in 1966.
I come from a non-political family, not privy to all the discussions that the adults had. They didn't have a lot of political discussions with me really, until 1967. I was 12-years-old that summer. We watched the unfolding of the rebellion from our little front porch on the second floor from a three storey wooden frame, tenement house. It started further down from our house on Springfield Avenue, about a mile away, but as the crowds grew, it spread even into our neighborhood. That was really the first night that my folks began to talk to me about race because I was asking questions such as – ‘Why are people so bad? And ‘Why do they do those things?’ It was mainly my grandfather who began to talk to me about these things. Not my mother, but my grandfather, because my father had passed away when I was four years old.
When I started at arts high school, at the freshman orientation, the whole school was in the auditorium and the student council president was asked to talk about the student council. Instead he started talking about the war in Vietnam and the president of the school and student council president started to get into a fight on stage, because the student council president wouldn’t stop talking about Vietnam. As a kid, I didn't really know anything about Vietnam. But that day, after finding out about Vietnam, I got involved in the student council. By the spring of 1971 I was a senior and the student council president. I led a walk out march and sit-in at the Gateway hotel, which is still located across the street from Penn Station today. It's called the Doubletree hotel, but it's the same building. As a result of that sit in, I came in contact with the mayor, and three months later, I was appointed to the Board of Education at age 17, the youngest, fully voting school board member in the history of the United States. I wasn’t even allowed to vote in the election, yet I was now one of the nine voting board of education members.
That got me on my 50 year journey. What am I to say 50 years later, at the age of 67, when I probably now have more years behind me that I have in front of me. I came into this world in 1953, when Jim Crow segregation was still the law of the land, and 50 years later, black people are still, for the most part, at the bottom of society. We have citizenship rights, one of the victories of the struggle against slavery, and then the struggle against Jim Crow, called the civil rights movement, followed by the Black Power movement, which resulted in the explosion of not less than 500 black elected officials in 1960s. By the mid 1970s, there were over 10,000, black elected officials.
The struggle against slavery, the civil rights movement, the Black Power movement, brought about some progress, such as the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the voting rights, the Fair Housing Act, the Higher Education Act, and many other laws getting us rights that had been denied. It also resulted in some progress and expansion, some social progress in terms of the expansion of the black middle class. Black people were now able to go to colleges that they couldn't go to, get jobs that they couldn't get, and live in communities that they could live in.
Dr. King wasn't even dead yet. He was lamenting the fact that the United States turns its back on the war on poverty and it turns its back on the struggle for desegregation. His book ‘Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?’ – was published in 1967. He was assassinated in 1968.
What we have seen literally, for the past 40 years or so, is the eradication, the erosion of the loading of gains that were made during the 1950s and 1960s. So now, we're in a situation, where we see the police in America killing 1000 people a year, like three people, on average a day. Before the sunset on this day, three more people will be killed. Out of those 1000, about 48% of those who are unarmed tend to be black. These are damning statistics, when you consider that African Americans make only 13% of the United States population. Police brutality does touch all races, including whites, but African Americans die in disproportion probably at the highest rate of all the racial and ethnic groups in the United States. It's a very, very serious problem.
We're just coming to a point now, when there's a society wide recognition that this problem exists. The police brutality was identified in the 60s. When you read the Kerner commission reports and other reports that came as a result of the civil disturbances of the 1960s, which were nearly 1000 uprisings. Most people don't know what to think of riots. They think of the words and about the urban uprisings from 1960 to 1972. Out of all of these riots, I couldn't name one that was not triggered by an incident of police brutality, but there wasn't a society wide recognition that this problem existed.
For the past six years even though police brutality has existed from the time that police were created in this country, it's kind of becoming common knowledge now that modern police forces as we know them, arose out of the slave patrols of the South. This problem has existed from the beginning of policing in America. But for the most part the police were not viewed by most people in our society negatively, even though they were doing very negative things.
Our organization, People's Organization for Progress (POP) has been campaigning against police brutality and doing some marches and demonstrations, but it wasn’t until the Phillip Pannell shooting in 1990 that it became a central component of our work. From then, until now, it is really taken almost 40 years to have a wide society recognize that the police really have a problem with racism and police brutality in this country. The murder of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, was about five years ago. It's really just now that there's a kind of ambition.
I think Biden's the first president I recall to reference police brutality, because this was kind of a sacred position that the police have in society. I am not going to say with certainty that the President is the first one to talk about police brutality, but I have known of nine presidents in my lifetime going back to Eisenhower in the late 1950s, and I think Biden was the first one as to even a reference to police brutality, because it was this kind of sacred position that the police have in society.
Q. Do you think that President Biden had to take a stand given the fact that we’ve been having one police killing after another and national protests to defund police for over a year now?
He had to take a stand. It wasn’t because his conscience compelled him to. It was because of these massive protests. Last summer we had the largest protests since the civil rights movement; 20 million people in anti-police brutality and Black Lives Matter demonstrated across the country in 550 cities. In New Jersey it was reported that at least 150 cities and towns had black lives matter or anti police brutality demonstrations, and most of those towns are predominantly white towns, which was surprising and admirable. There’s a recognition among some white people that this is a problem that has to be dealt with, and it’s a good thing that we’ve had a multiracial kind of movement around this issue in the last year.
So yes, Biden was compelled to recognize this. But look, the country was all incited in the 1960's, and that president didn’t really say anything about it. President Johnson wouldn’t even accept the first draft of the Kerner commission report. The draft presented to us is really watered down from the original version. No action was taken on it. Had Johnson’s administration taken serious actions on the recommendations of the Kerner commission report, maybe the problem wouldn’t be as serious as it is today. I think police brutality would still exist, but not to this extent. Based on statistics, every 28 minutes a black person is going to be stopped by the police in the United States.
Q. What does it mean to be a Black Civil and Human rights activist in the 21st century than it was 50 years ago?
I think it means the same thing today that it meant 20 years ago. In my humble opinion not speaking as a scholar, or expert, or agitator; If there's anything that we've learned, that is that the struggle for racial justice, and the struggle for social change, are protracted struggles. These are struggles that are going to last for the rest of our lives, and maybe struggles that are taken up by future generations.
Racism is not going to disappear anytime soon. In fact, I would go as far to say that the United States cannot continue in the social, economic and political manner. We cannot continue to become more and more segregated and economically unequal society. The gap between rich and poor is greater today than it was when Dr. King was assassinated. In fact, one could say that the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest people in the United States is the widest in human history. The feudal times of empires would be envious.
The United States is one of the richest countries, yet it lags behind the rest of the modern world, and it is going to be forced to move towards the kind of socio economic structure that reflects other advanced industrialized countries, especially in the issue of policing. But even after it does, we will still be struggling with racism, because racism is so deeply embedded in the social, economic political events. It’s in the cultural and psychological fabric of our society, that even after we move toward a more egalitarian model, we will still be carrying on and struggle with racial inequality in this country.
Our police kill more than the police in the other industrialized countries, our inequalities greatest, our rates of incarceration are the highest, our benefits that go to the working class are the lowest, even life expectancy is low.
Q. When you say that America is one of the richest countries, do you believe that this is more of an illusion or reality?
No, I think it is a reality. The problem is that when we say the richest country, we're really looking at an overall statistics of average median income, not reflective of the distribution of the wealth of the country, within the country to the rest of the population. When you average it all out, or add it all up, our country has more wealth than other countries, but it is more unequally distributed than in other countries. This is the underlying underpinning of a lot of the social distress and social unrest that exists in the country. It's economic inequality that undergird racial bias. People look at the distressed condition of the masses of African Americans. The racist with the race, they will look at those people, they're the most incarcerated, etc, etc. But it's a circular argument, because the reason that they're the poorest, and the reason they're the most incarcerated is because of the economic inequality.
The date when we were brought here at the bottom of society as the enslaved, and we would get there by all institutions, legal, and otherwise 400 years of enslavement in the Western Hemisphere. I mean, consider that only 150 years out of slavery and then after enslavement, there was another 100 years of apartheid.
So yes, when we say that the United States of America is the richest country, it's an overall kind of shorthand for the wealth that exists in the country. When you just go one layer deep, and deal with the actual distribution of the wealth it's a small number of people at the top that hold most of the wealth than the rest of the country. The majority of people in America are working poor.
They live either below the poverty level, or at the poverty level. The majority of citizens in the United States have a difficult challenge that has existed for the last 150 years or so. It has been the ability to try to build a movement that will bring all of these folks together to change the system. This is what Dr. King was trying to do at the end of his life. He was trying to build a movement. In fact, his last project was ‘the poor people's campaign’. He was trying to bring the poor of all races together.
Q. Is the COVID-19 pandemic weakening or strengthening white supremacy?
This is a good question.The pandemic has exacerbated racial antagonism. It has highlighted the racial inequality that exists particularly within the health system. The policies formulated by the Trump administration have certainly exacerbated racial inequality, particularly in healthcare. One could make the argument that when Trump found out that the virus was hitting black and brown people the hardest, you can almost pintont that that’s when he decided that he wasn't going to take significant action to deal with the problem. Up until that point I can remember when the post office had announced the plan that it was going to send five masks, I think, to every family in America. Then the statistics came out that black and brown people were being hit the hardest, along with the poor, elderly, front line workers, and so on and so forth. At that point, it seems that the Trump administration took its foot off the accelerator to really do something about the problem. Some people have even said that, Trump should be charged with genocide, because he failed to really take action on this problem, because it seems to affect black and brown people at a greater rate.
When we talk about these problems, we really have to unfold them fully. Because if I say to you, that black and brown people die at a greater rate, it might lead you to think that more black and brown people are being killed by COVID-19 than white people. But that's not the case. A lot of people really can't grasp that nuance, that the majority of people that have been killed in this country by COVID-19 are white. The majority of people that are poor in this country are white, because white people right now, are the majority of people in this country per statistics until 2035.
When we say a greater rate, that means that black people die at a rate that's disproportionate to their percentage of the population. So, if black people are dying at the rate of white people, that means that that's relative to the size of our population. This is important, because if you're trying to build a multiracial coalition, to tackle a problem, or to tackle institutional racism, or to tackle racism in the healthcare system, or to tackle income inequality, and so on, and so forth, it's important to make clear that this problem affects everybody in society.
What has happened with poverty is that ‘the powers that be’ has put a black face on poverty.
Q. Based on the ongoing police killings, how can racial justice be obtained when the system and most authorities in charge are part of a racist system?
We have to continue to build on the movement that’s in existence. Some call it Black Lives Matters (BLM), others call it the anti-police brutality movement, and some people call it racial justice movement. Last year 20 million people marched and held demonstrations. People are marching in Minneapolis and around Minnesota every day this month. Our organization - People's Organization for Progress (POP) - holds something called ‘Justice for Monday’ where for the past five years now, we meet in front of the Federal Building in Newark and hold demonstrations.
To paraphrase Frederick Douglass –– on his deathbed, Douglass is alleged to have said ’agitate, agitate agitate.’
I'm saying today that people have to “protest, protest, protests. Don't stop the protests.”
The protests must continue, but it must be supplemented by educational work, because there's still a lot of people that are not as socially conscious and as aware of this problem, as they should be.
We have to participate in the electoral arena, and get these White Supremacists out of the town councils, the city councils, the boards of county boards of commissioners, the state legislatures and Congress.
We have to engage these people in the courts, our legal organizations have to fight the 361 bills to limit voting rights along with the 81 bills introduced in 31 states to limit and criminalize protesters.
Also, we have to engage in the legislative fight, to get progressive legislation passed, like the George Floyd act in the Congress, the police Review Board bill in the New Jersey State Legislature, and so on and so forth.
We have to build in the streets, we have to mobilize, educate, vote, engage the courts, and we have to fight for progressive legislation.
Q. In regards to the 81 bills you mentioned that have been introduced by Republicans in 31 States, not to stop cops from killing people, but to criminalize protesters for engaging in their first amendment rights. One of these bills was actually introduced in Minnesota in April 2020, and then reintroduced again April of this year. This is the same state where authorities turned grieving communities into a permanent adversary, and forcefully controlled military force after the state killed George Floyd and Duante Wright. How do you respond to these bills being introduced in the 21st century in America?
It indicates that these bills are part of a fascist and racist movement that is growing in this country. It’s the same movement. The fascists are the racists and the racists are the fascists, but it's fascist, because it's anti democratic.
It’s not just racist and it’s not just a bill that will enable people to discriminate against people from getting jobs, or getting housing. Those bills would be racist descrimination. These bills are fascist and anti democratic. It's anti democracy, it’s anti the Bill of Rights, it’s anti our current constitution, and it’s pro minority rule. Republicans want to keep their minority in power. I mean, they tried to overthrow the democratic election of November 3 2020.
These people didn't go to DC just to riot. They went to DC to stop the electoral college vote, and even after they ransacked the Capitol Building, there were 106 Congress people that voted to overturn the electoral vote, but they were in the minority. These people are determined to have power. They tried to execute a coup and make Trump a dictator. It failed. But, just because it failed, does not mean these people are going away. Now, it's coming back with a fury of 361 anti voting rights bill 81 anti freedom of speech, and anti freedom of assembly bills. We have to continue to build a movement in the streets to fight this, but we also have to put forward legit legislation to counteract, we have to go into court to challenge these laws, and we got to go to the polls, and get these people out.
Look at Georgia; if we were able to turn Georgia around, we can turn some of these other states around. We have to use every means available, be it marching, be voting, be economic actions like boycotts, or economic withdrawal. We also have to hold on to this majority in the Congress, and we have to expand the majority in the Senate, because bills like the George Floyd bill, HR1, HR4, and the statehood bill that just passed that DC are not going to become law until we get a firm majority in the US Senate. Unfortunately, even though the Democrats, if you count Vice President Harris, have 51 votes, but there are conservative democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema making it very difficult for democrats to get anything done, because they are taking positions that are Republican.
We have to fight back on all levels, building a broad and inclusive movement. We got to get the voting, the court action, the legislation, the education and the protests, all to work together.
If I'm for protests, I should not be against you, because you're for voting. If I'm fighting against police brutality, I should not be fighting against you because you want to save the environment. The environmental movement, the anti racist movement, the anti police brutality, movement, the labor movement, the women's movement, the LGBTQ movement, all movements have to learn to work in tandem.
We can still work on individual issues that's natural for people that have a common problem, to want to organize amongst themselves to solve that problem. But, we have to understand politics in America, so that we can take our demands and have them translated into law and policy.
We have to have a movement that's big enough and broad enough to impact the Congress, in order to change the Congress and to change the White House.
All of these parts, you know, it's just like the human body; all of the parts got to work together. A human body needs a heart, but the body is not going to do anything unless it has a brain, lungs, kidneys, etc, etc. The movement is the same way. We have all these different movements, but what we have to get our movements to work in tandem, to work in a coordinated way to bring about the end result. I'm black, I'm fighting police brutality, but I need clean air. I need clean water. I need food that is not poisoned. There is this thing in society where people say that the environmental movement is the white people’s movement, and that the movement against police brutality is the black people's movement. We have to overcome that, because that’s the wrong thing.
The movement for environmental justice and for a non polluted environment is everybody’s movement, the movement against police brutality is everybody's movement, the movement, for $15, minimum wage is everybody's movement; we got to get all the movements to work in a coordinated way, in tandem, so that we can have the results that we need. This requires that people overcome a kind of parochial view of politics, that politics is only the politics that affects the issue that I'm concerned about.
Politics, in a country, like the United States, involves the movement of large numbers of people. A large number of people is not like 200 people at a demonstration. In some towns, 200 people would be a large demonstration. In New York 20,000 people would be a large demonstration. But those are not really large numbers; to move society in a different direction. To change laws that will affect the entire society, you have to move millions of people, you have to move them ideologically, you have to move their thinking around specific issues, and you have to move them to the polls, to vote for people who in fact, are carrying the agenda that we want.
Right now, I think that a lot of us at the grassroots level, we have this parochial view of politics, and we have to expand our thinking and be able to do both things; we have to be able to act locally, and think globally. That means that we have to have strategies that could connect us and help us move together with larger numbers of people, environmental influences.
For us that are fighting for a police review board in Newark New Jersey, the environmental movement is important for us, the movement against gun violence is important for us, the movement for women's rights is important to us, because to get to those millions you got to make coalitions with people.Even around the issue of reparations for African Americans, we have to be on the forefront of the issue of reparations, because reparations for slavery it pertains directly to us. However, it cannot become law if we're the only ones that support this cause. For it to become law, it has to be passed by Congress, and to have something passed by Congress, that means that the large numbers of people in congressional districts throughout the country are going to push their Congress people to vote in favor of reparations. So, we have to act locally, but we also have to act nationally, and even act globally.
It's just like with this pandemic. As much as the pandemic is a national problem, it's also an international problem. We'll never get this thing under control, unless there is a global strategy. For example, the lack of vaccines in underdeveloped countries is our concern too, because it's the barrier. If the virus is not gotten under control in these underdeveloped countries, you're going to have new barriers, and the vaccine that we're getting right now will be ineffective. Again.
Q. Is freedom of speech still a thing in America?
Well, we have limited freedom of speech. We don't have absolute freedom of speech. And we have less freedom of speech than we used to, because of all of these challenges from the right who want to circumscribe it even farther, and it’s not just in regard to freedom of speech, but freedom of assembly, civil liberties, and voting rights. We have to do all that we can at the local and state levels to make sure that they don't get these bills passed.
Q. You briefly attended the Jersey City march against police brutality on Sunday, April 18. What is your take on the Jersey City's Mayor taking to Twitter to censor free speech of protesters, just because he didn't like what they were saying?
I think Mayor Fullop is wrong on this. It just amazes me how some people can get more worked up about the cops being called names than they are about the cops killing people. And believe me, Jersey City has had its share of police brutality cases. We were involved with a case in Jersey City, where a 15-year-old Michael Anglin was shot and killed by the police in the back of the head. It had such a profound impact on that family. The family was so distressed that ultimately they had to leave Jersey City.
Q. Staying on this mayor. He's a Democrat. Right?
Right. He's a Democrat, and he's not the only democrat that thinks that way. You know, the struggle is not just between Democrats and Republicans, that struggle is also within Democrats, amongst people in the Democratic Party.
With all that the police have done to black people, they are lucky that the only thing that's happening is that some young people are only exercising their first amendment speech. The people are having full knowledge of the depth of justice and repression that the police have engaged in against black people in this country. They should be held to pay. I'll just leave it like that.
I think it's unfortunate that Fulop made that remark. He should keep in mind the majority of police don't live in the city and ‘they don’t vote for you.’
However, the police are not just a paramilitary force. They're a political force, and these PBA (Police Benevolent Association) and FOP (The Fraternal Order of Police) associations, they support candidates for office, and they oppose candidates for office, and they make donations to people's campaigns. So they have influence over a lot of our politicians.
Q. Do you think we need to change that?
Absolutely. We have to break that stranglehold. Policing in America is at a very dangerous point. I believe we have around 800,000 sworn police officers in America, and if you add the people who work in the criminal justice system who are not sworn police officers, you have over a million people that work in policing institutions across this country. Bringing the United States as the second highest number of police in the world, only superseded by the People's Republic of China. But the People's Republic of China has four times the population of the United States. The People's Republic of China has1.2 billion, and we have 332 million people. The People's Republic of China has 1.5 million police officers. So we are only a fourth the size population of China, but we have a police force, almost as large as that of China. So per capita, we actually have more police in the United States. The police have become a force unto themselves, and they think that they are above the law, and that they can bend the will of the institutions of society to their will, and they have been doing that. It is now that a greater number of people are waking up to this fact.
The police as they're presently constructed, and as they function in society are a danger to democracy. It has been the position of the People's Organization for Progress, that there must be community control of the police. That all the police in America should be under civilian authority. That every town in every city should have a civilian police review board with subpoena, investigatory and disciplinary power.
Q. Do you support abolition of the police?
Well, I think sometime in the future, I hope that we can work in the direction of a society toward the evolution of our society to the point where we won't need police and prisons. I don't think we're anywhere near that at this point. If we take the word abolition and use it in the strictest sense, there's not a society on earth, not a nation on Earth, whether they're Communist, Capitalist, Social, Democratic, every nation on Earth, have police at this time. I think in this era, we have to deconstruct and radically transform policing for the interim period until we have evolved society to a point where we won't need police. I hope that we can get there one day, but for the moment, the police are going to continue to exist in our lifetime. We have to work to radically transform them into a more humane institution and on on racist institution.
Q. What advice do you have for young people who want to follow into your footsteps?
To get involved. One of the most encouraging things I've seen in the last few years is the way young people have taken up the cause of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and other victims of police brutality, the way young people have participated in Black Lives Matter protests and anti police brutality protests. It's a very encouraging sign.
My advice to young people is to get involved, to educate themselves, to read, read, read – progressive articles and books. To make use of all the progressive media that we have today, social media and the independent media, that we didn’t have when I was in high school 50 years ago, in the spring of 1971.
There's so much information out here for young people. It's very important for young people to read and study books starting with Dr. King ‘Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?’ and ‘A Testament of Hope : The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr’ – It’s the best of Dr. King, a 800 page from which a quarter is filled with speeches, articles and his sermons that he gave in the last year of his life. To really know what Dr. King was thinking, you have to read what he was writing at the end of his life. Although, I think some people tend to exaggerate, there is a difference in his thinking between 1955 and 1968 that you can’t deny, but there is also a lot of consistency. The goals were different, because it was focused on a specific issue, not as trying to change the whole economic system. When you read – ‘Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?’ – Dr. King is explicitly critical of U.S. imperialism, and U.S. monopoly capitalism.
II would also urge young people to read what Malcolm X said, and just like Dr. King read what he had to say in his last year of his life, the speeches he gave in 64 and late 63 after he was suspended from the Nation of Islam, because I think there's a big difference between the popular perception of Malcolm X, and what Malcolm X was actually saying at the end of his life. He was saying things like ‘you can't have racism without capitalism,’ or ‘you can't have capitalism without race.’ Malcolm was aware of the relationship between capitalism and racism. I think a lot of people really don't know, the breadth and the scope of what Malcolm was making and saying.
There’s a book titled ‘By Any Means Necessary,’ which is a book of Malcolm X speeches, and there's another book called ‘The final speeches of Malcolm X’ that I would urge young people to read.
People in highschool should read ‘A People's History of the United States.’ There are many books, too many to mention here. But, if they knew the philosophy ideology of Dr. King, particularly as he espoused at the end of his life, it would really raise their consciousness.
Young people should study, get involved in student organization, and make the student council relevant, not just talk about a ‘Halloween Party.’ Hold conversations about social issues affecting young people. For instance, all students should have different issues on their agenda, and they should be struggling to eliminate all student debt, and making college free. There should be a massive movement in this country to make college free.
Q. You said that students need to learn history. How can kids learn black history, if that's kind of missing in schools?
That is an excellent question. Blacks and others, not just blacks, are protesting for Black Studies in their schools. At the very local level, the students should either get the student council to form groups, to meet with the principal and tell the principal in school, and ask for black studies courses, and more black studies in the courses ‘that we already exist.’
Parents and students should go to the Board of Education, and make that demand publicly, at Board of Education meetings, but also at City and Town council meetings.
Young people need to know the history of slavery, and not just that. We had a history before enslavement. The history of ancient African civilizations, the history of European engagement with Africa, followed by the history of the slave trade and the history of black people in the United States.
People also need to press the state legislature in New Jersey. We have a law called ‘the Amistad law’ that passed in 2003. One of the prime co-sponsors of that bill is my fellow classmate, Craig Stanley, who was in the sitting with me when we marched out of our arts high school March 24, 1971. My real birthday is December 24, 1953, but I consider March 24, 1971 my social justice birthday.
Stanley went on to become an Assemblyman and he and his uncle were in the same state legislature bill ‘the Amistad Act,’ which requires Black Studies in all public schools in the state. of New Jersey. If people get laws like this passed at the state level, it will make it easier to get the black studies and make the Black Studies happen in all schools.
Q. What can we expect to see from you in the near future? Do you plan to run for public office again? Is that something that we can expect?
Yes, I do plan to run for U.S. Senate again in 2024.
I’m probably not going to run for any other office until that time. And that's not a long way away. This campaign would begin in 2023, which is only two years away.