American Conference on Diversity Honors a Civil Rights Leader, an Interfaith Group & Youth at FDU

American Conference on Diversity President & CEO Elizabeth Williams-Riley (right) with NJ Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson (37th District) Credits: Linda Tondow

The American Conference on Diversity showcased the rich diversity of New Jersey’s past, present, and future during the Greater Bergen Diversity Legacy Breakfast on October 24 at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, NJ.

"We're challenging people to think about the social inheritance of inclusiveness and what  these award recipients are passing on to our youth, because so much of our past impacts our future,” said American Conference on Diversity President and CEO Elizabeth Williams-Riley to a packed audience of educators, diversity thought leaders, and community leaders.

The Diversity Legacy Breakfast was part of the American Conference on Diversity’s yearlong 65th anniversary celebration designed to promote respect within the state’s diverse communities by recognizing outstanding individuals and organizations. 

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Highlighting the initiative was special guest speaker and Lifetime Legacy Award recipient Theodora Smiley Lacey. A champion of civil and human rights, she moved the crowd with her personal journey from the past--growing up in segregated Montgomery, Ala., where she encountered many forms of racism--to the present as a Teaneck resident. She worked closely with the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the famed bus boycott of 1955. In the summer of 1957, she joined her late husband, Dr. Archie Lacey, traveling throughout the counties of Alabama researching voter registration and injustice in the political system of Alabama. This research served as a legal basis for the great wave of protest and litigation that sought to enfranchise the Black voters in Alabama.

Ms. Smiley Lacey’s community involvement continued after moving to Teaneck, where she played a major role in successfully integrating the public school system. She was chosen as a delegate to Russia representing New Jersey in a Citizen to Citizen Exchange Program, served on the Teaneck Township Ethics Board, and presently serves as a commissioner on the Teaneck Township Historical Preservation Commission. Ms. Smiley Lacy chaired and coordinated “Rosa Parks Day” in Teaneck, the March for Peace and Freedom to Washington, D.C., and the Children’s March on Washington. She is also a co-founder of Teens Talk About Racism, an annual conference held at Fairleigh Dickinson University for students throughout Bergen County, serves as vice chair of the African American Advisory Board for Bergen County, chair of the Martin Luther King Birthday Observance Committee of Bergen County, and co-chair of the Martin Luther King Monument Committee, a project to erect a life-size statue of Dr. King in Hackensack.

“I grew up in a society that made it illegal to play in the park,” said Ms. Smiley Lacey. "While you won't see segregation today as I knew it, I continue to see other forms of discrimination surrounding religion…. True change, equality, and diversity will only be sustained if each and every one of us comes together and forges ahead.”

Following Ms. Smiley Lacey’s historically insightful presentation, Joy Kurland of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey accepted the Community Diversity Award on behalf of the Interfaith Brotherhood-Sisterhood Committee of Bergen County. The Committee, which was created to promote mutual understanding and respect between various religious communities, held its first faith-based diversity event more than 25 years ago. Presently, the Committee holds an annual breakfast as well as prayer vigils, educational forums, and other programs to support its mission. The Committee is co-sponsored by several faith communities, including the Bergen County Council of Churches, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Northern New Jersey, Dar-UlIslah Muslim Community of Bergen County, the Arya Samaj of New Jersey, and the Hindu, Baha’I, Sikh, and Jain communities of Bergen County.

Diversity Youth Leadership Awards were also presented during the breakfast to the following outstanding students who are destined to promote mutual respect for future generations: Alicia Espinal (Passaic County Technical Institute), Jake Fischer (Pascack Hills High School), Tori May (Mahwah High School), Priscilla Nuñez (Passaic County Technical Institute).

Special acknowledgement to the following event sponsors: Fairleigh Dickinson University (Diversity Legacy Benefactor), Columbia Bank (Diversity Advocate), Holy Name Medical Center and Alton Williams (Diversity Supporters), Dr. Joan Rivitz, NJ Civil Rights Commissioner, NJ Human Relations Council Advisory Board Chairperson, Associate Director of the NJ Commission on Holocaust Education, and a 2012 Greater Bergen Humanitarian Award recipient (Diversity Contributor), Saint Peter’s Healthcare System and Investors Bank (both 65th Anniversary Diversity Ally Sponsors).

Other supporters, presenters, and attendees of the event included S. Craig Mourton, Assistant Provost for Fairleigh Dickinson University Metropolitan Campus and our Greater Bergen Chapter Chair; Bergen County Freeholder John Mitchell, who serves with Ms. Smiley Lacey on the local African American Advisory Board; Dr. Michael Riff, Director of the Center for Holocaust Studies at Ramapo College New Jersey; Jacqueline Kates, Community Relations Coordinator at Holy Name Medical Center and former Mayor of Teaneck (2002); Dr. Khyati Joshi, one of our 2012 Greater Bergen Humanitarian Award honorees, a published author, and Fairleigh Dickinson University Associate Professor of Education; Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson (37th District); and Yooni Chang, a Lead for Diversity program delegate from Bergen County Academies.

The Greater Bergen Diversity Legacy Breakfast was the second of several information-rich diversity initiatives the American Conference on Diversity is hosting this fall. For more information, please visit our events calendar

About the American Conference on Diversity

The programs, services, and initiatives of the American Conference on Diversity are among the most important work focused on creating a more inclusive society. It is the unfinished business of living in a highly diverse nation: educating and empowering our next generation of leaders; enhancing our workplaces; and helping to create inclusive communities. The American Conference on Diversity, which has been serving schools, organizations, workplaces, and communities in New Jersey since 1948, builds on a historic mission and creates programs and activities relevant and vital to 21st Century life. It is a journey we can all take together. The American Conference on Diversity operates Regional Community Networks covering all of New Jersey. Visit to learn more.



Gail Zoppo

Media Relations Consultant

109 Church Street

New Brunswick, NJ 08901 



 The Guest Column is our readers' opportunity to write about a given issue or topic in an in-depth and educational manner.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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