Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. hosted the County's Seventh Annual African American History Month Celebration on Tuesday, February 23rd. During the standing room only celebration, the County Executive presented the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award to Dr. Clement A. Price, Historian and Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University in Newark, and the Coretta Scott King Leadership Award to the Honorable Sheila Y. Oliver, Speaker of the NJ Assembly and Assemblywoman representing the 34th District in Essex County. Both of honorees have made significant contributions to the community and their dedication truly captures the dignity and determination of the King family.
"African American History Month is a special time of the year when we highlight the many contributions and achievements African Americans have made to our culture, economy and daily lives throughout our history," DiVincenzo said. "Speaker Oliver and Dr. Price are both leaders and role models who have had a significant impact on influencing government policies and education, and have truly dedicated themselves to improving the quality of life in their communities," he added.
"It is important that we do not forget our past, but instead use it to prepare the light for a better future," said Freeholder President Blonnie R. Watson. "We are so proud of Assembly Speaker Oliver and Dr. Clemente Price for their hard work and dedication and we know they will continue to keep our history alive," she added.
The Honorable Speaker Oliver, who presides over the 214th Legislative Session of the New Jersey Assembly, was first elected to the Assembly in 2003, and re-elected in 2005, 2007 and 2009. She represents the 34th Legislative District, which includes Clifton, East Orange, Glen Ridge, Montclair and West Paterson. In the 2008-09 Legislative Session, she served as Deputy Speaker Pro Tempore, chaired the Human Services Committee, and served on the Higher Education and Labor committees. She served as Assistant Majority Leader in the 2006-07 Legislative Session. She also represented New Jersey on the National Conference of State Legislatures' Standing Committees on Human Services and Labor and Economic Development. Of the 50 states, nationally, there are only five women who lead lower houses, and only six who serve as majority leaders.
Speaker Oliver co-sponsored the law creating the Department of Children and Families, and sponsored legislation signed into law that requires that the Department of Human Services report physical assaults and deaths at state psychiatric hospitals on its website and report deaths to the Public Advocate. She has also sponsored legislation creating paid family leave, amending the State's wrongful death law, providing specialized social services and medical treatment for persons in the criminal justice system with mental health issues, and providing affordable auto insurance for individuals with low incomes.
A resident of East Orange, Speaker Oliver currently serves as Assistant Essex County Administrator and is the former Director of the Essex County Department of Citizen Services and the Department of Economic Development, Training and Employment. Prior to joining the New Jersey Legislature, she served as an Essex County Freeholder from 1996 to 1999, and as President of the East Orange Board of Education for seven years. Speaker Oliver has served on a number of civic boards and commissions and remains an active volunteer. As a former faculty member of several colleges and universities, she has spent most of her career developing and implementing programs designed to address issues of urban development, education, poverty, and economic and social opportunity for disadvantaged populations. She recently joined the Board of East Orange General Hospital, and was a 2007 inductee in the Women's Foreign Policy Institute for State Legislators. A co-founder of the Global Women's Leadership Collaborative of NJ, the Assemblywoman has worked with women leaders throughout the State in organizing cultural exchanges with women in Ghana, West Africa. Assemblywoman Oliver holds a Master of Science Degree from Columbia University, and a Bachelor of Arts, cum laude, from Lincoln University.
"It is humbling to be here receiving this award in the presence of several of my colleagues in the State Legislature and I hope to continue Coretta Scott's legacy. It is with the support of the County Executive, Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Phil Thigpen and the Essex delegation that I have ascended to this leadership position and I will never forget that," said Speaker Oliver. "On my 18th birthday, I registered to vote in the Hall of Records and that was the day I became engaged in the governmental process and have not relented since. Now I stand before you in the same building, 40 years later as the first African-American woman to lead a branch of government in New Jersey," she added.
Dr. Clement A. Price is a Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of History at Rutgers University-Newark, which is one of the University's highest faculty honors. Dr. Price received this honor for his dedication "to the ideas of community, and his sustained impact on the development of cultural, civic, educational and academic institutions in the City of Newark and the State of New Jersey" and his "unwavering commitment to the communities in which he lives, and his concern for social justice." He has also held several leadership roles within many organizations, including Chair of President Obama's transition team for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the New Jersey Historical Commission, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Fund for New Jersey, the Newark public schools, the Newark Black Film Festival, and the Governor's Commission on Ellis Island.
Dr. Price's affection for Newark comes from his deep appreciation of the city's historical significance and constant change. Not surprisingly, in 2008 Price received the Second Annual Charles Cummings Award from the Trustees of the Newark Preservation and Landmarks Committee. The award was given to Price for outstanding contributions to the knowledge and appreciation of Newark's history. In addition, he has received numerous awards and honors for his work. In May 2009, he was a special honoree of the Three Doctors Foundation at its annual gala. Price was named Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Professor of the Year for New Jersey in 1999. He is the Founder and Director of the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience, which conducts research and presents innovative public programs on a range of topics.
"I am honored to be recognized along with Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. The fact that we are here today to receive the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King Leadership Awards is a measure of how far we have come as a people. This truly speaks to the vision set forth by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King," said Dr. Price.
The school chorus from Harriet Tubman School in Newark provided musical entertainment. The students performed the National Anthem, My Favorite Things and Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel.
The African American History Month Celebration is the part of a year-long cultural series created by County Executive DiVincenzo to highlight Essex County's diversity. Other cultural celebrations highlight Irish, Italian, Jewish, Latino and Portuguese heritage and Women's history.