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Wynona Lipman’s legacy is forgotten in New Jersey

lipmanWynona070611_optBY SALVATORE PIZZURO
COMMENTARY

One must ponder what the reaction to Governor Chris Christie’s line-item budget cuts would be if Wynona Lipman were still alive. State Senator Lipman died on May 9, 1999. The first African-American elected to the New Jersey State Senate, Lipman proved to be an innovator when serving as an advocate for women, children, and families. Her legacy is profound, and casts a positive light on the State Legislature and New Jersey at a time when the seedy side of politics is making it more difficult to deal with oppressive economic times.

Having served as the Director of the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Lipman was elected to the Senate in 1971, at a time when the upper house did not even have rest-rooms for women. She was a leader who served as a role mode, not only for women, but for all New Jerseyans. Wynona Lipman was a fighter who addressed the needs of every New Jersyan.

Wipman held a Ph.D. from Columbia University and was a strong believer in educational opportunities for everyone. It is interesting to ponder how she would have reacted to the concept of leaving thousands of Medicaid patients withouth healthcare. It is also interesting to wonder how she would have reacted to the American Dream being denied to many New Jersey families with New Jersey’s public colleges being among the most expensive in the nation.

Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics has a Wynona Lipman Chair on Women’s Studies, where outstanding leaders, such as Eleanor Holmes Norton, have lectured. Kean University has a Wynona Moore Lipman Ethnic Studies Center for American Women and Politics, where her legacy also continues. ‘Wynona’s House,” a Newark program that serves children who are the victims of abuse, was created in her honor and to continue her mission. Funding for the program was radically cut by the Governor, and it has been alleged that Christie’s actions were in retaliation for the program’s board president, Nancy Erika Smith, disagreeing with his policies. It is interesting to think of how Lipman would have reacted to the governor’s curtailing programs for children in need.

Wynona Lipman continues to be a positive shining light on a State that can otherwise boast about the “Jersey Sting” and being referred to as the “Soprano State.” Indeed, it would be interesting to ponder how she would have reacted to recent New Jersey politics. Perhaps if we commit ourselves to trying to live up to her legacy, rather than engaging in assassination politics, New Jersey would be a better place to live.

Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro is a disability policy specialist and civil rights advocate in New Jersey.

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