Essex County commissioners hold annual Hispanic Heritage Month event

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NEWARK, NJ — On Wednesday, Sept. 28, the Essex County Board of County Commissioners held its annual Hispanic Heritage Month event to celebrate the accomplishments of Hispanic men and women everywhere and honor outstanding county citizens for their contributions both to the county and society as a whole.

This year, the board recognized Newark Councilman Luis A. Quintana; Bloomfield resident Alejandro Echevarria, principal of Abington Avenue Elementary School in Newark; and Newark resident Vereliz Santana, co-vice president of the Newark Board of Education and director of lawmaker engagement at The Lawmaker Network.

“Today we celebrate Hispanic Americans and Hispanic culture,” Commissioner Vice President Carlos M. Pomares said. “Our honorees are just a mere reflection of the outstanding people that have done great things here in Essex who are of Hispanic descent. … We know because of your contributions, we are all the better as a community. We thank you for all you do, and we congratulate all of you on this honor.” 

Commissioner Robert Mercado also spoke, touching on the pride he feels as a member of the Hispanic community. 

“As a Hispanic American, I am certainly proud to take part in today’s ceremony. The Hispanic community is defined by culture, history, pride and diversity,” Mercado said. “Last year, due to COVID-19 gathering restrictions, our Hispanic heritage event was held virtually. Thankfully, through the diligent work of our county leadership with respect to vaccination sites, testing sites and numerous safety measures, we are now able to resume holding events in person.”

Quintana was re-elected to his eighth term as Newark councilman on May 10 and made history as the first person of Hispanic descent elected to this position in June 1994. He was also the first person of Puerto Rican ethnicity appointed city council president and the first Hispanic person to serve as interim mayor of Newark — a role he took from October 2013 to July 2014. During his career in public service, he has been driven by his concern that all Newark children receive a fair and equitable education regardless of race, creed or color. He has also served on the Board of the Essex County Vocational Schools; the board of trustees of the United Way; and much more. 

Echevarria has worked in the Newark Public Schools system for 21 years as an elementary teacher, science teacher, vice principal and principal. He is a Newark native and product of Newark Public Schools, having attended Roberto Clemente Elementary School, Broadway Junior High School and Science High School. During the 2017-2018 school year, he was elected chief innovation officer of the City Association of Supervisors and Administrators, and serves as president of the Latino Educators Association. He is proud to have his two children attend Abington Avenue School, and is a firm believer that, “if you don’t stand up for children, then you don’t stand for much.”

At The Lawmaker Network, Santana provides the tools and resources needed to connect a diverse community of state lawmakers. As the proud daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, she has dedicated her career to public service and has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to championing social, racial and educational justice. She previously worked as the legislative director to N.J. Senate President pro tempore M. Teresa Ruiz, and in the office of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka as a senior aide, where she established and maintained relationships with constituents, community stakeholders, local businesses and partners.

Photos Courtesy of Lloyd Holmes