From Barbados to Metuchen: Meet Hazel-Anne Johnson-Marcus

Johnson-Marcus’ driving force: ‘Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’ for all


Share post:

It’s a Thursday morning in June and Hazel-Anne Johnson-Marcus is settled in at a coffee spot she frequents in town, Beans and Bread on Middlesex Avenue with her favorite order, a wildberry hibiscus iced tea.

After months of requesting an interview, Johnson-Marcus finally found some time in her hectic – color-coordinated – calendar to sit down with Metuchen 08840.

- Advertisement -

You see, Johnson-Marcus is busy. Very busy. In the middle of our interview, she had to stop and take a work call.

First and foremost, she is a wife to Courtney Marcus, and mother to two girls, Hannah, 10 and Norah, 8.

During our interview, Johnson-Marcus discussed growing up in Oxnards in the parish of Saint James in Barbados close to The University of the West Indies-Cave Hill Campus.

“I did not come [to the United States] until I was 20,” she said. “I started university there. At the time it was completely free. There are some fees now, but nothing like cost of university here.”

Her late mom, Icilma, was a huge influence on why “I do what I do and how I do what I do.” Her mom was an administrator at The University of the West Indies who approached life with a spirit of service to others.

Johnson-Marcus dabbled with the idea of going to medical school until she settled on psychology.

“There were no psychology programs in Barbados at the time,” she recalled, but she was able to complete her undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Florida, and then found a “fantastic doctoral program” in industrial-organizational psychology, the science of human behavior at work, at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Industrial-Organizational psychology offered many career options.

“… When you graduated, you didn’t have to become a professor,” Johnson-Marcus explained. “You could become whatever you wanted. You could go into industry, work for the government, you could be a consultant, et cetera.”

Along with a great academic program, the University of South Florida in Tampa offered warm weather. Coming from an Island nation in the Caribbean, the climate was a plus.

“I always said, I’m never living anywhere that is cold,” Johnson-Marcus recalled her mindset at the time.

However fast forward, cold weather was on the horizon in her university journey.

Looking for internships, Johnson-Marcus found that as an international student, it was difficult to work wherever you wanted.

“I had to work on campus because companies didn’t like to hire international students even though it’s temporary,” she said. I started working by teaching. I taught my first undergraduate class in social psychology, and I was in love …”

Fast forward, Johnson-Marcus found herself moving north to the Garden State for her first job as a professor. First at Rider University and now she’s at Rutgers University.

We’ll come back to her current roles at Rutgers in a bit.

“The first year that I was here, we lived in Princeton Junction for the train and convenience but then we realized that it was not going to be sustainable for our new marriage if I had to drive my husband to the train station in the early morning hours every day,” she said, adding that it was difficult to get on the official parking list in Princeton Junction.

The couple started looking around for towns where parking was better and easier. They found this in Metuchen because “everyone in town was guaranteed a parking spot.”

This was 2008. So, if you are familiar with Metuchen in 2008, there was a big parking lot for commuter and downtown parking. Today the area is now the Woodmont apartments, parking garage, and the Metuchen Town Plaza.

“We have been here for the Renaissance, if you will, of Metuchen,” Johnson-Marcus said, saying at the time the downtown was a much quieter, much less vibrant of a scene.

Seeing the transformation has been “wonderful.”

In 2008, Johnson-Marcus and her husband chose Metuchen “for convenience.” Now, she can’t see her family moving away from the borough they have fallen in love with.

Fast forward to August 2017. Johnson-Marcus and her husband have their two daughters by now and they are watching the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia unfold.

Three people were killed and 35 injured surrounding a white supremacist rally, according to news reports at the time.

“I remember just feeling really distressed,” Johnson-Marcus recalled.

A rally was held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Park next to the Metuchen Public Library on Middlesex Avenue.

“We went to the rally with both of the kids,” she said. “I’m holding my little one and holding my older one’s hand singing ‘We shall overcome’ and I’m literally crying.

“… I’m like wait a minute, this country I decided to be in and stay in and commit to as a citizen was scaring me.

“I can’t believe the issues that we sang about in the 1960s, we’re singing about right now.”

To see her community come out and stand literally hand in hand was moving, Johnson-Marcus said. Her friend Lauren Beischer, a photographer, captured many moments of the rally including her holding Norah, while Hannah holds hands with her best friend Maya, who happens to be White.

“It’s such a beautiful moment,” Johnson-Marcus said.

Shortly thereafter, the mayor at the time, Peter Cammarano, reconstituted the Metuchen Human Relations Commission.

Johnson-Marcus’s involvement in the Metuchen community began with serving as vice chair for the Metuchen Human Relations Commission with former Councilwoman Linda Koskoski as Council liaison.

The commission held its first human rights event in December 2017.

“It is great to be able to be a part of [the commission],” Johnson-Marcus said, saying the HRC’s reconstitution let people know, “Metuchen is an inclusive community.”

Today, she is serving as chair of the commission and is the only original member from that time.

“It’s been great,” she said.

The commission navigated the social upheaval of 2020 with the technology of Zoom.

“We had so many more community conversations where you really could gather, process some of the hurt that a lot of people were feeling, but also raise the attention of our community members,” Johnson-Marcus said, noting they had a series of conversations called, “How to be a better ally to our neighbors” that involved many different groups from Black, Jewish, and Asian American neighbors to neighbors with disabilities.

“We covered as wide of a spectrum as we could,” she said. “We also thought about gender expansiveness bringing in an expert from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to talk about [the topic.]”

The hope with the conversations was to educate people “to be more thoughtful about the way in which they engaged with others in a way that is affirming and makes people feel safe.”

Photos by Andrea Mendoza

“I’m really proud of the work that we did especially during that time and connecting with our community,” Johnson-Marcus said.

On June 13, 2020, the commission co-sponsored a rally for Black Lives Matter at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, the same park she stood with her family in 2017.

Also, in 2020 into 2021, Johnson-Marcus served on Mayor Jonathan Busch’s Equity Commission convened based on President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program through the Obama Foundation.

“We took a look at our police department to ensure that we were doing everything we could to be equitable as possible,” Johnson-Marcus said.

Today, you will see Police Chief Arthur Flaherty attending HRC commission meetings and events with Lt. Wayne Karalevich serving as the Metuchen Police Department liaison to the HRC.

“The police department has really done a great job of working through our recommendations,” Johnson-Marcus said of the recommendations made by the Equity Commission. “I feel more of a community presence with our officers. I see them out connecting with community members …

“… They are not removed from our community, and I can see their commitment to community.”

Today, with support of the entire community, the HRC partners with the Metuchen Downtown Alliance to hold events for Pride, Lunar New Year, and Juneteenth.

“I’m super proud that we were able to as a community to have a Juneteenth celebration,” Johnson-Marcus said, and she is grateful to Councilman Joel Branch, current HRC liaison for championing Metuchen’s Juneteenth’s celebrations.

This year was the fourth year they held a Juneteenth celebration.

“I remember the first time … I’m sitting there, ‘Oh my gosh, what is happening right now’ with tears in my eyes,” Johnson-Marcus recalled. “My little girls got to see people like them being featured prominently in our community.

“I think for me there’s something affirming in that and it’s really affirming to see that across our community.”

Till this day it brings Johnson-Marcus goose bumps.

“Kids are going to grow up and see this is normal that lots of different groups get celebrated in our community,” she said.

As she goes around talking to people at events, Johnson-Marcus hears a theme in the comments she receives.

“‘I wish that was around when I was young, I wish I felt that same sense of safety and support when I was young,’” they say.

And that is Johnson-Marcus’ driving force as chair of the Metuchen Human Relations Commission and everything she does for that matter to “try to make sure people feel welcome and that they belong here.”

In 2020, Johnson-Marcus was approached to run for a seat on the Metuchen Board of Education by former board members Ben Small and Justin Manley. They believed she was a good fit for the board and made their case.

After several conversations, Johnson-Marcus was convinced and saw where she could add value to the team. She was appointed as a board member in 2020 and ran successfully for her first elected term in November of that year.

Incoming Board president Brian Glassberg in 2021 decided to create an Equity committee for the Board.

Johnson-Marcus remembers thinking, “this is my jam.”

“Chairing something like the Board Equity committee made perfect sense,” she said. “It marries my professional and civic passions and connects with [my role] as a professor.”

Johnson-Marcus chaired the Board Equity committee until the start of her second term in January 2024 when she became board vice president.

“As vice president, there is a little more responsibility,” she said. “I’m still on [the committee]. I still have a voice.”

She also is part of the curriculum, policy, and the ad hoc negotiations committees.

“It’s been really, really wonderful to work on our board,” Johnson-Marcus said. “Our board is very focused on continuing the excellence … we are good team.”

So, not only does Johnson-Marcus wear many hats in Metuchen, let’s go back to her full-time job at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

She is a professor in human resource management in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations.

Since January 2022, she has been serving as senior director for faculty, diversity and inclusion helping build a sense of community within the New Brunswick campus from recruitment, onboarding and engagement.

“Coming to a school like Rutgers, it can be very alienating and scary,” she said. “We have many campuses, and you can feel like you are alone.”

Come July 1, Johnson-Marcus will essentially come home and serve as an associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the School of Management and Labor Relations.

“I will still maintain a connection to the campus wide work especially outreach and engagement because that’s really important,” she said. “I think we made really great inroads with connecting especially to our faculty within Rutgers University making sure I’m that point person.”

So, what else does Johnson-Marcus do in her limited free time??

For fun she was “guilted” by Metuchen Junior Field Hockey in 2022 to be a coach. As a busy working mom, it has become her time with her girls.

“This is our time,” she said, adding she now sits on the field hockey board.

“It’s been really fantastic. Metuchen field hockey is really a great developmental type of league that runs from first to fifth grade.”

Johnson-Marcus also makes sure she prioritizes her health, which she even puts on her color-coordinated calendar four to five times a week. Her go to is CrossFit and Peloton. Oh, and she also knits scarves and baby blankets!

Related articles

‘Can I have Mama’s cookie’

Everything started with “Oma” Donabella Louise Sanget. “My grandma had an American dream of opening up a business...

Making ‘Good Men Better’

In 2024, the Metuchen Freemason fraternity turned 150 years old. However, 150 years of brotherhood is nothing more...

Letter from the EDITOR:

Hello 08840! Oh summer, you are here! Are you ready for those cookouts and/or amusement parks? I sure...