The New Jersey Black Empowerment Coalition is a statewide nonprofit organization at the intersection of policy, democracy, and civic participation working to bring about equity of opportunity for Black people in New Jersey. The organization will educate key stakeholders and the broader public about relevant policy issues that encourage active citizenship and inclusive democracy to achieve sustainable change.
The New Jersey Black Empowerment Coalition (NJBEC) seeks to counter racial inequities, including the harm of disinvestment in historically Black neighborhoods, by empowering communities of color to participate in the “cornerstone” right of our democracy – the right to vote.
We believe that together, through accessible and culturally competent civic and voter education, we can address and correct persistent racial injustices through fair and inclusive legislation.
Disparities in New Jersey are extensive and devastating: The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice states that the Garden State is the sixth most segregated state in the nation for Black students. The median net wealth for white residents is $103,500, compared to $4900 for Black residents and $2300 for LatinX residents. The ratio of incarcerated Black youth compared to white youth is 18-to-1, the highest disparity in the country. These are ‘symptoms’ of disinvestment and systemic racism that can only be rectified through political power and policy changes, which require a sustained focus on voter education and empowerment.
Yet the challenges are formidable.
According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, in 2022, an estimated 23% of all young people voted: 21% of Asian youth, 15% of Black youth, and 14% of LatinX youth (In the 2020 presidential election, less than half of Asian, Black and LatinX youth voted).
Research indicates that the preparation our young people receive – or do not receive – to become informed voters is woefully inadequate, leading to widening gaps in voter turnout rates and participation among BIPOC voters.
Moreover, in New Jersey, 40% of eligible voters cast their ballots in New Jersey’s 2021 gubernatorial election, among the lowest turnouts in the past century. New Jersey is one of seven states that keeps many local elections separate from national elections, presumably helping voters concentrate on state issues. A downside of this strategy is that citizens are less motivated to vote when federal offices are not on the ballot, resulting in lower turnout.
Particularly in an era of rampant mis- and disinformation, with new forms of voter suppression challenging our democracy, NJBEC is a trusted, Black-led source of voter information and civic education. We work to ensure that BIPOC voters, with an emphasis on young people and low-propensity voters, know the value and power of their vote, including how to exercise it.
Tomas C. Varela Jr. serves as the Founding Executive Director for the New Jersey Black Empowerment Coalition and separate NJBEC Action Network. The organization is a statewide nonprofit organization at the intersection of policy, civic participation, and racial justice educating key stakeholders and the broader public about relevant policy issues and the importance of political and electoral empowerment for sustainable change. Previous roles include Director of Advocacy & Communication for The Urban League of Philadelphia where his advocacy efforts alongside statewide coalition members, led to over $300 million dollars in additional school funding allocated to the 100 lowest-funded Pennsylvania school districts.
Tomas has maintained a commitment to the community through his professional affiliations. Board service has included Freedom Prep Charter School, Temple University Alumni Association, Urban League of Philadelphia, Temple University Black Alumni Alliance, and the Chester Alumni Foundation of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. He is a graduate of the National Urban League Emerging Leaders Program, DiverseForce Board Governance program, and the Philadelphia chapter of the New Leaders Council.
NJBEC Founders Advisory Council
The organization stands on the shoulders of individuals who spent years cultivating the mission and vision for the New Jersey Black Empowerment Coalition. It is through their efforts that we are here to serve the community.
We acknowledge the following individuals for their service:
Pernell S. Brice
Hancey H. Davis
Rev. Dana Owens