55th Anniversary of the Rutherford Civil Rights Commission
Updated: Sep 4, 2019
By Jennifer Ersalesi
On September 7th, the Rutherford Civil Rights Commission will have their 55th Anniversary Celebration at the Rutherford Public Library at 1 pm. This Celebration will allow the Commission to share its history and success with the community. It will be hosted by Steve Way, Education Chair of the Commission. There will be a number of guest speakers including: Congressman Bill Pascrell, Bill Einreinhofer (Filmmaker), Detective Al Anderson (Rutherford Police Department), Bill Galloway (Historical Preservation Committee), Joan Tidona (Former Commission Chair), Maria Begg-Roberson (Councilwoman) and Rob Lyons (Rutherford Pride Alliance). Bill Einreinhofer explained, "I grew up in Rutherford. My mother did too. She told me how in the 1920’s the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross here. They didn’t like that the town was home to African-Americans, Catholics and Jews. All these years later, those folks - and members of a lot of other so-called “minority groups” - are still here, while the Klan is a largely forgotten historical footnote."
"The fundamental purpose of the RCRC is to help people in town who feel they’ve been discriminated against, but we do even more for the community. It’s so important for us to raise awareness of diversity and civil rights, of how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go. Especially given today’s tumultuous political and cultural climate, it’s key for everyone in town to feel accepted with regards to their culture, gender, and any other identities," explained Sophia Masullo, Recording Secretary for the Civil Rights Commission and youngest member.
For 55 years the Rutherford Civil Rights Commission has been working tirelessly to ensure the civil rights of all citizens in the community. The Commission was founded by Mayor Justin Tokarski and his Council. Robert Wesp was one of the founders and pioneers of the Civil Rights Commission of the State of New Jersey. Robert Wesp once said, "Do justice, show mercy, walk humbly." The Rutherford Civil Rights Commission is proud that it is the first organization of its kind in Bergen County to do just that.
Any individual that feels that he or she has been discriminated against in any way can file a complaint by calling the Rutherford Civil Rights Commission at 201-460-3000, ext. 108 and press 7 or he/she can send a letter expressing their complaint to the Commission (Borough Hall, 176 Park Ave, Rutherford, NJ 07070). Additionally, all community members are welcome to attend a meeting on the third Wednesday of each month at Borough Hall in the Blue room on the second floor of Borough Hall at 7 pm.
To protect the civil rights of any community member who has filed a complaint to the Commission, the members will work with the local government and organizations to try to resolve the issue. If the issue cannot be resolved locally, the Commission will bring the issue to the NJ Division of Civil Rights, which is responsible for the enforcement of the NJ law against discrimination.
Rob Lyons, LGBTQ Chair, told TIR, "It means so much to me to be a part of the Civil Rights Commission which allows me to support the community by ensuring all residents receive the dignity and respect they deserve, no matter what their background is."
"Our Anniversary Celebration will not only highlight the Commission’s accomplishments, but also make all of Rutherford aware of everything we do and how they can help. As someone who was discriminated against in town, it is now my goal to make sure that does not happen to anybody else," explained Steve Way.
The Rutherford Civil Rights Commission is also responsible for many other events throughout the year. In May, they organize the successful and popular Multicultural Festival at Lincoln Park. Sophia Masullo told TIR, "I’m definitely most proud of our annual Multicultural Festival. Being on the Commission has made me realize – and gain a respect for – how much bureaucratic effort goes into such an event. It’s so great to help create something that brings so many people together over good food and good performances in a great town." To celebrate Black History Month, they host a special movie screening at the Rutherford Public Library in February.
"As the Commission’s LGBTQ representative, I feel honored to be able to ensure the LGBTQ community of Rutherford has a voice at the table. The Commission has been a great support, as Rutherford’s LGBTQ community has had increased visibility over the past year, through events such as the creation of the Rutherford Pride Alliance and the town’s first Pride Month Flag raising in June. Without the Commission’s work over the last 55 years, it may not have been the easiest road to accomplish the things the LGBTQ group has done," Rob Lyons.
Bill Einreinhofer, producer of the Rutherford Historic Narratives told TIR, "The tolerant Rutherford we see today didn’t just happen. It was the result of a massive amount of hard work and sacrifice. Our oral history series, Rutherford Historic Narratives, helps tell the story of how Rutherford became Rutherford. We use the medium most people refer to when looking for information - video. Our Google+ home page drew more than 30,000 views. That’s a tremendous audience for what is admittedly a small town history series."
The Commission also holds a poster contest open to all Rutherford students in grades K-8 and an essay contest for students in grades 9-12. To participate in the contest, students either create a poster or write an essay explaining what civil rights mean to them. Bea Goldberg, Board Chairperson, wanted to find a way to give back to students who follow the principles of the Civil Rights Commission, so she created two RHS Senior Presentation Awards. In June, the Commission awards two students with The Cameron Jalali-arki Civil Rights Award and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Civil Rights Award.
"Rutherford is made up of such a diverse community, however, that doesn’t mean that it ends there. Not only does the Commission focus on education, but we are also in place to support any Civil Rights matters that my arise. It’s important for our residents to know that we are there to offer support in situations where someone’s rights may be compromised," Rob Lyons told TIR.