NEWARK, NJ — Essex County hosted its annual Women’s History Month Program at the Hall of Records in Newark on Wednesday, March 22. During the ceremony, the 2017 Essex County Althea Gibson Leadership Award was presented to Margie Heller, administrative director of community health and outreach at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston; Carmen Morales, vice principal of Essex County Newark Tech Campus; and Autumn Turner, ice skating teacher at Codey Arena and a contestant on “The Voice.” In addition, special recognition was presented to 11-year-old Dasia Edmond, author of the children’s book “Uniquely Made: Girls Don’t Play Football.”
“Through their personal contributions and professional activities, our honorees, each in their own unique way, have had a positive impact in the health care, athletic and educational fields and a profound effect on the lives of our residents. They all freely give their time and expertise to improve our community,” DiVincenzo said. “These remarkable women have made tremendous contributions and have established themselves as influential leaders in their fields.”
“Women have power and we are proud to have three women on our Board of Chosen Freeholders, more than any other freeholder board in the state,” Freeholder Patricia Sebold said.
Heller is the administrative director of community health and outreach at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. She attributes her 22-year career at St. Barnabas to a whole-hearted alignment in her personal and professional mission, vision and values. Community service has been a quality ingrained in her from a young age by strong community-minded role models, such as her father, mother and aunt. Heller resides in Roseland with her family and is a board member for a variety of civic and charitable organizations.
“I consider it a privilege to be accepting this award alongside some truly amazing and inspirational Essex County women,” Heller said. “Althea Gibson was infamous for breaking barriers, not only for African Americans, but also for women. As administrative director of community health and outreach at St. Barnabas Medical Center, breaking down barriers is part of our daily mission. Our job revolves around the ability to break barriers, to engage the community and to serve a public need through health education, screenings and community support.”
Morales is the vice principal at Essex County Newark Tech Campus, from which also graduated in 1995. Morales was the first in her family to go to college and graduate with advanced degrees. She began teaching pre-school at the North Ward Child Development Center and, soon after, was promoted to education coordinator. It was during that time that she recognized her desire to be in a school leadership position. After working for Newark Public Schools as an adult education teacher, Morales earned her principal and supervisor certification from Seton Hall University.
“Although you are honoring me, I want to share this award with the students, teachers and staff at Essex County Newark Tech. They are truly a committed and outstanding group of people. For me to serve as vice principal to the school where I attended is a dream come true,” Morales said. “Women’s History Month is an opportunity to recognize the trailblazers of the past, to note the heroines of today and to inspire the leaders of tomorrow.”
Turner was raised by a single mother who always instilled work ethics, passion and compassion in her life. She graduated from Lacordaire Academy in 2009 and Montclair State University in 2014 with a major in general humanities and a minor in musical theatre. Turner has been figure skating since the age of 3 and began competing from age 5 to 15. She started volunteering at Codey Arena at the age of 13 to assist with the Learn to Skate program and then became a coach at age 16. She has been working at the arena ever since. She also worked at a private school, Kearny Christian Academy, where she was a pre-school aide, first- and second-grade teacher’s assistant, high school drama teacher and middle school English teacher. She recently decided it was time for her to follow her dream of singing, auditioning for “The Voice” on NBC and getting a four-chair turn from the coaches. Her mentor on the show is Alicia Keyes.
“First and foremost I would like to thank God for the events in my life that have led me to this moment. Without the heart, love, drive and constant encouragement from my mother, receiving this award would not be possible,” Turner said. “I am so grateful to be accepting the Althea Gibson award and being honored as a leader in this community proves that my belief in giving back can make a difference.”
Dasia “DasiaVu” Edmond is an 11-year-old sixth-grader with a vision to capture her life’s events in books and allow her peers to journey with her through those tough teenage years. Edmond is a new author and “Uniquely Made: Girls Don’t Play Football” is her first book. In it, she tells the story of how, after constantly being told that “girls don’t play football,” she not only made the Pop Warner Team, but played for three years. She takes the readers on a journey of how she convinced her parents to allow her to play and earned the respect of her teammates and coaches.
“Thank you for this award. I am very grateful,” Edmond said. “My story represents how I got on the team, convinced my parents to let me participate and how everyone supported me. It captures how I achieved my goal to play football and I want to inspire other young girls and let them know that they can do whatever they want if they put their minds to it and don’t doubt themselves.”
These annual awards are dedicated to the memory of the late professional tennis and golf legend, who was the first African-American to win the Wimbledon Tennis and U.S. Golf Championships. In 1957, Gibson became the first African-American to win the All-England Championship. That same year she became the first black to be voted by the Associated Press as its Female Athlete of the Year. The Althea Gibson Foundation exposes children in the inner city to the game of tennis and golf, and provides recreational activities for students during the summer.