VINELAND - Richard Smith, the five-term President of the NAACP Greater Vineland Branch, knows that racism exists.
Smith, who lived in Cumberland County for 20 years before moving last year to Mays Landing, worked on a case in Cumberland County where the owner never saw the prospective buyer of his home during the selling process. At the closing, the owner met the buyer for this first time, discovered she was black, and told her to her face that he couldn't sell his home to a black woman even though she had the money to buy it.
"You still have that insidious type of thinking in this day and age even in this county," Smith said.
But the major issues facing blacks in Cumberland County, southern New Jersey and nationally - the need for jobs and a thorough and efficient education - are as pressing as the assurance that we are all playing on a level playing field, Smith said.
"Public schools need to do better... There are changes that need to be made, but at the same time, we cannot blame our public school system for all that ails our community," Smith said. "Again, it starts at home. We have to make sure we send our kids to school with the proper attitude, ready to learn. We need to make sure that when they get home from school, we check their homework... make sure that they do their homework. The teacher can't go home with the kids, make sure that they do their homework, or that they turn off the PS3," Smith said.
Besides education improvement, there is a need for more jobs in Cumberland County, Smith said.
"In this county, we find ourselves at the top of some unflattering categories, teen pregnancy, joblessness and homelessness," Smith said. "Our leadership has to do whatever it can to attract business to this area, and when business comes to this area, then comes the education part because we need trained individuals, who businesses will be attracted to to come here."
African-Americans have to do some self auditing, Smith said.
"You look at people who came before us, like Martin King, Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall and Malcolm X, there has been a tremendous dropoff since those days. Folks had a different commitment level. We have to regain that commitment level because I think if Martin Luther King came back today, I think he would be very, very disappointed. I think he would be proud about some things, disappointed in other things. There should be no reason why 50 percent of black and Latino students are not graduating from high school. It's totally unacceptable," Smith said.