Sen. Rice says farewell. ‘I haven’t yet finished everything I wanted to’ but ‘we moved the needle’ | Opinion

Published: Aug. 28, 2022

By Ron Rice

State Senator Ron Rice in front of the Newark Police Department in Newark, N.J. June, 16, 2020.

I’ve been asked to share some of my thoughts here as I prepare to retire from the New Jersey State Senate. After 36 years in office, that’s a tall order. But boiled down to its essence, it all comes down to gratitude.

First and foremost is my gratitude to everyone who has supported me all along the way, starting with the love of my life, my wife Shirley, and my children Ronald and Yuki. They have always been a great source of pride and the foundation that gave me solidity at my base and refreshed me during my hardest struggles in office.

I’m thankful for my parents and my loving extended family. The lessons they taught me as a child has served me well through all these years. My birth mother encouraged me to “stand up to injustice,” “speak out,” and “do all you can to educate and correct.” “Love them,” she said.

My stepmother reinforced that aspiration. “Whatever you do in life, don’t be silent when people who lack your knowledge are misinformed. Teach them. Stay strong in your convictions and maintain your integrity.” And my father often repeated a saying that became planted in my heart. “I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” My parents’ combined wisdom forged my spirit into one that can withstand adversity, stay focused on truth and fight for those less fortunate.

I cannot overstate my gratitude to the people of our great state. I owe everything I accomplished in the Senate to the people who allowed me to represent them and be their voice. They inspired me, motivated me, and propelled me to reach beyond what I imagined I was capable of – to the point that I’ve been called fierce, even combative. I’m proud of my reputation as a fighter because it’s OUR fight. I am fighting for all of us.

No matter our color, religion, gender identity, age, education, economic status, heritage, neighborhood, or anything else – not one of us is free unless we all are. Today, liberty and justice for all must begin with liberty and justice for those who have the least of it by leveling the playing field and lifting the people who have it the hardest. That is just basic human kindness. I never thought that was too much to ask. And it certainly isn’t too much to fight for.

My love of people sprouted on the Newark sidewalks I first walked at 9. I came of age in the neighborhood and went on to serve it as a cop, then a detective, and later as a councilman and deputy mayor. Without the people I grew up with in Newark, I would have no reason to stand up for anything. But I wanted us all to have a better place to live.

It has been the honor of my life to represent my district’s best interest in Trenton. Together, we did make it a better place to live, and at every turn, the people had my back and stood by me whether I was on the party line or off it. I think that’s because we are connected in a way that goes beyond politics and words. We see each other’s dignity.

I’m grateful to the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus, which allowed me the privilege of serving as its chair for 18 years. Together, in mutual respect and harmony, we accomplished much to educate and legislate what equity looks like. We have been a mighty voice combating anti-Black racism at its stealthy, ubiquitous roots and flagrant offshoots of expression.

We have stood up against bigotry in all its forms and fought for the rights of all minorities and women. And we grew the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus Foundation into a formidable financial entity and a strong component of the Legislature and the political arena.

I am grateful for every person throughout New Jersey who joined our social justice coalition, including beloved Black elected officials in every corner of our state at every level of government, civil rights activists and faith-based leaders. Without each and every one of you, we could never have made the impact we did or taken the next step forward.

I haven’t yet finished everything that I wanted to. But our dreams are deep, and the work is vast. It’s taken generations for America to get a glimpse of what it wants to be, and there’s no telling how much more time it will take to evolve into a nation that approaches that ideal.

But we moved the needle in New Jersey; it is more just than it was. There is more equity and equality. And our policies and programs continue to become more compassionate and enlightened. We’re on our way.

I’ve been asked if I have any regrets. I don’t.

I can’t remember one night that I put my head on the pillow and wondered if I had done the right thing. Perhaps every once in a while, I questioned whether I had gone about things with the right tone of voice, but at the end of the day, every word of mine rang true.

Every move I made was to elevate others, to benefit my community and my constituents. I was never bought, and I was never bossed. I engaged in political scuffles and heated campaigns. Still, after the Senate vote or election day, we put our differences behind us and went on to work together to accomplish great things.

I’m proud of being the second African American senator in our State after Wynona Moore Lipman and the first Black senator elected under our new form of government. I have every confidence that the next senator from the 28th District will be elected based on their understanding of civil rights issues and their devotion to social justice and the programs and policies that will empower our community.

In that light, I encourage everyone reading this to give some thought to how they can contribute to making the world better in their own neighborhood and wherever their daily living brings them. I encourage everyone to consider if they are being called by their conscience and talents to run for office and be an authentic voice for progress in their community.

It doesn’t take an arm’s length of degrees to lead your community into a brighter future. All it takes is the desire to be useful, some common sense, and a big heart filled with compassion.

Don’t be afraid of your own power, and never be afraid of making trouble.

Sen. Ron Rice is retiring Aug. 31 after serving 35 years in the state Legislature.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-08-29 02:38:38 -0700