Andre Sayegh | Special to the USA TODAY Network

“This stadium will once again become a focal point for this great city. Hinchliffe is not just a ballfield, it is New Jersey’s Field of Dreams.”

— Gov. Phil Murphy

The pandemic has exposed many deficiencies in our society. The digital divide, lack of access to quality health care and the current state of race relations have all been made more evident by COVID-19. The latter — race relations — have proven that there are still old wounds that have yet to heal.

Since social justice is becoming more embedded in our social consciousness, it is encouraging to see that Major League Baseball retrospectively elevated the Negro Leagues to Major League status. The aforementioned move gives recognition to some of the sport’s trailblazers from 1920 to 1948 and immediately rewrites the game’s record books.

In Paterson, we are doing our part to bring back a monument that tells the story of segregation and the struggle for civil rights. Opened during the Great Depression in 1932, Hinchliffe Stadium quickly became the home field for two Negro League teams: The New York Black Yankees and The New York Cubans.

Hinchliffe is one of only two ballparks still standing with bleachers that hosted Negro League games. The other is Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, which my wife and I visited in 2009.

Sadly, Hinchliffe has been fallow since 1997. Consequently, the stadium has fallen into disrepair and has become an eyesore that attracts nefarious elements. In fact, School 5 sits behind the stadium and, for the past 23 years, students have looked out their classroom windows to see a view of a symbol of their city’s decay.

With a nod to our nation’s history and the need to write a new narrative for Paterson, we are bringing back our historic treasure that, once again, will serve as a symbol of our city’s strength. Our effort to resuscitate our one-time cultural and social anchor of our community recently received a big boost.

Despite his demanding schedule that included a previous stop in Newark where New Jersey health care workers were receiving the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccination and in the process of preparing for an impending storm, Gov. Phil Murphy visited Paterson this week and was the bearer of good tidings.

Murphy who has been a steadfast supporter of our city’s success, further fortified his faith in Paterson by announcing that he is signing legislation to provide an additional $20 million in tax credits so we can complete our projects which include a world-class visitors center at the Great Falls, a youth performing arts center, affordable housing for senior citizens, and the restoration of Hinchliffe Stadium.

In addition to Murphy, there were other conscientious leaders who played a pivotal role in the forthcoming renovation and rebirth of the stadium. Rep. Bill Pascrell was instrumental in getting Hinchliffe included in the Great Falls National Park which helped us preserve the stadium. Our state legislative delegation, comprised of state Sen. Nellie Pou, Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, and Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, fought for the first tranche of tax credits valued at $130 million and helped secure the second allocation of $20 million for our ambitious projects.

Our partners at the Paterson Board of Education who actually own the stadium, have been key collaborators as well. Superintendent Eileen Shafer and a majority of the school board members embraced our vision and took decisive action to keep the momentum going for our monument. Moreover, several members of our City Council have demonstrated legislative leadership in this significant step for our city

Lieutenant Gov. Sheila Oliver and HMFA Executive Director Chuck Richman have also been champions for the Hinchliffe with the latter providing strong support for the senior housing that will be built in the vicinity of the stadium. This has truly been a team effort.

Our country has come a long way since 1932 but this grueling year proves that we still have a long way to go. Hinchliffe Stadium was built during a challenging time and will be rebuilt during another difficult period for our nation. Therefore, we are profoundly grateful to the governor and our other local leaders for stepping up to the plate for New Jersey’s field of dreams.

Andre Sayegh is mayor of Paterson.

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