IRVINGTON, NJ — Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss and the Municipal Council’s tribute to D. Bilal Beasley, a former Municipal Council president, Essex County freeholder and co-founder of the Team Irvington social and political organization, was a star-studded affair that featured a performance by singer Hunter Hayes and a host of elected officials on Saturday, Sept. 29. Among those in attendance were East Orange Mayor Ted Green and his wife, June, and Leroy Jones, chairman of the East Orange Democratic Committee and the Essex County Democratic Committee.
The tribute included a bronze memorial statue that was unveiled on a dais in front of the Municipal Building. The statue was designed by the same sculptors who created the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team’s Fred Shero Monument and the George Halas Monument for the Chicago Bears football team. Also, Civic Square was renamed D. Bilal Beasley Square, and a memorial plaque was installed on a wall inside the Municipal Building describing Beasley’s accomplishments as the “boss of Irvington.”
Jones said at the event: “To the illustrious, incomparable, divine, dignified family of Bilal Beasley and the matriarch, Baseemah Beasley, and to the fine residents of the township of Irvington and the residents of Essex County, let me just say that today’s tribute and this wonderful likeness of Bilal, who had a vision for Irvington which transcends throughout the length and the breadth of this county and this great state, is a fitting and noble gesture.”
“As you said, he and his vision will be cemented and his legacy will forever be ingrained in the fabric and the lives of the people of Irvington, this county, this state and this nation. You know I am one of those products of Bilal Beasley, probably one of the youngest members at that time being elected to the Board of Chosen Freeholders … and that was because of Bilal Beasley, his leadership, his tutelage, his vision for young people.”
Jones described Beasley as a gentle giant and a rock who everyone just knew had their best interests at heart. He said Beasley had the community at heart, family at heart and understood how to get things done.
“But he understood how to cement that legacy, so that generations that came behind him would always be guided, would always benefit from the principles and the foundation that he established here in Irvington,” said Jones. “So I stand proudly before all of you, proudly before this monument of his likeness, to just say to you, mayor and members of the Town Council, ‘Thank you for not forgetting.’ There’s been an old adage that old soldiers never die, they just fade away. But I’m here to just say that no, that attitude doesn’t hold weight here, because we have never, ever let Bilal’s legacy fade. It shines brightly as the sun before us and that is something, ladies and gentlemen, that we want to cling to, we want to hold on and we want to cement that, so that all those generations that come behind all of us and certainly behind him will understand what public service is all about, will understand what civil liberties is all about, because that was his essence.”
Jones apologized for going long during his remarks, but said that was “just because of the love that I had for the man, the will that he had for younger people and his desire to create a tomorrow for so many good people.”
“I’m here to say to all of you that I am so proud to see this cavalcade of elected officials, this collaboration of community, come together to never ever let the soul and the dignity of Bilal Beasley ever fade away, but forever live,” said Jones. “Thank you so much.”
“Many of us through the years have listened to our FM radio station WBLS and there’s a program that’s been coming on for many, many years and that program is called ‘The Quiet Storm.’ If ever I could characterize the honorable D. Bilal Beasley, I would call him ‘The Quiet Storm,’” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver on Saturday, Sept. 29. “Growing up in Newark and being a Bulldog, I have fond memories of his twin as well. But early in his life, ‘The Quiet Storm’ understood that, for communities of color, the most important thing to do was to organize. We all know our beloved President Barack Obama was a community organizer. Bilal Beasley was a community organizer, way before he began to ascend into a political career, and I often try to remind people that leadership isn’t about the title, it isn’t about the position, it is not about the chair that you sit in. Leadership is about understanding the human condition of people and helping people transform their lives.”
Oliver said, “If any of us are going to learn a lesson about the life of D. Bilal Beasley, you don’t have to be loud, you don’t have to jump up and down and act crazy; just do what he did and let you work speak for you.”
Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo said Oliver was right about leadership and her observation that Beasley was a true “Quiet Storm” who was also his friend.
“This is a great day for Irvington and Essex County,” said DiVincenzo on Saturday, Sept. 29. “I’ve known Bilal for 16 to 17 years, when I was first running for county executive. I asked him to be on my line and he said ‘yes.’ I stand here today because of the help and the support that Bilal Beasley gave me to be the county executive, so … I’m very thankful for Bilal and what he’s done for me personally. The way I try to run government is good government’s good politics and Bilal actually taught me that, because he was a councilman in Irvington, he was the chairman, he was a freeholder and it was never about himself; it was always about you. It was never about his family; it was about you helping the township of Irvington and doing the right thing. And let me tell you, he’s done that.”
The creators of the memorial bronze statue that Beasley’s family hired to immortalize their his likeness also had good things to say about the job and the man.
“Just a little technical reminder — bronze takes about 6,000 years to break down, so this statue will exist for a very long time,” said Fran Fisher, business manager for his son, Chad Fisher, who cast and sculpted the Beasley bronze statue that now sits outside the Municipal Building in D. Bilal Beasley Square. “This is a painting in bronze that we hope will represent the spirit of Mr. Beasley for all of you. We also hope that, for the many, many hundreds of years that this bronze will sit in this place or another, we hope that it will help you smile, every time that you come by.”
Chad Fisher said it was an honor and a privilege to be present for the tribute, and thanked John Sowell, the former Municipal Council president and current aide to Vauss, for taking point at different parts of the project.
“Someone once said that your job in creating statues is to make the invisible visible once again,” said Chad Fisher at the event. “We hope we did the man justice.”
Omar Bilal Beasley, Bilal’s son, said at the tribute, “To the sculptor, Chad, and his family, I am so humble today. Thank you for taking a man from a small city of Irvington. I’ve seen your work, from the L.A. Coliseum all the way over to the Philadelphia Arena, and your portfolio is great, so for you to take a man, as my father, and make him your choice in who you wanted to bring to life today, I humbly thank you.”
Also present at the event were Omar’s sister, Jamillah Beasley McCleod; their brother, Kevin Akbar Butler, and their cousin, Samad Beasley.
“My father was a visionary,” Omar Bilal Beasley went on. “He said, when he came to Irvington: ‘We need to make change.’ And in order to make change, you must involve yourself, so he became involved in politics and community affairs. His first time out, he lost. As a district leader, he lost, but that did not deter him from what it is that he wanted to do. So he reorganized. He spoke to his mentors, the honorable Kenneth Gibson, the honorable Carl Sharif, the honorable Tom Giblin, the honorable Donald Tucker. These were people that my father looked up to and they took him in as a young lad and said: ‘Listen, man, if you want to gain belief and the trust of people, this is what you must do. You must be honest. You must not look out for self. You must not take the biggest portion of the pie for family. You have to give it to where it belongs and that’s to the community and that’s what Bilal did.”
Essex County Freeholder Lebby Jones agreed, but added that Bilal Beasley didn’t do it alone. She said his greatest qualities were his compassion for other people and his ability to inspire her and others to organize and join his cause, so that’s what she did.
“I met Bilal Beasley 40 years ago in the NAACP Irvington chapter and, when we went along, we became board members and, one day, after the meeting, he said to me and to the board: ‘I’m going to throw my hat back into the ring.’ That he wanted to run for South Ward councilman. He did not ask me to support him. I walked over to him and I said: ‘Can I help? I want to support you.’ And from that day forward, we were joined at the hips,” said Lebby Jones, who co-founded the Team Irvington social and political group with Beasley, on Saturday, Sept. 29. “He loved me, I loved him and there was nothing he could do that he wanted that I didn’t give 100 percent of myself to Bilal Beasley. His major concern for Irvington was that we were poor people, we were maybe first-time homeowners, but the power that we had was in the vote and, every day, this man, when you see him, he was registering people to vote.
“And Irvington changed, right before our eyes. And I am just honored to be his friend and, to the younger people of the second generation or the third or whatever, he was a leader, he was a visionary and he did it for Irvington and its residents and I hope that this is not the last time that we talk about where we came from and how we got there.”