New Jersey’s Latinx Faith Leaders Must Be More Civically Engaging | Opinion

By Nancy Sanchez

Religious leaders in New Jersey’s Latino community must do more to engage with local and state policy makers to elevate the collective voice and political influence of the Latino community.

While the Latino community plays a vital role in political affairs in the Garden State, faith leaders can do more to actively engage their communities in politics and policy decisions that directly impact their lives. A Pew Research poll found that 84% of Latinos say religion was important or somewhat important in their lives.

Building the Latin American community through civic engagement must start from scratch.

Reverend Bolivar Flores is Vice President of the New Jersey Coalition of Pastors and Ministers, Chief Chaplain for the City of West New York, and Fourth Commandant of the National Association of Ministers. He is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic and is active in the New Jersey immigrant community.

“There’s a disconnect between vulnerable communities and policymakers,” said Flores, acting chief of staff of the New Jersey Reentry Corporation, a nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated people readapt to life afterward. the prison. “It’s important for policymakers to understand the power of collaboration between clergy, nonprofits, and policymakers and how we can fill the gaps when churches transform the architecture of social services.”

First, ministers, reverends, pastors and other Latinos must connect congregants to opportunities for civic engagement by helping them forge new relationships with outside organizations, encouraging personal connections among decision makers and using the church for leadership. community organization.

Second, religious leaders must encourage greater attendance at religious services by creating access to bilingual programs and outreach, which can foster increased civic engagement and political participation.

Third, churches must include immigrant populations to strengthen their civic engagement. It is important to remember that immigrants need additional support from religious leaders, which can be accomplished through prayer groups and efforts to include undocumented parents in the development of policies.

Flores says faith leaders and organizations need to engage more with the Black Lives Matter movement to build community understanding of both black and brown social justice causes.

While some may be inclined to view the BLM movement as an issue outside of their immediate community, Flores says Latino faith leaders face a “pivotal moment” in deciding whether they want to strengthen their “civic engagement muscles.” “by getting involved in more social justice causes. .

“Religious leaders have a role to speak out on issues that impact people in terms of public policy issues,” said the Reverend Jack Johnson, coordinator of the NJ Coalition of Religious Leaders. He says the role of the Hispanic community is a critical aspect of activism by faith groups in New Jersey.

To that end, Flores decided to write a book, “Hispanic Religious Leaders and Civic Engagement,” which lays out the challenges of immigrants and the steps for a partnership between Latino religious leaders and the communities they serve. .

Flores says the critical issues facing the Latino community are the same issues faced by most working families in New Jersey. Access to quality education for their children, quality health care, affordable taxation and employment opportunities would dominate their concerns.

He says that although Latinos face the same difficulties as many American immigrant grandparents, language challenges, lack of workforce training and inability to obtain a driver’s license are obstacles. to integration.

America needs secure borders, Flores notes, but he says we also need an immigration system that provides access to people other than the “best and brightest.”

Former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey said Flores’ book is a blueprint, a rallying cry and a way of life for Christians.

“As ancient as faith, hope and love, Reverend Flores’ words and deeds renew the church, sustain the believer and build community through radical hospitality amidst a sometimes dark and sometimes bleak human condition. hopeless.”

Nancy Sanchez is the author of the children’s poetry book “Brandon and his friends” and the founder of the non-profit cultural organization La Magia de las Bellas Artes, which she currently directs.

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