PATERSON. NJ - In a final testament to Black History Month, Assemblyman Benjie E Wimberly (D35) hosted a a Q&A panel with three of New Jersey’s leading women at Rosa Parks High School. The panelists: Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, Secretary of State Tashea Way and Secretary of Higher Education Dr. Zakiya Smith Ellis.

With the three prominent African American women sitting on the stage students were given a chance to present their questions on a range of topics to the panelists. From these the women touched on a number of issues, including their personal journeys, while also providing invaluable advice to students to achieve their own success.   

Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver encouraged students to step out and take chances.

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“My advice to you: As a young person.... do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. You don’t need an entourage to travel through life. Rely on what you want to do,” said Oliver. “It’s a big world and do not be afraid to go out because there is so much opportunity for you. Don’t be afraid to jump out there and pursue whatever you want.”

Oliver spoke about her own youth and related her own journey and struggles to students before teasing “Imagine what I could’ve achieved if I had just stepped out of my comfort zone if I did all this without it… I would have been more successful than Oprah Winfrey.”  

Way, a former Passaic County freeholder and judge, shared the same sentiment as Oliver, detailing how hard she used to beat herself up over simple mistakes in her childhood. She stressed to students that  “it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s not about them. It’s about what you do after and what you learn from them.”

“Keep showing up. Don’t be discouraged. If you tried to do something and it didn’t work out, don’t beat yourself up. Dust yourself off and keep showing up, putting one foot in front of the other. Keep waking up, showing up, and you will do more than you could ever imagine,” said Ellis, leaving the panel on a strong final note that resonated deeply with the audience.

Through the composure, eloquence, and confidence of the guests the hour long panel gave the students in the audience, mostly African American females, a sense of hope for the future.

In addition to the panel discussion, two seniors, Taniesha Gilbert and Khadija Moody, were recognized for their outstanding accomplishments during the event. Gilbert, a standout athlete who scored over 1,000 points for the Kennedy Lady Knights, while also performing academically, and Khadija Moody, who was recently named as a finalist for the Prudential Spirit of Community Award for her more than 10,000 of volunteer service to the community, were both presented with plaques, and met with applause from their classmates.

“Rosa Parks isn’t just a great school in Paterson, but it’s one of the better schools in the country and the perfect place to host an event like this,” said Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly. “It was great for these students at Rosa Parks to hear from this panel today of successful woman and to hear what they had to say about themselves, their journey and the significance of Black History month.”


Shiquira Poulson is a junior at Rosa Park High School of Fine and Performing Arts and a member of the TAPinto Paterson internship program.

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