Coalition aims to address diversity in Medford Lakes

Eight members comprise board to highlight minority issues

The Medford Lakes Diversity Coalition held its first meeting on Sept. 1 with over 10 other residents in attendance. Ryk Lewis, third from right, shared the meeting established the coalition’s mission and purpose, and introduced members to one another. Some members were of underserved populations, while others were there to learn about others’ experiences in the Lakes (Krystal Nurse/The Sun).

Eight Medford Lakes residents have taken action to facilitate more inclusion in the borough as protests for social justice continue in the area.

Ryk Lewis and seven others make up the board of the Medford Lakes Diversity Coalition (MLDC), whose members are Black, biracial, Asian and Jewish and include a bisexual Shawnee High School student.

The coalition has set out to create and foster racial, cultural and social harmony in the small town, according to Lewis.

He explored the borough’s history and found accounts of redlining until the 1960s when late President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which included the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Lawn signs such as real estate, politics, etc. were banned from the borough until 2005.

Lewis insisted the coalition is not focused on attacking the borough but aspires to educate other residents on why diversity is needed and how it can improve any town.

“There is a lot about Medford Lakes that is fantastic and why we want to live, stay and help it grow,” he noted. “We’re not here to tear down and reinvent the wheel. We want to enjoy the things that are great, and improve on the things that have not been great and mitigate the reasons why they have not been great.”

One goal of the coalition is to inform other residents about issues such as the borough’s history of how a housing practice in the Medford Lakes Colony contributed to the town’s racial makeup.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s four-year American Community Survey (ACS) in 2018, 3,938 of Medford Lakes’ 4,031 residents are white, 31 are Black,18 are Asian and 44 reported “two or more races.” The town’s residents participate in the 10-year census reporting, but historical data for the locality is reported through the ACS.

Lewis emphasized that none of the town’s earlier racial practices still exist, but the MLDC wants to prevent them from occurring again. Other minorities and their roles in the area will be highlighted, with Lewis hoping to address issues among the disabled and LGBTQ communities as the coalition gains traction.

Diverse groups nationwide continue to address police brutality against Blacks, including Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Jacob Blake.

Lewis admits to keeping a mental note of police departments in South Jersey that are “cool or not cool” for Black people, and interactions they may have had in the past. But Lewis noted that Medford Lakes is an anomaly.

He has not had negative interactions with the borough’s police and explained the closest possible case was when an officer mimicked his turns home, but retreated toward a different road after Lewis entered his driveway.

The coalition hopes to resolve police-related issues in Medford Lakes, if they arise.

Lewis supports Black Lives Matter protests, one of which took place in Medford Lakes. He spoke to its organizer before and during the demonstration; plans for a coalition were set before the protest’s inception.

The MLDC met outdoors on Sept. 1 and plans other sessions. Its first order of business is to address Medford Lakes’ past housing restrictions and educate children about the native tribes whose names can be found on street signs.

A member of the coalition is an educator who sits on one of the school boards, so the coalition plans to review and draft a rough curriculum for the Medford Lakes School District.

“We would want for Native Americans to be taught about their history and way of life,” Lewis noted. “Instead of it being a cool thing about native street names in town, kids that grow up in the Lakes would have an understanding about the Native American names having meaning, connection and history.”

He emphasized that the MLDC has agitators it chooses not to engage.

“I believe there are a lot of residents in Medford Lakes who don’t feel that way,” he admitted. “The name calling, evil Facebook posts, been there, done that, and sold the T-shirts. I have some personal concerns with that and it’s a real concern. But it’s ultimately a ‘We will cross that bridge when we get there.’

“I don’t believe we will educate those in that mindset, because it is not what they look to receive about us.”

Other Medford Lakes residents are welcome to learn about or join the group. To find out more about the Medford Lakes Diversity Coalition, visit Facebook.com/MLDC55.

“Medford Lakes is a generational town, and hopefully the next generation will have a better, unique outlook on the world and nations that people talk about all of the time with their street names,” Lewis remarked.