Newark Pastor Ronald Slaughter Emerges As a Powerful Social Justice Leader

The Rev. Slaughter preaching during his Fifth Anniversary service June 12.
The Rev. Slaughter preaching during his Fifth Anniversary service June 12.

Wearing a camouflage shirt emblazoned with purple Greek letters spelling out Omega Psi Phi, Ronald Slaughter could have easily been mistaken for a college student volunteering with his fraternity one Saturday this month while picking up garbage with a crew of other civic-minded individuals in Newark’s Central Ward. 

His wide smile reveals a set of braces, further reinforcing the impression of Slaughter as a friendly young man yearning to give back to the community.

Yet despite his youthful appearance, Slaughter is in his 20th year in the ministry and recently celebrated five years as pastor of Saint James AME Church on Martin Luther King Blvd. in Newark.

Being pastor of the largest African Methodist Episcopal Church in New Jersey naturally lends itself to playing a leadership role in New Jersey, especially in matters of social justice.

But in the five years since taking the helm of Saint James from the Rev. William Watley, the 40-year old Slaughter is emerging as one of the state’s leading voices on issues of social justice, like fair wages, access to healthcare and racism at a state university.

“Everything I do as pastor of Saint James is for the people and community,” Slaughter said. “When people come to me about injustice, racism, sexism and discrimination on their jobs or communities it cuts me to the core.”

At his fifth anniversary services on June 12, a Who’s Who of state leaders came to pay their respects, including one announced gubernatorial candidate, Phil Murphy, and another likely candidate, Senate President Steve Sweeney. A third likely candidate, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, came a few days earlier, though his political ally and confidant, former Gov. James McGreevey, also attended one of the services on Sunday.

Also in attendance were former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli, former Newark Mayor Sharpe James, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, State Sen. Sandra Cunningham, Essex County Freeholder Wayne Richardson, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, Newark Police and Fire Director Anthony Ambrose, Newark Council President Mildred Crump and Newark Public Schools Superintendent Chris Cerf.

Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer, Newark Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins and Newark Public School Advisory Board member Dashay Carter, who are all members of Saint James, were also there.

The last African-American ministerial leader to command that kind of statewide influence was Reginald Jackson, who as head of the Black Minister’s Council, brought attention to the issue of racial profiling in the State Police in the 1990s.

Jackson, who was the pastor of Saint Matthew AME in Orange, was elected a bishop in the AME church. He is currently assigned to the 20th Episcopal District, serving the countries of Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, but has kept his eye on Slaughter from afar.

“I see a lot of myself in this young man,” Jackson said. “He is a man of courage and deep conviction. He is filling a much-needed role in New Jersey as a warrior for social justice.”

Already, Slaughter has taken a leading role in saving Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark, organizing a coalition of ministers and community members to urge the administration of Gov. Chris Christie to approve the sale of the hospital to Prime Healthcare Services. After a three-year delay, the Christie administration blessed the sale in the spring and the hospital remains open.

Chaneyfield Jenkins credits Slaughter along with Bishop Jethro James, president of the Newark/North Jersey Committee of Black Churchmen, the Rev. Perry Simmons, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church and the Rev. Leslie Ramos, pastor of LHC La Hermosa Church, for getting the community behind Saint Michael’s.

“Pastor Slaughter played a key role in saving 1,400 jobs and preserving healthcare for residents of this city,” Chaneyfield Jenkins said. “And our young pastor is only beginning to feel his oats. As time passes, he will become the leader for social justice that our city and state so desperately need.”

Chaneyfield Jenkins noted that in addition to the dignitaries that were invited to his anniversary service, Slaughter also reached out to her to request the presence of men from GEO Newark Residential Reentry Center on Sussex Avenue, who helped with the cleanup in the Central Ward the Saturday before the anniversary service.

“How many pastors would think about those five gentlemen being there,” Chaneyfield Jenkins said.

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Source: Newark Inc. |  JOSH FRANK