(Newark, NJ) – On April 14, 2021, the Essex County Board of County Commissioners virtually held its 2021 Essex County Celebrates Youth Program via Zoom teleconference.  The ceremony aims to acknowledge and encourage outstanding young people throughout Essex County.  

Commissioner President Wayne L. Richardson began the program with opening remarks speaking to the contributions of our younger generation during the challenges of the past year - most notably the Coronavirus Pandemic -  and the need for all of us to move forward with our day-to-day lives while remaining vigilant in our actions to stop the spread of the virus.

This year, the Board recognized three outstanding young students for their leadership, and one well renowned youth organization: Elina Brahmandam of Livingston, Jaylene Rivera of Newark, Genesis Whitlock of Montclair, and the Abbott Leadership Institute of Newark.

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Elina Brahmandam, currently a fifth-grader at Harrison Elementary School in Livingston, was recognized for a variety of contributions including working as an editor for “Girls Who STEAM” - a non-profit dedicated to closing the gender gap in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), training her peers and older high school aged students on the basics of computer programming, as well as authoring a blog and publishing two books.

Jaylene Rivera, a fourth-grader at Roberto Clemente Elementary School, has been volunteering for the Latino Edification Multicultural Aid Center for the past year. Her duties include stocking up the center’s food pantry, pre-packaging bags of food for distribution, and pre-packaging gloves and face masks for seniors, law enforcement personnel, people with respiratory problems, and anyone in need of these supplies.

Genesis Whitlock is a senior at Montclair High School and serves in a multitude of extracurricular capacities including President of the Montclair High School Student Coalition, President of the Montclair NAACP Youth Council, Student Activist Coordinator for Amnesty International, and is the first Student Representative on Montclair’s Board of Education. Last summer, she organized a march of over 6,000 members of the community to address racial inequities within the school system, and assisted in drafting the Montclair district-wide anti-racism policy.

The Abbott Leadership Institute is an organization, led by Kaleena Berryman, that has been making a positive difference in the lives of Newark youth since 2002.  They have empowered parents, students and educators with information about education policy, methods for civic engagement, and leadership in school reform. Accepting the commendation on their behalf was Mercy Wah, a senior at University High School and current peer mentor in the organization.

Minister Andrew Johnson from the St. Paul Baptist Church in Montclair delivered prayers during the occasion, and the audience was captivated by the musical talents of three siblings - Mecadon, Zuri, and Ava McCune.

Looking for more information on the Essex County Board of Commissioners? The Essex County Commissioners Mobile App is now available for download on the Apple and Google Play Stores.