NEWARK – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. dedicated five bronze plaques along Legends Way on Wednesday in honor of five notable leaders from the city and other municipalities in Essex County.
The plaques honored Pearl Beatty, Kenneth A. Gibson, Lebby Jones, Trish Morris-Yamba, and Ramon Rivera, all of whom are now deceased. Beatty was the first freeholder president under the current form of county government in Essex County, Gibson was the first African-American mayor of Newark, Jones was a councilwoman in Irvington and a member of the Essex County Board of Freeholders, Morris-Yamba was the long-time executive director of The Newark Day Center and the Fresh Air Fund, and Rivera the founder and former executive director of La Casa de Don Pedro, an organization that empowers Latino residents in Newark's North Ward through economic growth and development and neighborhood revitalization projects.
“Pearl Beatty, Ken Gibson, Lebby Jones, Trish Morris-Yamba and Ramon Rivera each dedicated their lives to helping others, improving their community and putting the needs of others before their own. They each impacted the lives of many,” DiVincenzo said in a press release about the event. “They are deserving of being remembered as Essex County legends and having their names at our government complex will remind people of their contributions,” he added.
The former 13th Avenue on the southern side of the Essex County Hall of Records was transformed into a tree-lined promenade when the Jurors’ parking garage was opened in 2008. It was later named “Legends Way” and features bronze plaques recognizing people who have made significant contributions to Essex County.
Politicians attended the dedication event some of which included Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman LeRoy Jones, and Essex County Freeholders President Brendan Gill. Family members of some of the inductees also attended the plaque dedications.
“I have had the privilege and honor of knowing and working with each one of these people,” Lt. Governor Sheila 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,” Oliver said when she presented Beatty’s family with a memorial plaque.
“They all loved their community and believed in service, as well as community empowerment. Everyone benefited from the work they did,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said.
Beatty began her career in politics when she sang at a Democratic rally for presidential candidate at the time John F. Kennedy. She became an activist for social justice and civil rights, attending the 1963 March on Washington and picketing Woolworth’s in Newark to convince the corporate owners to hire African-American employees and to allow African-Americans to be served at the lunch counter. She was also an advisor to then Newark Mayor Kenneth A. Gibson and was influencential in city's mayoral election in 1970.
“I applaud the County Executive’s foresight for creating Legends Way. Commemorating plaques is an uplifting memorial for all of us and helps us remember our leaders and teach our future generations,” Gill said in the press release. “Each of the honorees today embody service and dedication to Essex County,” he added.
“It’s refreshing to know how they each touched our lives. I want to also thank their families for sharing them with us,” Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman LeRoy Jones said.
When Gibson was elected mayor of Newark in 1970, his goal was to revitalize Newark since the city was in turmoil from the 1967 riots and people were divided racially, socially and economically.
Gibson served as mayor for 16 years, and during that time worked with people in town to restore order and stability. He was the first African American mayor elected in Newark.
"Wherever America's cities are going, Newark will get there first. A role model and mentor, many sought his guidance when they decided to seek public office at the local, county and state levels. Mr. Gibson will always be remembered for his love of and dedication to Newark and its residents,” read the plaque honoring Gibson.
Gibson’s wife Camille simply said, “thank you. He was my hero.”
A grassroots activist, Jones served as thepPresident of Irvington’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Celebration Committee, Executive Board Member of the Irvington Branch of the NAACP, and Founder and President of the Irvington Chapter of the National Action Network. A devoted educator for 33 years, she helped shape the young minds in the Newark Public School System and served as president of the Irvington Board of Education. She served on the Irvington Municipal Council for two decades. In 2014, Jones left the Irvington Municipal Council to become a Freeholder At-Large and brought the same outspoken enthusiasm to Essex County.
“Lebby Jones was a mentor and a true leader,” Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss said.
“My aunt was someone who always told you the truth and always said things straight. She was a real genuine person,” said Tanisha Philips, Jones's niece.
Morris-Yamba founded the CHEN School and the Early Childhood Coalition of Newark. She was the executive director of the Newark Day Center and The Greater Newark Fresh Air Fund for 32 years. Her work through those organizations ensured inner-city children had positive experiences and the opportunity to participate in recreational activities which included attending summer camp. Morris-Yamba was a founding member of the National Congress of Black Women and was passionate about empowering women professionally and politically.
“Trish Morris-Yamba was a wonderful woman who gave so much. She loved children and led generations to a better life through her work,” Deputy Chief of Staff William Payne said.
“What Trish did will outlive her life on this earth. She believed in the empowerment of children and women,” said her husband, Zachary Yamba.
Rivera founded La Casa de Don Pedro, a community organization committed to empowering the under-served Latino families in the North Ward of Newark. As its first executive director, Rivera’s 23-year tenure helped the organization grow into a social services entity that provided childhood education, afterschool programs, youth leadership initiatives, Weatherization and Home Energy Assistance, and a Hispanic Women’s Resource Center.
Rivera worked locally with the Black and Puerto Rican Convention that led to the election of Newark’s first African American Mayor, Kenneth A. Gibson. On a statewide level, he was involved with the New Jersey Hispanic Women’s Task Force and successfully lobbied for a bill establishing Women’s Resource Centers throughout the state.
“Ramon knew the importance of equity, inclusion and fairness. He was an amazing spirit at a time when there wasn’t a place for Latinos,” NJ State Senator and Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz said.
“We appreciate this so much because my father’s legacy will live on. He was a revolutionary, giving the community he represented a voice,” said his son, Ramon Rivera.