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BALLARO: Rutgers students should be horrified by ongoing Lincoln Annex School situation

Column: Thoughts from the LX

“Is it because they are Brown? Because they are poor? Or because they are immigrants?”

I was standing at the corner of 165 Somerset St. when I heard Lilia Fernández, a Rutgers professor of Latin and Caribbean Studies and History, plead for the students of Lincoln Annex.

“Why is Rutgers aiding and abetting the selling out of children’s education?”

It was a cold morning at 10 a.m. on Feb. 18 when I finally had to come to terms with the great injustice befalling the students of Lincoln Annex School.

For those of us who are not aware, it is time to get educated.

The story: Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) has been vying to snatch the prime location of 165 Somerset St. to install the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. 

The problem: The location is home to Lincoln Annex School, one of the few schools in the neighborhood where many students from around New Brunswick come for education.

The solution: bulldozers, gentrification and a contaminated toxic-waste abandoned warehouse 2 miles up the road.

The plan: demean the residents of New Brunswick, pilfer the children of their education and send them to a warehouse — a facsimile of a “school” — where they very well may contract the cancer that RWJUH is supposed to cure.

131 Jersey Ave. Look it up on your GPS.

Yes, the warehouse has tested positive for asbestos. Yes, it has a miserable view of St. Peter's Cemetery. Yes, it has been so contaminated with waste that the state of New Jersey has it listed as brownfield, site number 8023.

Why is this the place we are allowing children to go and forfeit their chance at decent an education?

There is a fiction concocted by RWJUH that the children will receive a $50-million school with all the latest technologies. Where is this fantasy building? 

I march with protesters on cracked non-walkable sidewalks and hear mothers lament that Lincoln Annex School does not even have air conditioning. I may trip, but I do not fall for this bold-faced lie perpetuated by the ravenous wallet-holders at RWJUH.

Sure, maybe when these students graduate, from college that is, another decrepit New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO) failure may sit at 131 Jersey Ave. These promises are emptier than the giant crater near the New Brunswick Train Station, where two years ago DEVCO demolished its blundered Ferren Mall Parking Deck.

Let there be no mistake, the residents of New Brunswick are not “pro-cancer” when they demand to be treated with humanity and to not send their children to a postindustrial hellscape. Far too many New Brunswick families have buried loved ones after their fight with cancer or pray at night for their sick loved ones that still survive to believe this “pro-cancer” smear. 

RWJUH should know far too well the ways in which poor, urban-dwelling, people of color disproportionally bear the burden of cancer. If not, they should see the National Cancer Institute’s government website for further explanation.

Let us call it what it is: racism, classism, xenophobia.

Fernández and the rest of us know that it is not a coincidence that the Brown, poor, immigrant children are the ones told to learn in a toxic warehouse.

When our protest reached the members of the Board of Governors and they saw our faces reddened by the cold February chill, they were asked: Would you send your children to school at 131 Jersey Ave?

While New Brunswick mothers console their sons in Spanish in the strange boardroom and fathers carry tired daughters on their shoulders, the Board of Governors' children are nowhere to be seen. Children should not be forced to advocate for themselves, for not only their education, but also their very dignity. This is not the reality they deserve.

And let it be known, when Rutgers makes great profit from the merger with RWJUH, it profits off this very injustice.

I see signs for the Rutgers University Dance Marathon (RUDM) and #ForTheKids littered across campus. After the groundbreaking investigative journalism article by fellow The Daily Targum contributors Cameron Foster and Alexandra Fabugais-Inaba, School of Arts and Sciences seniors, “R.U. Dancing For the Kids?” exposed the Embrace Kids Foundation, for which RUDM dances for and only gives 22 percent of donations directly to families, I am cynical.

To every dancer, to every fraternity, sorority and student organization that participates in RUDM, to all Rutgers students, where were you at that march? These students need your help. I implore you, find the next action and join in our protest.

RU really ready to fight for the kids?

Anthony Ballaro is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in classics and public health. His column, "Thoughts from the LX," runs on alternate Thursdays.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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