Newark, NJ — On February 17, the Essex County Board of County Commissioners virtually held its 2021 African-American Heritage Month Celebration via Zoom teleconference. The ceremony commemorated the heritage, culture, resilience, and spirit of the African-American community, and acknowledged the contributions of Essex County’s African-American residents.  

Commissioner President Wayne L. Richardson began the program with opening remarks speaking to the challenges of the past year — most notably the Coronavirus Pandemic and the rekindled call for all Americans to embrace the struggle for equality. He highlighted the Board’s effort to provide relief for underserved communities of color through the provision of readily available COVID-19 testing and weekly Food Distribution Events, as well as the Board’s continued support of the Black Lives Matter movement and the recognition of Juneteenth as a holiday.

This year, the Board recognized four outstanding Essex County residents for their leadership: Ryan P. Haygood, Esq. of Newark, The Honorable David Cummings of Montclair, Harry Paden of Irvington, and Deborah Davis Ford of South Orange.  

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Deborah Davis Ford currently serves as the Clerk of the Essex County Board of County Commissioners since being appointed on May 6, 2009. Prior to her time as Clerk of the Board, she served on the South Orange Village Board of Trustees for 12 years. She has a rich history in civic service including serving as the first African-American and female president of the Newark Rotary Club; serving on the Executive Board of North Jersey Jack & Jill; President of the Greater Newark Chamber Small Business Council; and Chairperson of Partners in Education and Quality.

She currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the Black Parents Workshop, Inc. and Cinema Ed; and has previously served on the New Jersey Transit Advisory Board and the Cancer Care Advisory Board. She is a professional, wife, mother and fully engaged public servant. She brings an impressive record of more than 20 years of corporate experience and success to her role as Clerk, and is a respected professional in the field of personnel training and client management. In addition to her roles as a mother, wife and the family caregiver, she believes one of her greatest accomplishments is her dedication to community service.

Ryan P. Haygood, Esq. is the President and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ) and a nationally respected civil rights lawyer. He leads a majority women of color team of racial justice advocates that seeks to build systems that create wealth, justice and power for Blacks, Latinos and other people of color in New Jersey.

Under his leadership, the NJISJ’s advocacy has led to the historic restoration of the vote to 83,000 people on parole and probation; automatic and online voter registration; ending prison-based gerrymandering for state legislative redistricting; $15 minimum wage; and the development of Newark 2020 — a Newark initiative to connect 2,020 Newark residents to employment by 2020. Prior to leading the Institute, Ryan served as Deputy Director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., where he worked for more than a decade. Mr. Haygood is a passionate advocate and speaks regularly on issues concerning race, law, social justice, democracy and power. 

The Honorable David Cummings currently serves as the 4th Ward Councilor on the Montclair Township Council. Prior to his time on the Township Council, he served as a member of the Montclair Board of Education; the Montclair Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee; the Montclair Civil Rights Commission; and Vice Chairman of the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corporation. He is also the Principal of DEK Strategies, LLC, a boutique consulting agency specializing in Digital Media and Communications Strategy.

He attributes his success to the strong foundation of his childhood in Montclair and the Montclair Public School system. After graduating from high school, he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta. During his time there, he participated in a voting drive led by Reverend Jessie Jackson which inspired him to cast his first vote for the late Senator John Lewis. He also worked part-time with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the non-violent civil rights group started by fellow Morehouse Alum Dr. Martin Luther King. He credits his parents, Morris and Carole Cummings, and his siblings for his passion to give back and make sure he actively participates in his community.

Harry Paden is the owner and Chief Executive Officer of HP, Inc., — a multi-faceted consultation company. He is also on the Board of Directors for Westbridge Academy in Bloomfield and a member of the Irvington National Action Network. From a young age, he always knew the value of education. He ranked third in his graduating class from Central High School and obtained his education from American University in Washington, D.C., and Princeton University.

He is the author of “A Living Testimony” How to Raise America’s Nightmare: Educated Children of Color; and “NOW YOU TELL ME!” — History and Facts not taught in “most” schools. He is also the host and producer of a cable program entitled “The Irvington Now Show”. In addition to authoring books and hosting television shows that speak to the concerns of the African American community, he is a former newspaper columnist and author of the columns titled; “Knowledge is Power”; “The Truth Shall Set You Free”; “The Paden Paradigm”; “The Paden Perspective”; and “Let the Church Say Amen”. He is the father of six children, grandfather of 22 and great-grandfather of eight. His most important achievement is raising two daughters as a single parent. He lives by the belief, “What the mind can conceive the body can achieve!”

Reverend Dr. Campbell Singleton of Union Baptist Church of Montclair delivered prayers during the occasion, and the audience was captivated by the musical talents of Mark Beckett.

To view the event in its entirety click here:


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