Essex County honored five of their own as legends Wednesday afternoon, including the late Mayor Kenneth A. Gibson, at a ceremony outside the Essex County Government Building in Newark.
Along with Gibson, who died on March 29, the other four honorees were Pearl Beatty, Lebby Jones, Trish Morris-Yamba and Ramon Rivera, all of whom were trailblazers and fought for their respective communities.
Those in attendance included Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka and other representatives throughout Newark and Essex County.
“We talk about community service, but these folks were really interested in community empowerment,” Baraka said. “The work they did collectively is probably more than thousands of us put together.”
Gibson was elected mayor in 1970 in the tumultuous period following the devastating 1967 riots a city that was "divided racially, socially and economically," according to his plaque. "Using his calm and quiet demeanor, Gibson reached out to the diverse segments of the city’s population, helped restore order and stability to the community, and laid the foundation on which Newark, was revitalized and reborn."
Gibson, who was the first African American mayor elected to a major city in the northeast served, served for four terms, the longest serving mayor in Newark history at that time. He is credited with inspiring a generation of blacks to get involved in public service.
Beatty, who was elected as an Essex County freeholder in 1978, was the first president of the board under the current form of county government. Beatty was remembered as a driving force in Gibson’s 1970 campaign who continued her advisory role during his 16-year tenure as mayor.
“I have had the privilege and honor of knowing and working with each one of these people,” Oliver said. “Pearl Beatty served the community with strength and dignity. When she was elected, it was the first time in my life that I ever saw a black woman hold a political position. She set the standard for the others who followed.”
Jones, a grassroots activist from Irvington, worked as an educator for 33 years. She was remembered for helping to shape the young minds in the Newark public school system. She also served as president of the Irvington Board of Education. Among her many notable accomplishments was serving as an executive board member of the Irvington Branch of the NAACP.
Morris-Yamba, an advocate of early childhood education, founded the CHEN School and Early Childhood Coalition of Newark along with serving as executive director for the Newark Day Center and The Greater Newark Fresh Air Fund for 32 years.
Rivera was a luminary for the Latino community in Newark and beyond. He founded La Casa de Don Pedro, a community organization “committed to empowering the under-served Latino families in the North Ward,” according his plaque. Rivera was directly connected to the wave of change that swept Gibson into office by working with the Black and Puerto Rican Convention.
The tree-lined Legends Way, located on the former 13th Avenue on the southern side of the Essex County Hall of Records, was created after the Jurors’ parking garage was opened in 2008. It features bronze plaques recognizing people who have made significant contributions to Essex County, from politicians to sports figures, civil rights leaders to business owners.