HACKENSACK, NJ -- The Hackensack Mayor and City Council recognized two long-time residents and three landmark Churches that have served residents for generations at the Feb. 25 council meeting.

The honorees were Elaine Merritt, Founder-Pastor Highway Holiness Church Ministries, Inc. and Dr. Yolanda Hawkins-Rodgers.

Merritt began preaching in 1984 and in 1989 became the ordained Pastor of Holiness Church Ministries, which she started as a mission, in her home in Hackensack. Hawkins-Rodgers is a licensed psychologist who has worked with adolescents and young adults and held the position of Chair of Psychology and Counseling at Fairleigh Dickinson University, the first African American to do so.

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“I want to congratulate the honorees, who have given so much to the entire Hackensack community,” said Hackensack Mayor John Labrosse. “I grew up in Hackensack, and raised my kids here. We’ve always been treated well and felt welcomed in Hackensack’s Baptist churches, and I’ve seen the great work Mrs. Hawkins-Rodgers and Mrs. Merritt do for the entire community.”

The ceremony also commemorated the 100th anniversary of New Hope Baptist Church, with a proclamation given to Reverend Dr. Drew Kyndall Ross, the 50th anniversary of the Trinity Baptist Church, with a proclamation presented to Reverend George W. Maize, IV. The Council also passed a proclamation mourning the loss of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Ara Zobayan and Sarah and Payton Chester, who passed away in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday, January 26, 2020.

“I’d like to congratulate Mrs. Hawkins-Rodgers and Mrs. Merritt. I’ve known them for a long time, and they mean a lot to Hackensack residents,” said Deputy Mayor David Sims. “Year-round but especially during Black History Month, it’s important to celebrate people like them, and institutions like Trinity and New Hope Baptist Churches as well as Holiness Church that are there for our residents.”

Black History Month has only been federally celebrated since 1976, although it has been celebrated by civic associations and in certain college campuses since 1970.

“We are honored and proud to receive this honor from the City of Hackensack. Our Church has always sought to be part of the community and a beacon of light and hope to Hackensack, and we are proud to have stood with this community for 100 years,” said Reverend Dr. Drew Kyndall Ross of New Hope Baptist Church. “Thank you to our Mayor for this great honor, and to Deputy Mayor Sims, a member of New Hope, for being a blessing and a role model for our church."