Christian Estevez, the son of Dominican immigrants, grew up in the 1970s in Plainfield, N.J., at a time of widespread white flight. Most of the children in his crowded elementary school classes were like him: poor, minority and struggling.
Then his single mother managed to rent an apartment in the neighboring town of Westfield, which was thriving and predominantly white. The situation in his new school was like “night and day,” and Mr. Estevez succeeded and went on to college.
Since his own childhood, the problem of school segregation in New Jersey has only gotten worse, despite efforts to make school funding across districts more equal. Today, New Jersey is the sixth most segregated state in the nation for black students, and seventh for Latino students, according to a U.C.L.A. study. This is despite the fact that it is among the only states whose constitution explicitly prohibits segregation in public schools.
Now Mr. Estevez, along with a coalition of community groups, parents and children, is seeking to change that.
On the 64th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, Mr. Estevez, as president of the Latino Action Network, together with about a dozen other plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit against the State of New Jersey on Thursday, calling on it to desegregate its schools statewide.
Not since 1964, when a federal lawsuit forced integration in Alabama, lawyers for the plaintiffs said, has a suit achieved statewide school desegregation.