Member Spotlight: Andrea McChristian, Law & Policy Director, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice


Headshot, Andrea McChristian

“It is important for us not to be operating in silos as communities of Color, but rather we must work together because our collective advocacy gets things done”

-Andrea McChristian, Law & Policy Director, NJISJ

Andrea tells us who she is, what she does and why…

I am the Law and Policy Director at the NJ Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ). NJISJ, based in Newark, New Jersey, uses cutting-edge racial and social justice advocacy to empower people of color by building reparative systems that create wealth, transform justice, and harness democratic power – from the ground up – in New Jersey.   

I do this work for my ancestors who lost so much for me to be able to be here today. I do it for my current community because as a lawyer, I feel it incumbent upon me to use my expertise to support communities of Color. I do this work for my parents. They invested so much in order for me to have what I have.

Andrea on the importance of achieving policies that are rooted in racial and social justice… 

As the most recent Census data shows, people of Color are 48% of New Jersey’s population (and probably more!). Our state cannot prioritize racial and social justice without recognizing we are home to some of the worst racial disparities in the country, such as mass incarceration, education, health outcomes, the racial wealth gap and more. Being that our population is so large, our voices must be heard. We are excited to work with NJAIJ on a number of issues, from redistricting to ending mass incarceration. It is important for us not to be operating in silos as communities of Color, but rather we must work together because our collective advocacy gets things done.

Andrea on what some of the Institute’s campaigns and recent successes are…

The Institute’s work focuses on three interconnected pillars: economic justice, democracy and justice, and criminal justice reform. Our aim is to topple the walls of structural inequity in New Jersey, specifically for communities of Color. Within our economic justice pillar, we recently were able to get a student loans data collection bill passed. The new law will allow for greater transparency in New Jersey to understand how much debt graduating students are accruing by race, ethnicity, gender, and first generation status. This is critical to our work to ensure debt-free college. We were also successful in introducing the first in the nation statewide Reparations Task Force bill, and continue to fervently advocate for this legislation as part of our #SaytheWordReparations campaign. The Institute is also about to release a racial wealth gap report, which will target the various factors that have led to New Jersey having one of the highest racial wealth gaps in the nation.

Within our criminal justice pillar, we have a major campaign called #150YearsisEnough, aimed at closing New Jersey’s three youth prisons. Through this campaign, we were able to get the closure announcement of two of New Jersey’s youth prisons, as well as ensuring that New Jersey became the first state in the nation to test all of its incarcerated youth for COVID-19. This secured the release of over 100 young people from state youth facilities. Most recently, the Institute also won the appropriation of $8.4M for the development of restorative justice hubs in four cities that are disproportionately impacted by youth incarceration. Our campaign is now hyper-focused on closing our state’s failing youth prisons once and for all.  

With our Democracy and Justice pillar, our #1844NoMore campaign restored the right to vote to 83,000 New Jerseyans on probation or parole. Our advocacy also led to online voter registration, automatic voter registration, early voting in New Jersey, and limiting police presence at polling locations. We are currently involved in the redistricting process, as part of our #FairDistrictsNJ project, to ensure that racial equity is at the heart of the redistricting process. And we are working diligently with partners to ensure that same-day voter registration is passed into law this year.  

We have a very busy body of work, and we are very excited to keep expanding it.

Andrea on what Black History Month means to her…

When I was in college, acting was my primary extracurricular activity. A number of racist incidents occurred on campus, and I felt that my specific grievances as a Black woman weren’t being addressed. In response, my friends and I decided to reactivate Yale’s NAACP, which had been dormant for about a decade. One of our first activities was centered around Black History Month, where we put facts all over campus about historical Black figures. For me, Black History Month is personal because it represents a shift in my life towards doing racial and social justice work.

Black History Month also provides an interesting moment after the racial reckoning of 2020. It was then that many people (for the first time) understood the depth of structural inequity. We may now see legislators using hashtags and talking about racial equity, but, at the same time, we see that they are not willing to invest in Black and Brown communities. So I reflect on Black History Month for personal reasons, but also see it as a rallying cry to address the persisting injustice that communities of Color face. We must expose that New Jersey has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation. We must expose that there is a lack of investment in communities of Color. We must expose that there is a long and horrific history that has led to the inequities we see today. That is what it truly means to honor Black history.  

Andrea gives a piece of advice to people of Color interested in policy advocacy…

It frustrates me to enter a space and see nothing but white faces speaking about racial justice. It is critical to have allies, but the experts who are most needed in this work, and who have solutions grounded in lived experience, are people of Color. Sometimes people of Color may opt out of these spaces because they believe they don’t have the fancy degrees or sufficient system-knowledge to be present. But, people of Color are experts in their experience. It has nothing to do with a fancy degree or title, and everything to do with your expertise as an impacted person. I encourage community members to get involved. Know that you are the expert and have the power to get the work done. You don’t want people outside of your community telling you what you and your people need. You know what you and your people need.

Andrea shares what she is passionate about outside of work…

A lot of what I am passionate about is connected to my work. I am passionate about being a Black woman. I am passionate about social and racial justice. But outside of work, another passion I’ve recently rediscovered is acting. Right now, I am part of a community play. It is really exciting to have an outlet. As part of self care, it is important to make time for hobbies. There was a time when I questioned myself what my hobbies were, because work is such a large part of my life. But, as I continue to do this work, I am passionate about making sure I am a full person. The work of social change is not 9-5. It consumes a person, and it’s easy to burnout. You have to make sure you are taking care of yourself first to be the best steward of this work.

Visit NJISJ’s Action Center: Take Action (njisj.org)

Call on NJ to create a statewide reparations taskforce at 400yearsnj.org  

Endorse Fair District NJ’s Unity Map sign-on letter to ensure racial equity is central to the legislative redistricting process

Urge President Biden to award Fred D. Gray, a lawyer of the Civil Rights Movement, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom: Petition · Give Mr. Fred D. Gray the Presidential Medal of Freedom! · Change.org


Headshot, Andrea McChristian

“It is important for us not to be operating in silos as communities of Color, but rather we must work together because our collective advocacy gets things done”

-Andrea McChristian, Law & Policy Director, NJISJ

Andrea tells us who she is, what she does and why…

I am the Law and Policy Director at the NJ Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ). NJISJ, based in Newark, New Jersey, uses cutting-edge racial and social justice advocacy to empower people of color by building reparative systems that create wealth, transform justice, and harness democratic power – from the ground up – in New Jersey.   

I do this work for my ancestors who lost so much for me to be able to be here today. I do it for my current community because as a lawyer, I feel it incumbent upon me to use my expertise to support communities of Color. I do this work for my parents. They invested so much in order for me to have what I have.

Andrea on the importance of achieving policies that are rooted in racial and social justice… 

As the most recent Census data shows, people of Color are 48% of New Jersey’s population (and probably more!). Our state cannot prioritize racial and social justice without recognizing we are home to some of the worst racial disparities in the country, such as mass incarceration, education, health outcomes, the racial wealth gap and more. Being that our population is so large, our voices must be heard. We are excited to work with NJAIJ on a number of issues, from redistricting to ending mass incarceration. It is important for us not to be operating in silos as communities of Color, but rather we must work together because our collective advocacy gets things done.

Andrea on what some of the Institute’s campaigns and recent successes are…

The Institute’s work focuses on three interconnected pillars: economic justice, democracy and justice, and criminal justice reform. Our aim is to topple the walls of structural inequity in New Jersey, specifically for communities of Color. Within our economic justice pillar, we recently were able to get a student loans data collection bill passed. The new law will allow for greater transparency in New Jersey to understand how much debt graduating students are accruing by race, ethnicity, gender, and first generation status. This is critical to our work to ensure debt-free college. We were also successful in introducing the first in the nation statewide Reparations Task Force bill, and continue to fervently advocate for this legislation as part of our #SaytheWordReparations campaign. The Institute is also about to release a racial wealth gap report, which will target the various factors that have led to New Jersey having one of the highest racial wealth gaps in the nation.

Within our criminal justice pillar, we have a major campaign called #150YearsisEnough, aimed at closing New Jersey’s three youth prisons. Through this campaign, we were able to get the closure announcement of two of New Jersey’s youth prisons, as well as ensuring that New Jersey became the first state in the nation to test all of its incarcerated youth for COVID-19. This secured the release of over 100 young people from state youth facilities. Most recently, the Institute also won the appropriation of $8.4M for the development of restorative justice hubs in four cities that are disproportionately impacted by youth incarceration. Our campaign is now hyper-focused on closing our state’s failing youth prisons once and for all.  

With our Democracy and Justice pillar, our #1844NoMore campaign restored the right to vote to 83,000 New Jerseyans on probation or parole. Our advocacy also led to online voter registration, automatic voter registration, early voting in New Jersey, and limiting police presence at polling locations. We are currently involved in the redistricting process, as part of our #FairDistrictsNJ project, to ensure that racial equity is at the heart of the redistricting process. And we are working diligently with partners to ensure that same-day voter registration is passed into law this year.  

We have a very busy body of work, and we are very excited to keep expanding it.

Andrea on what Black History Month means to her…

When I was in college, acting was my primary extracurricular activity. A number of racist incidents occurred on campus, and I felt that my specific grievances as a Black woman weren’t being addressed. In response, my friends and I decided to reactivate Yale’s NAACP, which had been dormant for about a decade. One of our first activities was centered around Black History Month, where we put facts all over campus about historical Black figures. For me, Black History Month is personal because it represents a shift in my life towards doing racial and social justice work.

Black History Month also provides an interesting moment after the racial reckoning of 2020. It was then that many people (for the first time) understood the depth of structural inequity. We may now see legislators using hashtags and talking about racial equity, but, at the same time, we see that they are not willing to invest in Black and Brown communities. So I reflect on Black History Month for personal reasons, but also see it as a rallying cry to address the persisting injustice that communities of Color face. We must expose that New Jersey has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation. We must expose that there is a lack of investment in communities of Color. We must expose that there is a long and horrific history that has led to the inequities we see today. That is what it truly means to honor Black history.  

Andrea gives a piece of advice to people of Color interested in policy advocacy…

It frustrates me to enter a space and see nothing but white faces speaking about racial justice. It is critical to have allies, but the experts who are most needed in this work, and who have solutions grounded in lived experience, are people of Color. Sometimes people of Color may opt out of these spaces because they believe they don’t have the fancy degrees or sufficient system-knowledge to be present. But, people of Color are experts in their experience. It has nothing to do with a fancy degree or title, and everything to do with your expertise as an impacted person. I encourage community members to get involved. Know that you are the expert and have the power to get the work done. You don’t want people outside of your community telling you what you and your people need. You know what you and your people need.

Andrea shares what she is passionate about outside of work…

A lot of what I am passionate about is connected to my work. I am passionate about being a Black woman. I am passionate about social and racial justice. But outside of work, another passion I’ve recently rediscovered is acting. Right now, I am part of a community play. It is really exciting to have an outlet. As part of self care, it is important to make time for hobbies. There was a time when I questioned myself what my hobbies were, because work is such a large part of my life. But, as I continue to do this work, I am passionate about making sure I am a full person. The work of social change is not 9-5. It consumes a person, and it’s easy to burnout. You have to make sure you are taking care of yourself first to be the best steward of this work.

Visit NJISJ’s Action Center: Take Action (njisj.org)

Call on NJ to create a statewide reparations taskforce at 400yearsnj.org  

Endorse Fair District NJ’s Unity Map sign-on letter to ensure racial equity is central to the legislative redistricting process

Urge President Biden to award Fred D. Gray, a lawyer of the Civil Rights Movement, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom: Petition · Give Mr. Fred D. Gray the Presidential Medal of Freedom! · Change.org

New Year, New Team, New Session | Same Fight for Justice

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January Newsletter

Archived 2017 picture of NJAIJ rally against the Muslim Ban.

Friends, I'm writing with a personal message this month.
January marks one year since I joined NJAIJ and one year since we grew our team to include our Movement Building Coordinator, a role that has transformed how we empower immigrant communities all across the New Jersey. In my twelve months in coalition with you, I feel both grateful and galvanized.
In that year, New Jersey also
became the first state on the East Coast to ban ICE detention agreements. We became the 15th state to enact a status-neutral drivers' license program, and fought for a first-of-its-kind direct cash benefit program, the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund, to provide relief for households excluded from federal stimulus. We made history together, and I'm humbled by and in awe of your fight.
It's January again and we are pleased to announce that we are growing our team again, too!
I am thrilled to be joined in this work by advocates who have an unwavering dedication to social, racial, and economic justice. Please join me in welcoming:

Michelle Ancil, she/her, Communications Coordinator. Laura Bustamante, she/her, Policy & Campaigns Manager. Aidee Pascual, she/her, Administrative Assistant. Kat Phan, she/her, 2022 Intern.

Click to read more about our team.

January is a time of renewal and reflection.
This month, we highlight Selaedin Maksut, Executive Director of the New Jersey chapter of Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ). CAIR-NJ is at the fore of the fight to designate January as Muslim Awareness and Appreciation month. Selaedin reminds us about the importance of reflecting on the legacies and movements that came before us and celebrating the richness of our diversity.

In Solidarity and Community,
Amy Torres

 

Member Spotlight

 It's a blessing to be a part of a social movement that stands on the frontlines. We proudly and humbly stand on the shoulders of those that came before us, and the legacies of those who did tenfold of what we are doing today. Championing these causes and being a voice for the voiceless is a huge honor and blessing," says Selaedin Maksut, Executive Director, CAIR-NJ

 
A header image with the words

THE VALUES ACT IS HERE!

The Values Act was re-introduced in the Assembly and Senate as A1986/S512. The Values Act would provide critical protections that allow New Jerseyans to seek support from state and local agencies without fear of deportation. Tell your legislator you expect to see their support!

 

NILC Features NJ's Anti-Detention Law

National Immigration Law Center

The incredible campaign behind the bill that banned new ICE detention agreements, renewals, and expansions was featured in the National Immigration Law Center's annual report on Winning in the States.

The report celebrates New Jersey's win by acknowledging the many fronts of the battle: "The anti-detention fight in New Jersey has been a decades-long movement...but with closure announcements and the ban on new and renewed contracts, New Jersey will not have any ICE detention centers after 2023."
 

Excluded NJ Fund Falls Short

In the midst of the news that major parts of the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund had been diverted and then quickly restored, New Jersey Policy Perspective released a report.

NJPP's analysis finds, "[e]ven if the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund were kept at its original funding level, it does not match the aid provided to others facing financial hardship due to COVID-19." The report goes on to say, "not only do payments...fall far short of the cost of living in New Jersey, but the size of the fund is also too small to reach all excluded workers."
 

Fair Legislative Districts

Legislative redistricting is still underway but time is running out! Your voice is needed to make sure maps are fair, racially just, and representative of your community. 

NJAIJ is a proud member of the Fair Districts coalition. 
Research shows that public testimony at redistricting hearings is effective when it offers specific instructions to mapmakers, focuses on small-scale changes (like keeping a neighborhood together), and effectively defines a community and its needs for representation. You are the expert on your community. Get involved!
 

Ready to act? Spread the word:

New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice


P.O. Box, 200492,  | Newark, New Jersey  07102| [email protected]

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