IRVINGTON, NJ — Former Irvington NAACP President Kathleen Witcher commented on Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo honoring the local civil rights organization and the other members of the “Essex Five” on Friday, Feb. 15, at the 16th annual Essex County Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Awards ceremony in the Leroy F. Smith Public Safety Building.
The “Essex Five” refers to the local branches of the NAACP in Irvington, Oranges-Maplewood, Montclair and Newark, as well as the Urban League of Essex County. DiVincenzo honored them as part of the county’s ongoing celebration and observance of Black History Month and Witcher said she hopes the recognition will lead to even better and more progressive outcomes.
“Hopefully, we will expect more jobs, job training, contracts for minorities and other programs from the Essex County Executive’s administration,” said Witcher. “The past has been shaky. I remember well fighting off and winning the battle against a solid waste treatment plant coming to Grove Street in Irvington. I remember the struggle to get corrections officers their well-deserved promotions that were long-awaited. And I cannot help but think that we would still have Irvington General Hospital, had there been pressure to stop the sale of the building so needed in the county for health care and treatment.”
DiVincenzo said Black History Month is a special time of the year set aside to recognize “the many contributions and achievements African-Americans have made to our culture, economy and daily lives throughout our history” and agreed with Witcher that there is still plenty of work to do.
“The four NAACP branches in Essex County and the Urban League have been representing the people of Essex County for a century,” said DiVincenzo on Friday, Feb. 15. “They have protested discrimination, advocated for better educational opportunities and fought for fairness in the workforce. With the coalition they have created, the ‘Essex Five’ continue to make a positive impact in the development of our communities.”
Witcher said that, along with Irvington NAACP President Thurman Dancy and immediate past President Merrick Harris, she would also like to see DiVincenzo and other elected officials do more to address ongoing home mortgage foreclosures in the county.
“Another item for attention is home foreclosure, which used to have a county task force,” said Witcher. “But it appears to be inoperable, with scores of evictions and little ways of resolving the lending practices of area homeowners, who are losing their properties, after years of ownership.”
Dancy agreed with Witcher, Oranges-Maplewood NAACP President Tom Puryear and Harris that the Essex Five members should be working together to pool their resources and speak with a unified voice.
And Dancy also said it is important for residents to vote in the upcoming Irvington Board of Education election in April and Democratic Party primary on Tuesday, June 4.
“Our theme for Irvington is ‘Don’t Hate, Vote,’” said Dancy on Tuesday, Feb. 26. “We’re on a membership drive, as always, and we’re focusing on getting our actual members to come out to meetings. That’s what we’re focusing on right now.”