In response to the racial violence and protests occurring throughout the country last year, Bergen Family Center Vice President Liz Corsini, MPH, and Director of Clinical Services Mariam Gerges, LCSW, partnered with Reverend Sanetta Ponton, Director of Metro Community Center, and community leaders Olga Correa and Yessenia Gonzalez, to launch the Racial Justice Institute. A group of local teens from diverse racial, economic, religious, and ethnic backgrounds discussed the ongoing issues.

bergenPAC Teaching Artist Derick Cross, a Brooklyn-based artist, performer, and art educator, who has served as a cultural Hip-Hop Ambassador for The U.S. State Department’s Next Level Program, then helped the students explore their feelings through visual art. 

“This important work empowers young people to have a voice through creative and artistic expression,” Corsini said. “Derick Cross creates a space for conversations about systemic racism, while supporting youth as they create anti-racist messages through art.”

Despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic, this program was a way for The Performing Arts School at bergenPAC to continue its community and educational outreach initiatives. Cross initially met with the students through Zoom until it was safe to have in-person sessions. The May 24 ceremony was a culmination of the program. 

New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, who represents the 37th District, delivered official proclamations to the young artists as they shared their visions with the community. The Racial Justice Institute was funded by the Russell Berrie Foundation, and thanks to the generosity of Fred and Andrew Fish, of Treeco, the art was hung on the side of the ShopRite building for the community to see.