New Township Committeeman McGehee: Inclusion in Maplewood Is ‘Up to Us’

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The following is a transcript of remarks given by newly sworn-in Maplewood Township Committee member Frank McGehee at the January 1, 2017 Township Reorganization Meeting:

Reverend Pastor Nelson, Imam Mubarak-Rowe, Rabbi Edelman, Mayor Deluca, Township Committee members, Township Staff and fellow residents of Maplewood.  

Happy New Year and Good Afternoon. It’s an honor to stand here in front of all of you today.

I would like to acknowledge my family, my wife Marie, my daughter Madison, My Dad and his wife, and cousins who are present.

Marie, thank you for your unwavering support and dedication not only during this past year of campaigning but through the years. I love you.

The effort to communicate and physically interact with Maplewoodians from every corner of our town was nothing less than a collaborative effort. Dean Dafis, Erin Scherzer, Tom Carlson – a heartfelt thank you. You were there every step of the way. I appreciate your management, time, energy and guidance.

Fred Profeta, US Congressman Donald Payne, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, Assemblyman John McKeon, Mayor Vic Deluca, Village President Sheena Collum, David Humer, Ian Grodman, Christine Houseworth, Malia Herman, Robert Wise, Beth Jansen, MB Jarosik, Frank Lazare, Carl Patterson, Heather Berman, Harold Babrow, Allison Ziefert. Thank you for your counsel, support or artist eye.

Greg Lembrich/Alex Carter, Fred and Sue Profeta, Chris and Tre Danuser, Nancy Adams and Sal Renda, thank you for opening your homes and providing the opportunity to engage with our great Maplewoodians, to listen and learn about what is important to them.  

To The Maplewood Democratic Committee, Chairman Ian Grodman, Vice Chair Garnet Hall, Brenda Ross, Bill Streinburn, Kathy Leventhal, Sheila Kenny, Kurt Kiley, Lara Laquori, Jose Padron, Amy O’Meara, Mark Loughney, Tammy Haynie, Ellen Sleeter, Bruno Lee, Gideon Romann, thank you for standing with me and by me as we pounded the pavement, braved the weather at times and knocked on the doors of homes throughout our community.  

To those who dedicated the time to publicly express in words our relationships, interactions, friendships and collaborative efforts to better inform our town, Ellen Davenport, Christina Taber-Kewene, Ariel Cohen, Chris Sabin, Robert Marchman, Indira Singh, Elizabeth Baker, Craig Goldstein, Maureen Jones, George Curtis and Ronni Schwartz. Thank you.

To Palmer’s Sweetery and Cafe, The Parkwood Diner, The Able Baker, The Maplewood Diner. Thank you for your support and flexibility. To everyone who donated their time, money or who expressed your support with a lawn sign, thank you, your contribution was invaluable.

Finally, I want to thank Marlon Brownlee for his service to our community, not just as a member of the TC for the last 6 years, but also as a boys and girls basketball coach, trustee for the Community Coalition on Race, and as a PTA president.

Marlon, I will continue to pay the rent for the privilege and honor.

Our community is a special place where families come to live and grow.

Some Maplewoodians have lived here for generations and others have been with us for just months. Regardless of tenure, it is important to be welcoming to all. To say those familiar words “Welcome to Maplewood”. To let new Maplewoodians know about the numerous opportunities to engage, contribute, and make a positive impact in our community.

You don’t have to look too far to see the impact of this way of thinking as it is standing in front of you today. It was through the warm-hearted interactions in Memorial Park, the simple hellos on the black top at Tuscan school or the conversation at an Achieve event that planted the seed that Maplewood is a place where I am not only proud to be a resident, but a community where I wanted the opportunity to serve and work to keep our town affordable, safe, inclusive and forward-thinking with future growth.    

Maplewood possesses great qualities, but we must continue to work together to maintain, achieve, and in some cases fix the attributes of our community that define its character.

Collaborating with my fellow Township Committee members, I look forward to continuing the work of reaching across the geographical aisle and exploring service and process opportunities with South Orange, Union, Irvington, Milburn, and Newark. Working with our town administrator and team to make sure that our vendors provide the highest quality of service for our community. 

Working with our town engineer and law enforcement to keep moving forward the process with state administrators of improving the traffic flows for our student pedestrians, commuter pedestrians, our stay at home parent or caregiver pedestrians, our seniors pedestrians, our visiting pedestrians. The safety and well being of people who walk throughout our town matters.

Continuing to push the conversation of diversity and inclusion, so our committees, PTA boards, neighborhood block parties, our employees, and our residents reflect this vision and no one can say that this is just an ideation.

That our infrastructure is prepared to absorb the growth and evolution of being a town of desirable residence and not lose Maplewoodians in its path that make up the essence of our community.

To be at the forefront of the conversion of environmental action and education – with education being a key driver so that our community is aware of the many quick wins that they can perform in their daily lives. Like most assets, an investment in Sustainability for our town will provide a great return for the future of Maplewood.

Just this past week, I visited my hometown community of Hyde Park. Hyde Park is a small neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago nestled between Lake Michigan, two major parks and the world-renowned University of Chicago. Many have described it as a utopia.

Growing up there, I was part of a community where interracial couples raised their families. Where same sex couples lived together as partners and no one thought anything of it. Where the leader of the Nation of Islam resided next door to his dear Jewish neighbor. Where black boys went to as many bar mitzvahs as they did sweet sixteens.

The local watering hole was a place where high school educated workers from the neighborhood shared a pitcher of beer with Nobel peace prize winners and professors tended bar or played a set during Sunday night Jazz.

Hyde Park was not perfect. There were issues and challenges that the community faced, times of racial insensitivity, disagreement over development projects by the University, occasional public safety issues.

But the residents worked together, and with the city government and with the county government. They addressed the issues and moved forward and today, the community is better for it.

Hyde Park today does not look the same. I admired all the new small businesses in the business districts, the new university buildings which fit into the historical look and feel of the community, the new bike path lanes and recycling trash receptacles. WHAT WAS the same was the people. The People walking the streets, patronizing the stores or playing in the park. It was still Hyde Park.

But the one thing that struck me the most was how much Hyde Park reminded me of Maplewood. And seeing and experiencing the evolution of Hyde Park brings me great hope and optimism for our town.

We too must continue to work to attract new small businesses to our business districts, ensure that the new developments fit into the historical look and feel of the community and work to retain the character of our town,support and promote alternative forms of transportation such as biking or walking and protect those who decide to engage in it. To collaborate as an entire town and support the enhancement of our core amenities by bringing our public library into the 21st century. 

To demand nothing less when it comes to inclusion. Not just Black and White, but Black, White, Latin and Asian, or ethnic orientation – Irish, Haitian, interracial couples, same sex couples, generation, economic status, religious beliefs, people living with disabilities, college educated or not, English speaking or not.

Today, my father is celebrating his 73rd birthday. He was the 1944 News Year’s Day baby at Provident Hospital on Chicago’s South’s Side. Provident Hospital, at that time, was the only hospital in Chicago where African American doctors could practice and one of the few where black women could give birth.

He has seen a lot, and it is his institutional knowledge which I lean on to remind me and ground me regarding how something that seems like a given now, was not prevalent then. How the idea that a person with the label of Black could feel or think that they were limited in the country of opportunity.

Fast forward to today, why should anyone continue to condone or support the idea of the new label, immigrant.

My wife came to this country as an immigrant and many people in this room are the products of immigrants. Immigrants patronize our businesses, are trusted with our children when we go to work, and volunteer at our PTA events. 

Why should any Maplewoodian think or feel that they are limited in the country of opportunity? Not in Maplewood, not now, not tomorrow, not ever!

Many Maplewoodians continue to reflect on the outcome of our national election. Some have become disillusioned or disenfranchised. But it’s important to remember that true change happens at the local level. Washington is not going to fix what’s happening in our schools, that’s up to us. Washington is not going to make sure that our seniors have affordable housing, that’s up to us. Washington is not going to make sure that we have the right mix of small businesses that can successfully thrive, that’s up to us. Nor is Washington going to make sure that we are not discriminating against each other, that’s up to us. It’s up to us to ensure that we are using our resources efficiently. It’s up to us to ensure that our pedestrians are safe. It’s up to us to ensure that we are sustainable.

We are a community of families, schools, places of worship, teams and organizations. Collectively we are 24,000 strong. Our community is a shining example of the best that America has to offer. And by living up to that example, we have an opportunity to further develop the quality of our great community.

So today, I am challenging everyone in this room, watching this broadcast, to become even more engaged in the Maplewood community that we hold so dear.

I am extremely humbled to be given this awesome responsibility to serve you on the Township Committee.

Thank you for putting your trust in me. God bless Maplewood and God bless the United States of America.

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