In Newark, remembering MLK’s call for economic equality

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

“The truth of the matter is, people won’t talk about it, we have two New Jerseys,” said Pastor David Jefferson Sr.

That’s why he invited a crowd to Newark’s Metropolitan Baptist Church to renew their commitment to Martin Luther King’s vision. Just weeks before he was slain, King preached, “… our struggle is for genuine equality — which means economic equality.”

“It is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages….” preached King on March 18, 1968 in Memphis.

Now, with a new governor about to be sworn in, Jefferson called for a statewide Economic Justice Advisory Council.

“We no longer want these backroom deals cut. We no longer want this isolation where somebody gets something over here, and somebody gets something over there, but the masses do not benefit from it. We can’t have that any longer,” said Jefferson.

“We just all need a chance, that’s what it’s always been about. It’s real simple. But when it comes down to that everyday thing, that privilege is not going to happen anymore,” said business owner and music producer CeCe Rogers.

The numbers show inequality pervades the economy. Out of more than 840,000 New Jersey small businesses last year, 28 percent were minority-owned. But African-Americans still lagged behind other groups. Surveys show the number of minority-owned businesses increased 30 percent from 2007 to 2012, more than 36 percent for Hispanics, almost 21 percent for Asians but only 5.5 percent for African-Americans. Steve Van Kuiken’s firm McKinsey & Company studied New Jersey’s troubled economy.

“I think we need to create much more collaboration in this state and more of a community around these businesses, so we’re all helping these businesses get through that early stage. Because I think what’s happening is they’re starting, but they’re not getting through that initial risky growth stage. And I think if we can do that, we’ll really see these businesses take off,” said Van Kuiken.

Governor-elect Murphy has promised to raise New Jersey’s minimum wage to $15 per hour and provide earned sick leave and equal pay for equal work. But business leaders say sometimes you need to engage on a local level.

“We want to provide our expertise around financial literacy, both to individuals and entrepreneurs, so they can do that. So we mentor companies as well,” said Michael Hopkins of Broadridge Financial Solutions.

King said, “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter, if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger?” Advocates want some solutions so that people can eventually buy the lunch counter and open it as a business.