By REBECCA HERSH
Joyce Ship-Freeman, the first Black woman to serve on the Edison Township Council, is wasting no time in carrying out her vision for a fair, peaceful and tolerant community. The cornerstone of her efforts will be a Peace and Unity Rally on May 23 at Lake Papaianni from 2 to 4 p.m.
“Everyone is welcome,” said Ship-Freeman, whose four year Edison Township Council term began in January 2020. “All races, religions (Muslims, Christians, Jews – I think the timing of the rally on Sunday afternoon respects religious rituals), ages, political persuasions – Democrats, Republicans, Independents, in an effort to join together against hate, to advocate unity over disunity.”
Ship-Freeman will be the primary speaker at the rally. Others may speak but they will have to follow one inviolate rule: “No one is allowed to say anything negative, no one will have access to my microphone unless it is a positive statement of love and unity,” she said.
Calling Edison’s recent racial incidents a “cesspool” of hate and stereotyped opinions about others, she said she is determined to work tirelessly to change the social and political environment in Edison – the community where she was born and raised and worked as a special education and reading specialist.
She is retired now, but is a full-time community mover and shaker, she said, in her role as a council member.
In 2020, she served as council president (a rotating assignment) and now she is the council liaison to the Edison School Board, a responsibility that she said she takes “very seriously.”
She intends to host this Peace and Unity Rally every year with next year’s event being unconstrained by a pandemic and therefore expanded to include music, food, and activities for the youngsters, she said. Also, next year she will to sell Peace and Unity T-shirts and donate the money to a social justice cause, perhaps towards fighting violence against women, she said.
Social justice and fairness for all regardless of one’s racial, religious, gender, economic or ethnic background has been a lifelong advocacy passion for Ship-Freeman, who was appointed last year to the NJ Amistad Commission. The Amistad Commission ensures that the NJ Department of Education and public schools of New Jersey implement materials and texts that integrate the history and contributions of African-Americans and the descendants of the African Diaspora.
“When I got on council I knew in particular that I would be an advocate for women. I am particularly interested in building cultural tolerance and erasing prejudice among our school children. For example, today when I spoke with the superintendent of schools I mentioned specifically working with the schools to promote women to become volunteer fire department members. We want girls to understand that even if someone can’t go through the training to become a firefighter, there are plenty of other fire department volunteer jobs for them to do.”
Ship-Freeman, who received her Bachelor of Art from The College of New Jersey and Master of Science from Kean University, intends to make it her full-time job every day to work on a different social inequity.
Those who want to join Ship-Freeman in her advocacy may come to the Peace and Unity Rally at 2 p.m., Sunday, May 23, at Papaianni Park, 100 Municipal Blvd., Edison.