Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Black Women of Influence in Hillside, NJ, and the Making of American HistoryBy Dr. Christopher Michael Jones
On Monday, April 4, 2022, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez along with a strong contingent of politicians, clergy, business owners, community activists, union leaders, and heads of organizations assembled on the grassy front lawn of First Baptist Church of Hillside to pray. The focus of that prayer centered on the well-being of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and the Senate Judiciary Committee vote scheduled to take place later that afternoon.
Having been given this task to pray four days before, I considered the magnitude of the moment. There will never be another time in history when a U.S. Senate Judicial Committee gathers on the 54th year of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination to affirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s candidacy to be presented to the U.S. Senate as the first African American female Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. In many regards, Judge Jackson is an existential representation of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech declared on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., on August 28, 1963. Judge Jackson is a dream come true, and the full embodiment of the hopes and dreams of so many black and brown girls who look just like her.
The thought hasn’t escaped me that Hillside, NJ is undergoing a bit of its own renaissance as it relates to dynamic black women serving and leading the local community. The Township of Hillside is the only municipality in the state of New Jersey currently being led by an African American female mayor, police captain, city councilwoman, district leaders, board of education president, and founder and president of a local NAACP chapter simultaneously. Each of these dynamic leaders work in tandem with an African American female county commissioner who is also a former Hillside mayor. This is history. This is our history. The story needs to be told about how Mayor Dahlia Vertreese, Commissioner Angela Garretson, Captain LaShonda Burgess, City Councilwoman Andrea Hyatt, Board of Education President Kimberly Cook, District Leaders Val Mayo and Monique Fletcher, and NAACP President and Founder Nicole Graves-Watson strive to lead ethically from a place of compassion as black women in power. They too share in the story of black women like Judge Jackson and have overcome some of the same systemic barriers which have made Judge Jackson’s ascension to the Supreme Court so improbable.
I stated in my prayer on Monday morning, “America has been afforded another opportunity, “to let justice roll on like a river, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” As the U.S. Senate prepares to take their vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first African American female Supreme Court Nominee in its 233-year history, I pray for the fulfillment of Dr. King’s prophetic words: “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” Let’s make history. In making history, let’s also make sure the whole story is being told.
The Reverend Dr. Christopher Michael Jones is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Hillside, NJ and Co-Mentor at United Theological Seminary, Dayton, OH.