SOMA Justice was founded in 2016 by local parents when they realized that despite South Orange/ Maplewood (SOMA)’s numerous facebook groups, and despite its diversity, there was no group that was a designated safe space for POC, and no group that centered POC voices. The group quickly grew through Facebook, in-person meetings, and dedicated volunteers, and incorporated as a 501c3 in 2019.
Since 2016, the group has been instrumental in:
- Advocating against lunch shaming in our school district, including raising funds to pay off lunch debts, and putting an end to the practice of giving shelf stable snacks to students whose lunch accounts were empty. Because of our advocacy, every student in our district now receives a school lunch, regardless of whether their lunch accounts are funded.
- Providing support to food insecure students at Columbia High School. We deliver breakfast, lunch and snacks to food insecure high school students for the weekend when school breakfast and lunch are not available. We help provide snack stations throughout CHS and we fulfill emergency food needs for students when requested by school social workers and guidance counselors.
- Partnering with the CHS parent association to ensure all seniors could participate in all senior year rights of passage like Prom, Graduation, etc. regardless of whether they have outstanding school debts.
- Creation of the Maplewood Community Board on Police, the first suburban community police advisory board in New Jersey
- In 2019, SOMA Justice submitted Maplewood's winning participatory budget proposal for a free neighborhood Wifi pilot program to address the digital divide, which resulted in the township creating free broadband access for over 100 households where there is a high concentration of students on free and reduced lunch who previously did not have access to the internet at home.
- SOMA Justice initiatives also include hosting educational book clubs for adults and children, know your rights trainings, cultural celebrations and films, as well as advocating successfully for the creation of a Community Police Board in Maplewood.
- Each year, SOMA Justice compiles a Board of Education scorecard for the SOMSD BOE election that grades candidates on their commitment to equity, inclusion and integration in our community.