January 28, 2020
Karl Paul Frederic, Chairman
WBGO Board of Trustees
120 Albany Street Plaza6th Floor
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Dear Chairman Frederic,
It has come to my attention that tensions between the African-American employees of WBGO and management have escalated and peaked with the abrupt termination of Josie Goncalves. I have heavy concerns about the environment at WBGO on many levels due to the station’s impact and presence in my life and that of my community. Personally, the music of WBGO was an indelible part of my childhood. My parents played the station from morning to night. It was the background music and the sound of jazz that permeated through my home. Now, as Mayor, the monthly “Newark Today” call-in show allows me to further connect with constituents, and bring the good news of Newark’s growth and progress as a diverse and empowered city to a wider audience.
From what I have heard from various employees of WBGO as well as what’s referenced in the most recent Community Advisory Board meeting minutes, the radio station may no longer reflect the ‘Newark Forward’ values of my administration specifically in terms of equity. This letter reflects the vision that I have for my community, who are also my family, neighbors and friends. If what has been shared is even slightly true, I ask that these problems be addressed swiftly and immediately to the satisfaction of your employees, or I can no longer continue to support the station in our community.
Please thoughtfully consider the following:
- Reinstate Josie Goncalves’ employment
- Commence an investigation of the work environment and implement plans to encourage a cultural shift
- Evaluate where the issue originates and whether it stems from the station’s current leadership
- Partner with Newark Schools to establish an internship focused on jazz education and development for young people in the city
Newark is a city of true collaboration and what it really means to be a community. “Community” is the word that once defined WBGO’s presence in Newark. Our Board of Education obtained the first license in 1947 for student broadcasts from Central High School. A 1979 license transfer created Newark Public Radio, part of the National Public Radio network. Equally, jazz was the musical soundtrack for change in this city in the latter half of the 20th Century.
It is no accident that Rutgers-Newark’s Institute for Jazz Studies is the largest academic resource for this music in the world. Our corporate community supports your station, as do many Newark residents. It would be hypocritical of me to ask these people to support a station that seems rife with the racial tension we have long strived to eliminate. As of today, I will no longer broadcast “Newark Today” from your studios until there is significant movement toward a resolution. I will do the show off-site, but not at 54 Park Place.
Finally, let me remind you of the very words that live on your website.
“At WBGO, we believe that diversity, inclusion and equity are integral to our success. In order to have a healthy, successful workplace and provide our listening public with an experience that is of the highest quality, our team members must be free to express their individuality. The WBGO environment must not only be free of all forms of discrimination but also celebrate the broadest possible spectrum of viewpoints, perspectives and backgrounds.”
I trust you will find a way to live by those words.
Ras J. Baraka