Beasley-McCleod makes history in Irvington

Photo by Chris Sykes
Newly appointed South Ward Councilwoman Jamilah Beasley-MacLeod, left, smiles on Monday, April 22, at the Municipal Council regular meeting where she was officially appointed to replace former Councilwoman Sandy Jones, who died unexpectedly on Thursday, March 21, as at large Councilwoman and Council Vice President Renee Burgess, right, smiles after congratulating her and welcoming her to the township’s governing body. Beasley-McCleod made local history when she became the first black Muslim female appointed to Irvington Municipal Council.

IRVINGTON, NJ — Newly appointed South Ward Councilwoman Jamillah Beasley-McCleod made local history on Monday, April 22, when she became the first black Muslim female appointed to Irvington Municipal Council.

The daughter of former council President D. Bilal Beasley, who was also an Essex County freeholder and Team Irvington social and political organization co-founder, Beasley-McCleod was unanimously voted in by the council on Monday, April 22, to fill the seat left vacant by the unexpected death of Councilwoman Sandy Jones.

“We’ve had African-American women, we’ve had Jewish women, we’ve had Catholic women,” said Beasley-McCleod’s brother, Omar Bilal, on Monday, April 29. “We’ve had a rainbow of religious entities that have sat on the council, but Jamillah is the first African-American Muslim woman to ever sit on the Municipal Council.”

Beasley-McCleod continued family tradition when she was sworn in with a Quran instead of a Bible, as the oath of office was administered to her by municipal clerk Harold Weiner on Monday, April 22.

“That was my dad’s Quran,” said Beasley-McCleod of the holy book on Wednesday, April 24. “It’s the same one he was sworn in with 31 years ago.”

A Bible is traditionally used for most U.S. ceremonies, but other books are permitted. Christians use the Bible and Muslims use a Quran. State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who is a Sikh, used the Granth, the central religious text of his religion, for his swearing-in ceremony. Whichever book is used, the intent is to demonstrate the sincerity of the oath the person is taking.

The Quran held for Beasley-McCleod by her mother, Irvington Democratic Committee Chairwoman Baseemah Beasley, had also been used by her father when he was first sworn into office as South Ward councilman in 1988, and every time after that.

“I really didn’t realize that we made history,” Omar Bilal said. “The Quran was the Quran that my father used, so my mother felt that it was only right that we use it for his daughter. Being Muslims, that’s what we look at as the scriptures of our religion.”

“There’s more history to come,” he continued. “We don’t necessarily have to be the first, but we want to make sure that we provide and implement a good quality of living for all those that live in the township of Irvington, provide a good quality of living for everybody.”

“So what happens now is that there is a special election in November for Sandra Jones that has just been filled by Jamillah Beasley,” said Mayor Tony Vauss on Monday, April 22. “Jamilah would have to also run next year for the full term. So from now until November, she’s appointed, until that time, and then from November until next May, that’s what she’s running for in November, the unexpired term. And then, come May, she’ll be running for a full term.”

Omar Bilal said his sister and the rest of the Beasley family are ready to go.

“We have a saying in masonry that ‘A title is nothing unless you utilize it to its fullest degree,’” Omar Bilal said. “When people elect you, they expect you to be the problem solver and make things work, so when they elect you, you’ve got to put that title to work. Irvington is on the move. We’re in for some good things.”