CAMDEN, NJ — Nikole Hannah-Jones, known for her groundbreaking New York Times’ “1619 Project,” will receive an honorary degree during Rutgers-University Camden’s commencement ceremony on May 20, the Rutgers University Board of Governors announced during its meeting Tuesday.

The project began as an effort to bring attention to the 400th anniversary of the year when enslaved people were first brought to the US.

“Throughout her career, Ms. Hannah-Jones has shed light on issues of injustice in our country. Her 1619 Project is a pioneering work that will influence how we must view our national history and the role of slavery in the founding of our nation,” said Rutgers University–Camden Chancellor Phoebe Haddon.

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Additionally, the school will honor Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health, Judith Persichilli on May 20 and American Bar Association (ABA) President, Judy Perry Martinez on May 21.  

“Rutgers–Camden is proud to present honorary degrees to three prominent advocates for equality during commencement this year,” added Haddon. “Ms. Martinez embodies Rutgers–Camden’s deep commitment to public service, including supporting the needs of society and government, promoting diversity and inclusion, and offering access to justice. Similarly, Ms. Persichilli’s lifetime of service has strengthened families, communities, and the overall health of our state.”

Rutgers will hold five commencement ceremonies at the BB&T Pavilion on the Camden waterfront. Hannah-Jones will receive a Doctor of Science degree during the College of Arts and Sciences ceremony at 6 pm, Martinez a Doctor of Laws degree at the Rutgers Law School ceremony at 9:30 a.m., and Persichilli a Doctor of Science degree during the School of Nursing ceremony at 9 am. 

Hannah-Jones, an award-winning investigative reporter for The New York Times Magazine, covers civil rights and racial injustice Throughout her career she has received various awards, including the George Polk Award in Journalism and a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship (or “Genius Grant”).

She also founded the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting in 2016 - working to train and mentor investigative reporters of color. 

Martinez began her career at a New Orleans law firm, where she established the New Orleans Pro Bono Project — an organization that provides opportunities for private sector attorneys to provide free legal services to those in need.

In her role for the ABA, Martinez leads one of the world’s largest voluntary professional organizations, with nearly 400,000 members and more than 3,500 entities.

Last month when she became commissioner, Persichilli became the first registered nurse to lead the New Jersey Department of Health. 

She has also served as acting chief executive officer (CEO) of University Hospital in Newark, president and CEO of Catholic Health East, and CEO of St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton. 

Persichilli also co-founded the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia.

For information on Rutgers-University Camden’s 2020 Commencement visit

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