Member Spotlight on Tiara Moultrie, Policy Associate at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice

This month we highlight Tiara Moultrie, Policy Associate at our member organization NJ Institute for Social Justice. The Institute is leading the campaign calling on the New Jersey legislature to create a Reparations Taskforce.  Learn more on how to support the upcoming Juneteenth #SayTheWord: Reparations - March and Rally Here.

“Social justice requires action, it's a process we have to actively engage in whether through reflection and education or direct service. At a base level, the goal of those actions is to bring about a more just, healthy, and equitable world where no one is deprived of opportunity…” - Tiara Moultrie

About the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice...

Through racial and social justice advocacy the Institute seeks 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. We provide an independent voice for change which is necessary to create just, vibrant, healthy, and inclusive urban communities. Our advocacy is particularly important during this moment of recovery and repair because it addresses persistent inequality in the state and helps to chart a path forward. As we look toward a new normal the time for structural reform and repair is now.

Importance of Black and Brown solidarity... 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic Black and Brown people in New Jersey had little to no financial safety net. Almost half of Black and Brown Garden State residents have zero or negative net worth and one in four Black and Brown New Jerseyans do not have a bank account. The global health crisis and accompanying recession saw Black and Brown people experience record-high unemployment which continues to leave them increasingly vulnerable. As our Black and Brown communities continue to languish under the economic uncertainty brought on by years of disinvestment, the Institute is advocating for systemic reform that is transformative, achievable in the state and replicable in communities across the nation. Through support and collaboration, we believe we can begin to address the underlying root cause of the state's devastating racial disparities.

About recent wins...

The Institute has had a number of recent successes. During the height of the COVID-19 public health crisis the Institute and partners advocated for the collection and public reporting of COVID-19 demographic data which served to illuminate the disproportionate impact of the pandemic in communities of color. Our community engagement team's work with partners also contributed to NJ Public Health Credits bill being signed into law which set a national standard for curbing COVID-19 in prisons. Other victories include the passage of a progressive early voting bill in the state, restoring voting rights to people on parole and probation, the passage of a slate of bills that expand and diversify apprenticeships as well as defeating a bill that would have legitimized the police use of chokeholds. 

About current NJISJ campaigns... 

The institute is leading campaigns in a number of areas across our three pillars of social justice. In democracy and justice, we are leading campaigns on same-day voter registration, limiting police presence at polling places and ending prison gerrymandering. As part of our higher education and student loan reform work, the economic justice team is seeking to establish a statewide baby bond program and increase transparency by advocating for the collection and reporting of student loan outcome data by demographic. Our criminal justice reform team is advancing legislation to completely ban and criminalize law enforcement use of chokeholds as well as advocating for the total transformation of the state's youth justice system through youth prison closure and investment in a community-based system of care. Overarching all of this work is the Institute's call for a reparations task force to examine the generations-long impact of slavery in New Jersey and recommend strategic and reparative policies that address and repair that harm. 

About Tiara’s moment of politicization...

Interestingly, I can’t recall a singular moment of politicization. While some people can point to a specific instance that shaped their ideology or understanding of themselves as political beings, I think many people are rendered political in one way or another from birth. People from low-wealth, under-resourced communities, realize fairly quickly that they have needs that aren't being fulfilled-- sometimes that's a tangible need like housing, food, access to safe drinking water, heat in the winter and other times it's just a yearning a need for attention an overworked parent can't provide or for mentorship you can't find. All of those everyday occurrences contribute to people's politicization in that they shape your understanding of the world and your place in it. Even if there isn't a conscious recognition about how those things shape you, they create a foundation for questioning how we relate to one another and how we relate to the state by spurring questions about who is deserving of access. 

About what social justice looks like...

At the Institute, we do social justice. Social justice requires action, it's a process we have to actively engage in whether through reflection and education or direct service. At a base level, the goal of those actions is to bring about a more just, healthy, and equitable world where no one is deprived of opportunity. 

About Juneteenteen as a Black person in the North...

I think in the north it’s very easy to feel disconnected from Juneteenth but at its core Juneteenth is a communal celebration of freedom and our shared history. Marking the day when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned of their freedom more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The idea that people have access to freedom or liberties that they don't know about and can't take advantage of is especially interesting during this period of reckoning and reconciliation. Juneteenth will be celebrated as a state holiday for the first time this year and while it's a sign of progress it's also a symbol of how much more there is to do. The Institute along with elected officials and powerful advocates from across the state will mark Juneteenth by coming together in Newark to call for New Jersey to pass pending legislation (S322/A711) and establish a Reparations Task Force in New Jersey.

The last book Tiara read...

The last book I read was Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality. It’s a collection of essays edited by Toni Morrison on Anita Hill’s testimony at the Senate hearings on Clarence Thomas’ confirmation. I happened upon it at a volunteer book sorting event and was really taken by the introduction despite it being nearly three decades old.  

What brings Tiara joy in these turbulent times...

I found joy doing a lot of direct service and volunteer work during the height of the pandemic. The Institute, like many organizations, shifted to virtual programming which allowed us to reach new and larger audiences. In addition to that work, I was able to participate in virtual youth events and serve at local pantries. 

Another (admittedly random but calming) thing I took up for myself was floral arrangement!