Newark, NJ – As part of a year-long cultural series created to highlight Essex County's diversity, the county hosted its annual African American History Month celebration on Wednesday, where Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. presented the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award to Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and the Coretta Scott King Leadership Award to the county's Office of Human Resources Deputy Director Jacqueline Jones.

The celebration, now in its fifteenth year and held at the Essex County Hall of Records in Newark, was attended by elected officials and community leaders including Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff and Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, Sheriff Armando Fontoura, Freeholder Vice President Wayne Richardson and Newark North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos.

"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.

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"Mayor Baraka has dedicated his life to giving back to the community, first as an educator and principal in the Newark Public Schools and now as Mayor of the state's largest city, and the positive impact he is having can easily be seen. Jackie is a talented professional who cares about people. She volunteers her time in her hometown of East Orange and, as Deputy Director of Human Resources, has spearheaded the County's efforts to organize employees to support a myriad of charities."

DiVincenzo cited Baraka’s accomplishments since he took office in 2014 regarding public safety and at-risk youth, among others.

“I am humbled and honored to receive this award from the County Executive,” Baraka said. “To receive an award named for Martin Luther King is amazing, but what I have done as Mayor is nothing more than just my job. My parents molded me into the person that you see today. My father gave me a love for reading and study and my mother gave me a love for people.”

Jones, an East Orange native and wife of Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Leroy Jones, organizes the county's fundraising efforts for several charitable organizations, including the American Heart Association, the Valerie Fund and Making Strides Breast Cancer Walk and currently serves as a trustee for the East Orange Senior Citizen Housing Association.

In 2014, Jones was honored as the First Lady of Essex County during a Women’s Day Celebration hosted by Saint Paul AME Church in East Orange.

“I want to thank the County Executive for this honor,” Jones said. “When you see someone in history who fills your spirit like Coretta Scott King, it inspires you. I can really relate to her because everything Dr. King went through, so did she. Having her as part of our history helps me be a strong woman.”