NEWARK, NJ — Essex County held its 15th annual African American History Month Celebration at the Essex County Hall of Records on Wednesday, Feb. 28. During the ceremony, County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. presented the Essex County Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award to Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and the Coretta Scott King Leadership Award to Jacqueline Jones, deputy director of the Essex County Office of Human Resources. Both honorees have made significant contributions to the community and their dedication truly captures the dignity and determination of the King family.
“African American History Month is a special time of the year when we highlight the many contributions and achievements African Americans have made to our culture, economy and daily lives throughout our history,” DiVincenzo said. “Mayor Baraka has dedicated his life to giving back to the community, first as an educator and principal in the Newark Public Schools and now as mayor of the state’s largest city — and the positive impact he is having can easily be seen. Jackie is a talented professional who cares about people. She volunteers her time in her hometown of East Orange and, as deputy director of human resources, has spearheaded the county’s efforts to organize employees to support a myriad of charities.”
Baraka was elected mayor of Newark in 2014; enhancing public safety has been his highest priority. He has connected law enforcement agencies with the community; provided at-risk youth with mentoring, education and job training; and developed programs to help ex-offenders join the workforce, gain counseling and medical treatment, and reunite with their families. In addition, he unified the police and fire departments under a single Department of Public Safety, which streamlined the two departments, saved money and put more police on the street. His other public safety initiative, “Occupy the Block,” brings the mayor and senior staffers together with local residents to disrupt criminal activities on high crime blocks.
Under his leadership, Newark was named among the 20 finalists of sites being considered for Amazon’s second headquarters, control of the Newark Public Schools was returned to Newark for the first time in more than 20 years, a social impact venture fund to accelerate the development of technology was launched and the nation’s largest vertical indoor farm was opened. The mayor has earned many accolades, including being listed in The Nation’s 2015 “Most Valuable Progressives” as “Most Valuable Mayor” and Ebony Magazine’s “Power 100.”
Prior to being elected mayor, he served as a member of the Newark City Council and school principal. He was educated in the Newark Public Schools and received a bachelor of arts degree in political science and history from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and a master’s degree in education supervision from St. Peter’s University in Jersey City.
“I am humbled and honored to receive this award from the county executive. To receive an award named for Martin Luther King is amazing, but what I have done as mayor is nothing more than just my job,” Baraka said. “My parents molded me into the person that you see today. My father gave me a love for reading and study and my mother gave me a love for people.”
Jones currently serves as the deputy director of human resources for Essex County. In addition to her regular responsibilities, she organizes Essex County’s fundraising efforts for several charitable organizations, including the American Heart Association, The Valerie Fund and Making Strides Breast Cancer Walk. Previously, she was the certified coordinator of volunteers for the Office of Community Health and a program analyst for the Division of Employment and Training.
In her hometown of East Orange, Jones serves as a trustee for the East Orange Senior Citizen Housing Association, commissioner of the East Orange Parking Authority and is a member of the Order of the Eastern Star and the Pop Warner East Orange Junior Jaguar Organization. In 2014, she was honored as the First Lady of Essex County during a Women’s Day Celebration hosted by Saint Paul AME Church in East Orange.
She is married to Leroy Jones, chairman of the Essex County Democratic Committee and chairman of the East Orange Democratic Committee. She has six children and five grandchildren.
“I want to thank the county executive for this honor,” Jones said. “When you see someone in history who fills your spirit, like Coretta Scott King, it inspires you. I can really relate to her because everything Dr. King went through, so did she. Having her as part of our history helps me be a strong woman.”