Essex County Commissioners celebrate Women’s History Month

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — On March 31, the Essex County Board of County Commissioners held its 2021 Women’s History Month celebration virtually via Zoom. The ceremony commemorated the spirit and accomplishments of women everywhere, and acknowledged the contributions of multiple esteemed women of Essex County. 

Commissioner President Wayne Richardson began the program by speaking to the challenges of the past year — most notably the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted the cancellation of the board’s 2020 Women’s History Month celebration. He also highlighted the county’s efforts in combating COVID-19.

This year, the board recognized five outstanding Essex County women for their leadership: state Sen. Nia Gill, of Montclair; former East Orange Councilwoman Jacqueline Johnson; educator Wanda Pearson-Warren, of Irvington; and business owners Masani Barnwell George and Patrice McKinney, both of Newark. 

Gill has been a tireless advocate for women’s rights, public education, human rights and expanding health care, and has stood up for core democratic principles her entire career. She sponsored the law that expanded health insurance coverage to young adults, ages 18 to 30, affecting more than 100,000 uninsured individuals in the state, and, as a champion for human rights, she sponsored the law that made human trafficking a crime in New Jersey. In response to the many mass shootings in the country, she sponsored legislation that reduced the number of legal rounds in high-capacity magazines from 15 to 10; she also supported the implementation of a red flag law, which allows authorities to seize weapons for up to a year, and is leading the charge to implement some of the nation’s toughest gun laws. She currently sits on the Transportation, State Legislative Oversight, and Law and Public Safety committees; has been a practicing attorney for more than 30 years; and was honored in Selma, Ala., as one of “100 Women in the 20th Century” who contributed to the struggle for civil rights

Johnson is a member of East Orange Mayor Ted Green’s administration working in the Office of Employment and Training. She was first elected to the East Orange City Council in 2000 and served five consecutive terms, representing the city’s 2nd Ward. During her time on the council, she served in multiple capacities, including chairperson and vice chairperson of the city’s legislative body; chairperson of the Law and Regulation Committee; and member of the Public Works, Business Development and Zoning, Housing, and Licensing and Inspection committees. She is a member of the 2nd Ward’s Melmore Gardens Block Association, a member of the East Orange Democratic Municipal Committee, and also serves on the New Jersey State League of Municipalities Legislative and Pension committees.

Pearson-Warren is a lifelong educator who worked as a history teacher in Newark, East Orange and Irvington from 1980 to 2000, and served as the principal of Thurgood G. Marshall Elementary School in Irvington from July 2012 until her retirement in 2020. She has received numerous honors and awards as a teacher, principal and community leader, including the Irvington Board of Education’s School Community Relations, Harmony and Understanding Award; the NAACP’s Community Service Education Award for exemplary service; and the Essex County Governor’s Teacher and Educational Services Professional Award. She is also a three-time winner of the University Middle School of Irvington Teacher of the Year Award. Her proudest moment was collaborating with the mayor, school board, Department of Public Works and community to erect signs in front of each school bringing awareness to the autistic students and children of Irvington. She has been a member of St. Matthew AME Church for more than 30 years and currently volunteers at the church to help distribute food to families in need. Her favorite saying is “I’m retired from teaching, but not from my community.”

Barnwell George and McKinney are co-owners of Source of Knowledge bookstore, an African Caribbean bookstore that is the only black-owned bookstore in Newark. Barnwell George was born and raised in Newark, and educated in the Newark Public Schools system. She became a teacher and retired after 26 years of educating children in Newark Public Schools. McKinney is a lifelong resident of Newark, also educated in the Newark Public Schools system, and considers herself a “lover of, and fighter for, the people.” Since 1992, the two have created unique opportunities for increased literacy throughout the community. In addition to books, Source of Knowledge focuses on African art, drums and sculpture, and seeks to create space for young people to discover themselves and for Newark artists to gather. Each year they sponsor “Read is Feed,” an event in which they supply free books and hot meals to support youngsters as they return to school. Additional Source of Knowledge events include story time for the “Big Boys Book Club,” as well as opportunities for black authors to promote their books.

The Rev. Maria Crompton of Elmwood United Presbyterian Church of East Orange delivered prayers at the event, and the audience was treated to the musical talents of Amber Brown.