EAST ORANGE, NJ — The Young Professionals of East Orange group came to support East Orange Democratic Committee Chairman and Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Leroy Jones, when he was received the 2018 Political Award at the Oranges-Maplewood NAACP’s 105th annual Freedom Fund Awards Banquet at the Wilshire Caterers in West Orange on Sunday, April 29.
The Oranges-Maplewood NAACP also presented the 2018 Spiritual Award to the Rev. Jerry Richardson of First Baptist Church in South Orange, the 2018 President’s Award to Pastor Ronald Slaughter of St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in Newark, the 2018 Community Award to journalist Barry Carter and the 2018 Education Award to the Committee for an Elected Orange School Board.
“Today, we came here to support the NAACP and also so support our chairman, Leroy Jones,” said Akeem Cunningham, an East Orange firefighter and co-founder of the YPEO, at the event. “He was an honoree tonight, so we definitely wanted to come out as the Young Professionals and support him, because he always supports us. We’ve got to stay ‘East Orange Strong.’ We’ve got to represent for our city as well.”
The other four founding members of the YPEO are: Casim E. Gomez, Ajah Baldwin, artist and designer Kaylan Jones and Marquis Salley. Salley also attended the awards banquet along with new member Davizael Sanchez.
“I’m here with the Young Professionals, trying to make it better than it was before us,” Sanchez said at the event. “We’re here. We’ve got to shake it up. America was built on a melting pot and nothing’s different. Latinos and blacks, we all share the same struggle. There’s no difference really, because we’re all the same.”
Sanchez said shared values and motivations drew him to the organization.
“We’re all here trying to make it better than everyone else before us and we’re all trying to do the best that we can,” said Sanchez.
“We’re just trying to advance everything for our colored people, so of course, we would be out here supporting the NAACP,” said Salley on Sunday, April 29. “Of course, we would be out here supporting our chairman, Leroy Jones, because he always supporting us in all of our endeavors. Congratulations, Chairman Leroy Jones. We wish you the best in all your future endeavors.”
Jones said he was thankful for the support from the NAACP and the members of the YPEO.
“I was truly humbled by the Orange and Maplewood NAACP selecting me as an honoree at this year’s Freedom Fund Banquet,” Jones said at the banquet. “It was indeed an honor and a privilege to be considered, along with the other amazing honorees, who were so deserving for their respective contributions to our community and the greater good of our society.”
Committee for an Elected Orange School Board member Janice Morrell heard the words about unity, equality, progress and professionalism by members of the YPEO on Sunday, April 29, and offered her opinion.
“I would offer one correction: Learn more about your history,” said Morrell on Sunday, April 29. “We are not a minority, that’s No. 1. Globally, we have never been a minority. We have been oppressed because we have been too kind, too accepting, too open. Teach our young folks to assess, evaluate and then judge whether or not you allow a person outside of our village into our village. You owe it to yourselves and your ancestors to push and pull so that you can rise above all that is thrown in your pathway and take the community with you.”
Cunningham took her advice to heart.
“If somebody is telling you something, it’s because they care,” Cunningham said. “We actually took the time to buy a building in our city at the last city auction. That was imperative, because when you come to our city, there are so many people buying up property who don’t look like us and it’s about time that we need to buy our block back and show people that we can reinvest in our community and we want to uplift our community. So we didn’t want to leave the ‘hood or go somewhere else or invest somewhere else.”