Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of profiles on newly-elected members of the Camden City Council and School Advisory Board. The first in the series focuses on Nyemah Gillespie, the second on Shaneka Boucher, the third on Victor Carstarphen, and the fourth on Falio Leyba-Martinez.
CAMDEN, NJ — Felisha Reyes-Morton has seen Camden through many lenses over the years.
As the daughter of Puerto Rican-born parents who came to North Camden in the 1960s. As the sister of two younger siblings who moved to Parkside following the killing of her father in a drug incident when she was a year old. As the pseudo-mother following the incarceration of her mother for a drug-related crime when she was 15.
And most recently, as the youngest member of the Camden City Council.
“I want to put myself in their shoes...as a resident, as a woman, as a young professional, as a mother, as a wife, and if things are not up to my expectations, I want to work to get them to where they need to be,” Reyes-Morton, 31, told TAPinto Camden, during an interview.
Reyes-Morton is the second-youngest to serve in the city’s history and also the most recently-elected member of the council who was already serving by the time polls came around last November.
She took over in Ward 4 last February following Luis Lopez’s resignation and when she began her three-year term in January, became the first Latina to represent the ward since redistricting took place.
“I invite people to come to me with the issue they’re having or just to hear what their experiences are like. I want to understand where they are, how they feel, how they perceive life in Camden and what we can do to build a collective community,” said Reyes-Morton, who lives in North Camden with her three daughters and husband, Bryan Morton.
Being the youngest member on a council, she said, “means that sometimes you’re not taken as seriously as you would want to.”
“[So far], I’ve been navigating through that and building relationships to keep moving forward,” she said.
Schooling and the school board
Reyes-Morton attended Cramer Elementary, Parkside Elementary, and Hatch Middle School growing up.
She graduated from Camden Academy Charter High School in 2007, and received a bachelor of arts in criminal justice and Spanish from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2010 — graduating in three years and pregnant with her daughter while in the final stretch.
Reyes-Morton was in her early 20’s when she joined Camden’s school board a year later, beginning what-would-be a seven-year tenure.
“Mayor [Frank] Moran, who has always been a mentor of mine since childhood, heard I came back from college and located me in the city. He reached out and asked, ‘Do you want to volunteer for this board?’” she said, while reminiscing. “I admit when I started it was a little overwhelming. Like everything else, I learned with the community, and they learned with me.”
During her time on the board, she launched a gifted and talented pilot program in Spring 2018 — working with private donors to build new STEM labs at Davis, WWHS and CAMVA, and helping to garner over $250 million in investments for new school buildings.
Her efforts extended outside the classroom too, helping to launch the North Camden Little League along with her husband. The league, covered in a documentary, has helped inspire others like it in the area.
Today, in addition to having a seat on the city council, she manages grants for the Camden County Police Department.
Representing her ward
Situated in the north part of town, Ward 4 is flanked by Pennsauken and contained within back roads used by residents and visitors coming in and out of town.
The area is currently under multiple streetscape concept development studies.
“I want what’s on my agenda to be long-term and sustainable for the next 40 plus years...for when I’m not here,” Reyes-Morton said. “In the past year, I’ve been able to get administration support for a citywide master plan for pedestrian and traffic and bike safety.”
From what she could discuss at the moment, she said she is also working on a residential zoning ordinance to better address bad parking habits — such as university students taking up residential spaces in the city.
“In dealing with all the factors impacting the greater community, it’s important to learn about how places like Philadelphia, New York, and even California, for that matter, are dealing with issues,” Reyes-Morton said. “You never know what you’ll learn when you open yourself up.”