Essex County commissioners celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

Photo courtesy of Essex County Board of County Commissioners
The Essex County Board of County Commissioners held a virtual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration on Sept. 29. Pictured are, top row, from left, honoree Jose Aviles, Commissioner Patricia Sebold and honoree Carlos Gonzalez; middle row, from left, honoree Marthe Felix, Commissioner President Wayne L. Richardson and honoree Miguel E. Rodriguez; and, bottom row, Commissioner Robert Mercado.

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — On Wednesday, Sept. 29, the Essex County Board of County Commissioners held its 2021 Hispanic Heritage Month celebration via Zoom. The ceremony, which returned after a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19, celebrates the accomplishments of Hispanic men and women everywhere — highlighting those who have made unique contributions to Essex County.

Commissioner President Wayne L. Richardson opened the program with greetings to the honorees and viewing audience. He expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to celebrate the county’s diversity, while acknowledging the significance of Hispanic heritage and culture. 

“Our honorees are a reflection of the outstanding people of Hispanic descent who have done great things in Essex County,” Richardson said. “We know that because of your contributions, we are all better as a community. Thank you for all that you do.”

District 1 Commissioner Robert Mercado also spoke to the honorees and audience.

“As a Latino, I am certainly proud to celebrate today. The Latino community is defined by its rich culture, our history, our pride, music, food and of course our diversity,” Mercado said. “Today, the board honors four Latinos who have worked hard, are successful and have been a beacon in their community. We salute you.”

This year, the board recognized the following four county residents for their service to the community: Newark Councilman Carlos Gonzalez; Bloomfield resident Martha Felix, the director of therapeutic recreation of Spring Hills Post Acute Care in Livingston; Newark resident Miguel E. Rodriguez, president of the Hispanic American Foundation of Essex County; and Barringer High School Principal Jose Aviles.

Gonzalez has served on the Newark City Council for 15 years. Commissioner Patricia Sebold, who introduced Gonzalez at the event, applauded his leadership on the council and his successful business endeavors, including his time as an accounting auditor and his establishment of a successful Newark law firm, which has served the community since 1996.

Felix was acknowledged by Commissioner Vice President Carlos M. Pomares. Felix has been working in the field of therapeutic recreation for more than 25 years, providing activities that help with patients’ psychological, social and physical well-being. In Bloomfield, she was a committee member for the Department of Health for three years; chairperson for the Beautification Committee, where she helped plan and implement many projects to enhance the beauty of Bloomfield; and served on the Democratic County Committee for more than 12 years.

Rodriguez, introduced by Richardson, is in charge of economic development, community resources, multicultural marketing, executive management and diversity for the HAFEC. He is also a founding member of some of the most successful community organizations within the Hispanic community of Newark, including FOCUS, La Casa de Don Pedro, CIMA International Awards and the Hispanic American Chamber of Commerce of Essex County. He has been a Newark resident since 1960 and has earned the distinguished title of “Don Mike,” due to his dedication and commitment to the Hispanic community and contributions to the community at large.

Aviles, introduced by Mercado, was determined to influence Barringer students to excel when he became principal. During his tenure at the school, test scores, attendance and graduation rates have increased, while suspensions and dropout rates decreased. In addition to serving students as an educator for more than 20 years, he is a mentor for Big Brothers and Big Sisters. 

Further highlights of the program included opening and closing prayers from the Rev. Leslie A. Ramos, senior pastor of La Hermosa Christian Church in Newark, and musical selections performed by Jasmine Ramos, Adam Cruz and Gabriel De Los Santos.