By Carrie Stetler
An endowed scholarship honoring the work of New Jersey State Senator Ronald L. Rice, a Rutgers-Newark alumnus and powerful champion of fairness and opportunity, will support undergraduate students in the Rutgers-Newark School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Criminal Justice.
The scholarship fund, endowed by the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus Foundation, was established to uphold the legacy of Rice and his commitment to racial, social and criminal justice, according to the foundation. It will also commemorate his life-long work to advance affordable healthcare and housing, tenants’ and employee rights, education, public service, and the state’s urban communities.
Rice was the longest-serving Black representative in the New Jersey State Senate before announcing his retirement in August after 35 years.
“Senator Ronald L. Rice is a figure who stands above policy and political expectations. His work speaks for itself and its effects are felt and seen throughout the halls of our capitol and forever in New Jersey politics,’’ says New Jersey Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, co-chair of the foundation’s Ronald L. Rice tribute committee. “He has dedicated much of his life to being a public servant and advancing communities of color and those who have historically been disadvantaged.”
Dean Jacqueline Mattis of the Rutgers-Newark School of Arts and Sciences said the school was proud to honor Rice’s commitment to eradicating inequality. “We want to support and pay tribute to Senator Rice’s particular legacy, which explored the complex interplay between economic justice, social justice, and racial justice.”
Rice graduated from the School of Criminal Justice with a master’s degree in 1986, the same year he became a state senator. Bill McCarthy, dean of the school, said many criminal justice students at RU-N identify with Rice. Like him, many have chosen law enforcement as a career path. And like him, many want to change the system.
“He was a role model,’’ adds McCarthy. “He advanced criminal justice reform on many fronts through his work with the state legislature. Ronald Rice was dedicated to addressing inequality, miscarriages of justice, and advocating for human rights. Many of our students see themselves as contributing to those goals.’’
A former Newark police officer and detective, Rice served as a Marine sergeant and veteran of the Viet Nam war. He later became a community organizer, Newark Councilman, and deputy mayor. As a state senator, he was known for his work advocating for racial justice, including the sponsorship of a bill that would allow municipalities to create civilian review boards and for demanding a study on racial bias in New Jersey’s criminal justice system. He was also chair of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus for many years.
“I truly can’t think of an alum more emblematic of Rutgers-Newark than Senator Rice,” says Chancellor Nancy Cantor. “We are an anchor institution in Newark—striving always to do what it takes to cultivate the talent of today to be the leaders of tomorrow. Ron Rice embodies that perfectly, showing us what it means to cultivate one’s talents and put them to work for the public good.”
In addition to being an alumnus, Rice has other ties to Rutgers-Newark. The Senator Ronald L. Rice Lecture Series on Criminal Justice and Public Policy was established in 2014 by the School of Criminal Justice. It celebrates Senator Rice’s contributions to the state and its constituents and his long-standing support of Rutgers-Newark and its mission. The lectures have been given by scholars, activists, and professionals from across the criminal justice continuum.
The Center for Politics and Race in America at the Rutgers-Newark School of Art and Sciences, which recently opened and will officially launch next year, received its initial legislative funding with support from Rice. The center explores questions Rice raised during his career as a vocal proponent of equal access to government.
“It will examine how race informs political life and voter engagement across the nation, how race factors into who emerges as candidates for political office,’’ says Mattis. “How are the various ethnoracial groups that make up our nation enfranchised or disenfranchised? The center will also examine the rise of white supremacy and how that form of ideological extremism has affected access to democracy.”
Mattis expects that some scholarship recipients from the School of Arts and Sciences will be involved in work at the center, including internships, and possibly work with the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus.
“We want to support activities that honor Senator Rice’s memory,’’ says Mattis, who adds that Rice is also known for his advocacy of women in politics and his willingness to help them gain entry to “the portals of power.’’
The scholarship was announced last month at an event in honor of Rice, a tribute co-sponsored by the foundation and Rutgers-Newark and held at Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hall.
“It is with great honor that the foundation makes this scholarship possible to continue the legacy of Senator Rice,” says Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, chair of the foundation. “He is a pioneer who has committed his entire career to the advancement of Black people and civil rights, so I can’t think of a better way to honor him than to partner with Rutgers University-Newark to provide learning opportunities to students from a community so dear to him.”
Story originally appeared in Rutgers Newark News.