My name is Danit Brahver, and I’m a Verona resident on the Northeast side of Verona close to Cedar Grove. My wife, myself, and our 2 cats and 2 dogs can’t get enough of the quiet and calm here! Thank you for being so welcoming towards us.
I was raised in Teaneck, and relocated to Verona by way of Boston a few years ago. I am a proud product of the Teaneck public school system, the first school system with a majority white township in the U.S. to voluntarily integrate in 1965 thanks to the efforts of fearless community activists! I am a family doctor who specializes in women’s health, a graduate of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and I am proud to be serving my N.J. community.
In the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many more black lives, I wanted to share my thoughts on race and how it affects us here in Verona. I’m sure that similar conversations are happening in families, schools, and places of worship, and I am excited to join and continue these important conversations with anyone who is interested.
In this critical moment in history, I wanted to reflect on the legacy of the Verona-Newark busing project of 1968-69. At that time, in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination, leaders in the Verona clergy and Board of Education (BOE) decided to start a voluntary busing program that allowed Newark’s minority elementary students to attend Verona elementary schools at no cost to Verona in an effort to level the playing field. Newark schools at the time were cited and failing.
As many of you can remember, the move sparked a lot of drama. Opponents were fearful that desegregation would seriously destabilize Verona and dilute resources, while busing advocates were deeply angered by growing racial inequalities. The project had the support of Verona’s BOE majority and local clergy leaders and was enacted for one year. But unfortunately, after a year of facing legal battles and literal death threats from opposition, the BOE couldn’t quiet the opposition. The busing budget was not reinstated and the project was disbanded.
The legacy of this racist decision continues in our town today. How was this decision a racist one?
In 1968 at the height of the busing conflict, one of its architects, Hilda Jaffe, recalls being asked “Why should we be concerned with these children?”, a question that stuck with her because it implied that we, as Verona community members, should not be concerned with the welfare of children living outside our jurisdiction. By choosing not to extend our concern to those other children at this critical moment in our history, our community essentially made a statement about our values. We were more comfortable leaving open elementary slots unused in 1969 than filling those slots with outside, brown bodies at no cost to our town; even though, by all objective measures, the 1968 experiment was successful (Newark students’ test scores did markedly improve from beginning to end, and no student was harmed).
“But at what cost to the town?”, opponents cried. People were afraid! Unsubstantiated but long-held fears about the “corruption of our schools” and destabilization of our community were at the forefront of the oppositions’ arguments. The imagined threat to our community carried more value for us at the time than the benefit to minority children who were simply looking for a seat at the table. Why did we fail to consider their value and experience?
The decision to end the busing project in 1969 was a racist decision because racism, by definition, is a system of oppression that assigns value to a person on the basis of their race.
In our current moment, it is not enough to name historical examples of racism like this one. We must atone for it and actively fight to dismantle it at the personal/values level and at the structural level.
If our community was not comfortable busing from outside in the 1960s, perhaps it is time – 50 years later – to be intentional about creating an inclusive, diverse community where marginalized folks are encouraged to live among us. History has taught us that when we live and work alongside each other, we are united in common purpose and are capable of loving one another and thriving. It is possible for us to love one another and also celebrate difference. After all, racism is learned.
In the US right now, your zip code has a greater impact on your life expectancy than your genes!
Why should we care in Verona?
1) It’s wrong – someone’s successes shouldn’t be determined by the zip code they are born into.
2) There is an enormous waste of human potential when lives are segregated in this way.
3) Difference is a teacher. It makes us better.
Studies have found that desegregating or rather integrating our zip code has the power to level the playing field by providing equal access to:
1) safe, clean environments for everyone
2) education for everyone
3) economic opportunity for everyone
I do not have the answers for how we will tackle value-based and structural racism in our town. If we are unable to integrate our schools, perhaps the answer is hiring minority school teachers and requiring anti-racist training for students and parents.
I ask you to ask yourselves: “Why is our town majority White while surrounding towns are more diverse?” If you’re interested in seeing this change, I’d love to continue this conversation with you!
Danit Brahver, MD
Danit, thanks for bringing Verona full circle from past to present. My talk at the Verona library on March first seems prescient now. Keep at your mission.
Welcome to Verona! I will look forward to meeting you and your family on my next visit. My sisters and Mom are very active in the community, in fact one of them is responsible for this platform. I grew up in Verona and lived there recently with my family before relocating back to CA. My childhood experience with busing in Verona informed so much of my life. We welcomed students into our home daily for lunch and tutored them in their own school as HS students. The ethnicity of my own family is mixed and I guess I never thought anything of that – if there was anything to think – because of my childhood experience. I’ve watched our son be racially profiled and threatened because of the color of his skin and it’s not something you ever stop fighting when it happens to someone you love. Racism is real. We all have more work to do. Thank you for your part. I wish you well in Verona, it’s a beautiful community! Best Regards, Christina.
I am sorry I am so late to this letter but I wanted to thank you, Dr. Brahver, for your eloquent and urgent letter. There are so many people in Verona who share your sentiments and together we will acknowledge the realities of racism and work together for CHANGE. Our town must be part of the solution; loving our own children and wanting them to succeed isn’t enough. We must love and care about the lives and circumstances of all children and we must fight to end state sanctioned terrorism against young men and women of color. This must start–but not end–by our tireless efforts to get into office people who care. Thank you for your words.