NEWARK, NJ  – The Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders held its Annual “Essex County Celebrates Youth” Program on Wednesday, April 11, 2018, at the Hall of Records in Newark.

Freeholder At-Large and President of the Board Brendan W. Gill of Montclair began the program with welcoming remarks celebrating the achievements of the honorees. He encouraged them to continue to strive for excellence, and, as the future of Essex County, he motivated each honoree to lead the way.

This annual event acknowledges and encourages outstanding young people throughout Essex County who have accomplished and contributed so much at a young age. This year’s honorees were: area high school students who are members of Cinema Ed, Alissa C. Brown of Montclair, and Alyssa Collazo of Newark. The program also featured a special recognition to Rahfeal Gordon.

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Cinema Ed is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit film and media organization that focuses on using independent film as a teaching tool. In 2014, Richard Stephen Bell (Executive Director) and Kathleen Milburn (Chief Operating Officer) founded the organization to support youth in at-risk populations and harness the power of storytelling in technology. The organization helps youth connect with an educational curriculum while learning filmmaking techniques and methods that celebrate their unique visions and authentic stories.

Cinema Ed has supported numerous students from Essex County, and the Board recognized the achievements of the local area high school students from the program, including: Lumel Lopez of Orange High School; Kadin Cook of Orange High School; Aderlin Alcantara of Orange High School; Nina-Simone Crawford of Orange High School; Nia Margrove of Orange High School; Xyon Lucas of Orange High School; Jada Steeley-Williams of Orange High School; Alex DeRosa of Millburn High School; Max Goldstein of Columbia High School; Aidan Romanaux of Columbia High School; Andrew Campbell of Columbia High School; Christina Wright of Columbia High School; Ethan Halperin of Columbia High School; Sophia Heriveaux of Columbia High School; Jolie Heriveaux of Columbia High School; and Sophie Goodman-Merel of Columbia High School.

Born in Jamaica, Queens, New York, and raised by her mother, Alissa Brown of Montclair has become a leader in her own right. Since a young age, she has always had a passion for helping others. She currently serves as the is 1st Vice President of the Youth NAACP and Senior Advisor and Executive Board President for the Students Against Destructive Decisions organization (SADD). She also serves as a mentor for Sister to Sister, an organization that teaches young women a variety of skills.

Alissa dreams of becoming a Congresswoman. In the future, she hopes to create her own nonprofit organization to help troubled youth create dishes to serve homeless and low income families with nutritious home cooked meals.  

Alyssa Collazo of Newark is an 8th grade student at Park Elementary School graduating this year. She has achieved honor roll or super honor roll each marking period. As a passionate member of her school’s debate team, she enjoys hearing the opinions of students from other schools about different topics and how they defend their positions.  She is also a dedicated member of her school’s student council and the 8th grade President Advisor. She works with many school events, including fundraisers, walk-a-thons, and assemblies.

Aside from her academics, Alyssa values her Puerto Rican heritage, family, and friends.  She surrounds herself with friends from different backgrounds, and her life is filled with diversity. She looks forward to taking an active role in her community and is driven by a desire to help others and learn.

During the program, the Board gave special recognition to Rahfeal Gordon, one of the top international speakers and leadership advisors for global entrepreneurs who are influencing the world. While attending Arts High School in Newark, at the age of fifteen he created his first successful company, Infinite Productions. The company’s mission was to develop events that promoted unity within high school and college campuses. Since then, Rahfeal has launched three other ventures: a nonprofit organization called Team Infinite (T.I.), the Rahfeal C. Gordon Scholarship Foundation, and RahGor Motivations & Publishing.

Rahfeal has become the Global Ambassador of the International Hub in Oslo, Norway, which houses and provides resources for start-up entrepreneurs from 21 different countries. He is also the co-founder of the Voices for World Peace organization, a platform that brings together a diverse group of global leaders and youth to work in solidarity to eradicate issues such as extremism, terrorism, and inequality. He has written fourteen published books and has received numerous awards. He is currently on the Skyscraper World Tour with the release of his two newest books.

The audience was graced with a performance of the “The Star Spangled Banner” by Jasmine Ramos, and Reverend David Jefferson, Jr., of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark delivered the opening and closing prayers during the program.