TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today marked National Read Across America Day by visiting two New Jersey elementary schools and reading to students “All Are Welcome,” a best-selling children’s book that celebrates diversity, inclusion and acceptance.
In the morning, Attorney General Grewal visited Richard E. Byrd Elementary School in Glen Rock, reading the popular book to approximately 280 students in grades K-to-5. In the afternoon, the Attorney General visited School No. 13 in Paterson, where he read “All Are Welcome” to a group of first-grade students. In each case, the Attorney General took part in a brief question-and-answer session with students afterward.
Today’s reading visits were the first of several planned by Attorney General Grewal this month to promote inclusion and combat bias while also observing National Reading Month. Throughout March, the Attorney General and members of his staff will be visiting elementary schools across the state, in each case reading to students and discussing with them the value of diversity.
“I can’t think of a better way to combat bias in our state than to speak directly with New Jersey’ children about the importance of inclusion and acceptance. Reading this book with kids is a great way to inspire that conversation,” said Attorney General Grewal. ”If we can reach our young people with positive messages about diversity, we can shape a future in which differences in skin color, ethnic background and religious beliefs are not only accepted, but celebrated. It’s only part of what has to be done to stem the rising tide of hate, but it’s an extremely important part.”
According to preliminary data, there were 944 bias incidents reported to New Jersey law enforcement in 2019 – a 66 percent increase over the prior year, and the highest annual bias incident total reported in more than two decades.
Attorney General Grewal said it is especially troubling that the data shows “more and more of these incidents are being perpetrated by young people and/or taking place on school campuses.”
Written by Alexandra Penfold and illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman, “All Are Welcome” follows a diverse group of children through their day in school – a place where diversity and acceptance are a way of classroom life, where all students feel included, and all races, religions and cultures are celebrated.
“We’re part of a community. Our strength is our diversity. A shelter from adversity. All are welcome here,” reads one passage from the book.
In addition to visiting schools and reading to students himself, Attorney General Grewal has urged all County Prosecutors, Division Directors within the Department of Law and Public Safety, and State Police Command Staff to join him by reading to students at an elementary school in their home town, or in another community where the book’s message would be particularly impactful.
Alarming indications of heightened bias activity in New Jersey prompted Governor Murphy to convene a Youth Bias Task Force to study the issue and propose recommendations to counter the trend.
Within the next few weeks, the Task Force – chaired by Division on Civil Rights Director Rachel Wainer Apter – will be releasing its findings and recommendations.
Among other things, the Task Force report is expected to highlight the vital role that state law enforcement and government leaders play in combating hate, which is one of the underpinnings of the Attorney General’s reading outreach to children.
“We all have a special obligation to use our respective platforms to ensure that hate is not normalized in New Jersey,” Attorney General Grewal said.