NEWARK, NJ — With an array of colorful flags representing 22 Latino countries as the backdrop, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo,Jr. hosted the county’s annual Latino Heritage Celebration on Friday, Oct. 5, in the Essex County Hall of Records. The event was a spirited celebration to pay homage to the rich culture and traditions of U.S. residents who trace their roots to the Spanish-speaking nations of Europe, Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
During the program, DiVincenzo presented the county’s 2018 Estrella del Condado de Essex Awards — Stars of Essex County Awards — to Montclair’s Alixon Collazos, public affairs specialist at the BGill Group LLC, and Newark’s Robert Mercado, an Essex County freeholder.
“We are honored to recognize Alixon Collazos and Robert Mercado for their commitment to improving the lives of all residents, their leadership and their dedication to public service,” DiVincenzo said. “Our cultural celebrations give us an opportunity to honor and recognize the diversity of Essex County and learn about the heritage of our constituents.”
Mercado, a life-long Newark resident, was elected to his first term as District 1 freeholder in November 2017. In addition to holding elected office, Mercado has worked in the field of social work and juvenile justice in New Jersey for more than 25 years, previously serving in positions at youth advocate programs in Essex and Hudson counties, Creative Consulting Services Inc., La Casa de Don Pedro Community Center in Newark, Youth Consultation Services, Hudson County Children’s Shelter and Independence: A Family of Services. Since 1997, he has served as the northern regional supervisor of the Juvenile Justice Commission’s Office of Juvenile Parole and Transitional Services.
He is the coordinator and volunteers for the North Ward Center Youth Leadership Development Program and is a member of the North Ward Democratic Committee, serving as district leader and volunteer for 15 years. Mercado is a board member and former coach of the North Ward Center Little League, member of the Rutgers University Alumni Association, and member of the National Association of Social Workers. He is a former member of the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Minority Affairs.
“I am honored to be recognized in this way. This award is near and dear to my heart,” Mercado said. “My father is my mentor, who came to Newark searching for opportunity. My family is my rock, who has supported me.”
With more than 15 years of experience in public affairs, Collazos administers special projects and events aimed at improving and expanding each clients’ brand and visibility. She also specializes in political, community and media outreach to the New Jersey Latino community. During the past three years, Collazos has served as the director of the Latino Outreach Program for the successful campaign of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.
Collazos has served as director of constituent services to former U.S. Rep. Steven R. Rothman, where she managed and supervised the casework and communications with federal, state and local government agencies on behalf of all constituent requests. In 2015, she was part of the second graduating class of Emerge, a nonprofit organization that trains Democratic women to run for public office. Collazos serves as a board member of the New Jersey Hispanic Research and Information Center, a board member of the Latinas United For Political Empowerment Fund and a board member of PAM’s List.
“This event is a great way to bring recognition to and celebrate the labors of the Latino community,” Collazos said.
Minister Maria Ortiz from The Fountain of Life Church in Newark delivered the program’s invocation. Entertainment was provided by the Arts High School Latin Band, under the direction of Kennis Fairfax.