ELIZABETH, NJ - City and school leaders are eager to honor a lifelong Elizabeth resident, Chessie Dentley Roberts, 93, a typing and business education teacher in the school district for 30 years who retired in 1991.
On February 26, at 6:30 p.m., friends and family will gather on Pennsylvania Avenue, when the former Ronald Reagan Academy will be officially renamed Chessie Dently Roberts Academy 30, followed by a tour of the school.
“This is truly a historical moment for me,” Roberts said. “I have lived my entire life in Elizabeth. To be honored with my name on this school, in front of the school children and my friends and family, is so special to me.”
Besides her service to generations of Elizabeth students, Roberts is also known for community activism. She proudly served on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Committee of Elizabeth, raising money from the African American community for the memorial of Dr. King, which she helped dedicate on Jan. 20, 1986 along Winfield Scott Plaza, outside City Hall.
Roberts, as well as other committee members and local African American pastors, wanted to ensure the dedication occurred on the first celebration of Dr. King’s birthday as a national holiday.
Roberts, one of the first African American teachers in the business department of the Elizabeth Public Schools, had also worked with the Urban League in Elizabeth. She was honored – and still speaks fondly – of working directly with its founder, William Ashby, who became the state’s first African-American social worker in 1917 and was a fighter for civil rights for more than nine decades.
“When you reach the age of 93, you would think that everything is really behind you,” Roberts said. “But my journey is continuing. You never know what will come next.”
The author, Jamel Holley, is an Assemblyman representing the 20th Legislative District, which includes Elizabeth. This story first appeared in Jamel's Journal.