Marchers call for better housing, jobs

Lakewood residents
state their case for
changes in town

Staff Writer

Lakewood residents
state their case for
changes in town
Staff Writer

VERONICA YANKOWSKI staff Marchers make their case for more affordable housing and well-paying jobs in Lakewood.VERONICA YANKOWSKI staff Marchers make their case for more affordable housing and well-paying jobs in Lakewood.

Some residents say Lakewood is a community of limited housing and limited well-paying jobs. On Sept. 20, many of those same people demonstrated that Lakewood is also a town of people with limited patience.

The housing and jobs march and rally, which was organized by James Waters, was attended by approximately 250 to 300 people, according to Waters and Capt. Rob Lawson of the Lakewood Police Department.

Waters is the president of the Lakewood chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

“I would have liked more people, but there was a funeral going on, a high school football game and the Renaissance Festival,” Waters said afterward. “The thing that’s really important here is that the Township Committee people [didn’t come]. [The protesters] deserve to be heard” by them.

Eugene Espinosa of the Puerto Rican Action Board also commented upon the absence of members of the Township Committee.

“The Township Committee will be given a list of demands in regards to the purpose of this march,” he said. “This township has not begun to address the issue of adequate housing and fair and decent wages.”

Espinosa promised that another march would take place again in the near future. However, he said he also was pleased with the turnout that day.

Beginning at the Lakewood Community Center on Fourth Street, protesters assembled in the parking lot outside the building as they prepared to begin a march that would take them up Fourth Street to Clifton Avenue, along that thoroughfare and down Cedar Bridge Road, then onto Martin Luther King Drive, where most of Lakewood’s black and Latino community lives, according to Waters.

“It used to be a traditionally black community,” said Waters.

He said he had planned that route to make the point that minority housing needs were not being met, and that members of other communities were increasingly purchasing real estate there to meet their own needs.

At the end of their march, protesters assembled on a nearby field adjacent to a playground. A trailer was parked on the grass in the center of the field while a scattering of people listened to speakers in English and Spanish.

As children played, a phalanx of police officers wearing sunglasses stood shoulder to shoulder beneath the shade of a nearby structure. Directly opposite, residents of all colors and ethnicities looked on beneath a blistering late summer sun as they leaned against a chain-link fence.

For some of those who spoke to a reporter from the Tri-Town News, the fence also served as a metaphor for the separation between the rhetoric of the activists by the trailer and those whose lives it failed to improve in any discernible way.

“This is not the time to preach,” said Lue Reynolds. “It’s the time to teach.”

Tyree Jackson agreed.

“(Rev. Thomas) Simpson is saying a whole lot of nothing. Action moves mountains,” said Jackson, referring to a local minister who was addressing the crowd.

Simpson described to his audience the loss of some of his congregation members to other towns after they were unable to use their Section 8 housing vouchers in Lakewood due to a lack of available living accommodations.

“Everybody knows the problem,” said Jackson.

“These people come here from Israel and get an apartment before a mother and child from the south do,” said Reynolds. “That’s not right.”

Both men were referring to the influx of Orthodox Jews into Lakewood in recent years that has made the search for available housing in town an increasingly difficult one for everybody.

“I’ll take it a step further,” said Jackson. “There are more Orthodox Jews on welfare than blacks and Latinos together. (Yet) they don’t participate in any of the Work Force New Jersey programs.”

When asked why not, Jackson said, “That’s a good question.”

Another Lakewood resident, Donald Dinwiddie, answered the question.

“Baby, you don’t have enough paper,” he said as a reporter took down their comments in a note pad.

“It’s kind of difficult to like anyone who’s trying to push you off the planet,” said Reynolds. “These people don’t even fight for this country.”

At that moment, Dorit Attias, a native of Israel who has lived in Lakewood for 15 years, approached the group from the other side of the fence.

Attias, a champion race walker, reminded the group that she was a reservist in the United States military as well as a municipal sanitation worker.

In spite of her contradiction of the stereotype the group of African-American men had painted of Jewish residents in Lakewood, they continued their discussion of that community’s monopolization of the town’s available housing resources.

“They want to buy the community,” said Dinwiddie.

Jackson saved his harshest criticism for the Township Committee members, none of whom had attended the march or the rally that day.

“I don’t hold no office, so I don’t have to hold my tongue,” he said, implying that committee members were politically sensitive to the needs of the Orthodox Jewish community at the expense of his own. “What it comes down to is the truth.”

Attias agreed with his assessment of the situation, if not his characterization of Jewish residents.

“A single person has a hard time to rent in this town,” she said. “We need more affordable housing. I’m a firefighter, so I have to be in town to respond” to emergencies.

In the field behind Attias, spectacle had replaced rhetoric. While a band played, a woman garbed in the stars and stripes of the American flag carried a sign with a coordinating fashion statement to make its point.

Not far away, near a pile of placards that lay on the parched yellowed grass, leaning against one of the amplifier speakers by the trailer, was a sign that asked the plaintive question, “Does anybody know I’m here?”