Marley Dias Honored for Social Acitvism at West Orange Township Council Meeting

Marley Addressing students at St. Cloud on her achievement. Credits: Jackie Goldman-Schatell
West Orange Township Council members. Credits: Chris Harewood

WEST ORANGE, NJ - Updates on the Gregory School parking lot improvements, the recent West Orange Preservation Meeting for St. Mark’s and an update on some Downtown Alliance activities were the focus of Tuesday’s Town Council meeting. In addition, student Marley Dias was honored for her social activism and former Mayor Sam Spina was remembered.

Gregory School Parking Lot Update

Some residents raised issue with the plans to make Gregory School parking safer—saying that the town should not have to pay for it. They also questioned how the project will happen. Councilman Jerry Guarino attempted to quell some of these concerns.

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He said, “There will be professionals getting involved with the final plan by the Board of Education. Your input will be very well appreciated. We represent all of the town, and we’re responsible to everyone— including our children—to make it a safe environment.”

Regarding the plan, Guarino added “we want it to be as clear as possible. Once all the ‘he said, she said’ is laid out in plain English, everyone will have a better comfort level.”

West Orange Preservation Meeting

According to Councilman Joe Krakoviak, the West Orange Preservation Meeting that took place recently involved a “meeting of the minds” to discuss plans in wake of the St. Mark’s Church fire. Present at the meeting were the pastor of the church, private architects, Chief Administrator Jack Sayers, Police Department Chief Abbott, Krakoviak, and Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen.

Krakoviak said all parties at the meeting brought Frelinghuysen up to speed. He added that the pastor’s assistant has been in touch with West Orange resident and Downtown Alliance member Dave Drill who owns a building next to town hall. Some of the space in that building may be used for future meetings regarding the church. He also said that the West Orange Historic Preservation committee has “reviewed drawings for bracing church walls and has provided written comments.”

Downtown Alliance Update

Megan Brill, executive director of the West Orange Downtown Alliance, gave a brief update to what has been going on with the alliance. 

She said that National Park Service is celebrating its 100 year anniversary this year for all its national parks and that there will be more visual signage and banners placed throughout the town about Thomas Edison and his many contributions.

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She also said that the Farmer’s Market will not be held this year because there is no sponsorship.

“If there’s an organization that wants to do it (sponsor it), they can, but we just thought our sources would be dedicated in a different area,” she said.

Brill thanked the people who supported the Farmer’s Market for the last 12 years.

Lastly, Brill brought up Town Historian Joe Fagan to speak about the Historical Marker Initiative highlighted in their first meeting of the year. The first was the Anna Easter Brown Historic Marker Unveiled at West Orange Library.

Marley Dias Honored

During the conference meeting, West Orange resident and St. Cloud Elementary graduate Marley Dias was honored for her initiative, which sought to bring more awareness to the lack of black female protagonists in books

Council President Victor Cirilo said he was thoroughly impressed with the young girl.

“Not everyone in life is blessed with the intuition to embrace social activism and really understand it, and embrace it in such a way to accentuate change,” he said. 

Through her efforts and help from other big contributors such as Barnes and Noble, Marley has collected over 2,400 books with black female protagonists. The books were donated to places including a school in Jamaica, the Speedway Academy in Newark, and St. Cloud Elementary.

Marley’s mother, Dr. Janice Johnson-Dias, spoke about the honor.

“This has been more than spectacular,” she said. “It’s wonderful to know that a little practice that started 11 years ago of making sure our daughter read, and that it was a fundamental part of her life, has taken ahold of everything. It’s important to us that we recognize what happens when we listen to our children.”

She also thanked West Orange and said, “This is where we live, so for you to take the opportunity to recognize us as citizens of this town, it shows that West Orange is a place that really understands diversity.”

Marley thanked all who donated—her friends, the township, and her old school of St. Cloud.

Former Mayor Sam Spina Remembered

In other news, a moment of silence was held for former Mayor Sam Spina who passed away on Feb. 10.

Cirilo said “we really admired his contributions to the municipality.” 

Strategic Planning Meeting Update

Councilwoman Caslino spoke about the final West Orange Strategic Planning Meeting that took place last week, of which she attended as a part of her duty as liaison to the Board of Education.

“The New Jersey School Board did a wonderful job of organizing and getting the parents out (to the event),” she said.

Save the Date

Councilman Susan McCartney announced that the Rotary Club’s “Taste of the World” event is taking place on March 7.  Tickets will be $50.

The next Town Council meeting is scheduled for March 8 at 6:30 p.m. Residents are encouraged to attend.

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