By Olivia Nicoletti and Kaitlyn McCormick
In the spirit of unity, New Jersey General Assembly member Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, featured High School Musical’s song, “We’re All In This Together,” during her keynote address for Rider’s Unity Day on Oct. 11.
Reynolds-Jackson, a democrat, was brought in by the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at the request of organizers for the 24th annual Unity Day hosted by the university’s Multicultural Studies Program.
Micah Rasmussen, a political science professor and the director of The Rebovich Institute, said in a statement to The Rider News, “Because Assemblywoman Reynolds-Jackson represents Lawrence Township in the New Jersey General Assembly, she is Rider’s representative, too. We are eager to build a relationship with her, and what better way than for her to visit campus and engage with our students?”
Born and raised in Trenton, Reynolds-Jackson, in her own words, “grew up in a melting pot of different cultures and perspectives.”
Throughout her youth and adolescence she involved herself in the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), a social movement that works to eliminate racism and empower women. This gave her the platform to “speak up and speak out.”
“I initially got involved in politics to advocate for my family, my friends, and my broader community. I saw that I could do more — so I did more,” Reynolds-Jackson said. “Since the beginning I have always sought to use public policy in government to empower my community and to give a voice to the voiceless.”
Last year she took the opportunity to sponsor legislation in teaching about inclusion and diversity. She believed that if parents “guide instructional lessons, they will help prepare students for a new world now and shape a dynamic workforce for the future.”
Responding to a question from senior political science major Sean Cavanaugh inquiring of any future plans to run for governor, Reynolds-Jackson explained that her path toward politics was not always concrete. Her initial aspirations were in early childhood education, but she said that “whatever God wants [her] to do, she’ll do.”
One of the biggest points made in the assemblywoman’s speech was the importance of not only voting rights, but voter engagement.
Reynolds-Jackson spoke of the 19th Amendment which enabled white women to vote, but did not allow for the involvement of women of color and other minority demographics. She noted that full voting rights were not extended until the passing of the 24th Amendment, and that there are still many voting issues present in the U.S. today.
Reynolds-Jackson cited issues of voter purging, lack of access to polling places and even deceptive flyers and robo-calls as barriers to voter engagement.
Using past United States House of Representatives for Georgia’s 5th congressional district John Lewis as an example, she said “his legacy is ours” and it is this generation’s job to “be good troublemakers.”
In line with her passion for voting rights, Reynolds-Jackson is one of the primary sponsors of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act of New Jersey, intended to ban deceptive practices and make voting more accessible.
“I’ve sponsored several legislation to ensure John Lewis’ work and our work as a state to expand voter rights and access to the polls,” Reynolds-Jackson said.
In light of the upcoming election on Nov. 8, Reynolds-Jackson indicated that she has seen efforts across the state legislature and across the country to silence voters, “to impede elections, to reverse the years of sacrifice and hard work and dedication,” and emphasized the importance of voter participation.
Reynolds-Jackson’s left attendees with plenty of material to consider the overarching importance of diversity and inclusion: “Our democracy thrives in its diversity, and in how we nurture it. Diversity is getting everyone to the table, but inclusion is facilitating an environment that allows everyone to embrace their unique voice and their perspective while they’re there.”