Commissioners hold 18th annual ‘Essex County Celebrates Youth’ event

Photo Courtesy ECBCC
At the Essex County Board of County Commissioners 2022 ‘Essex County Celebrates Youth’ event are, top row from left, board clerk Deborah Davis Ford, and honorees Kimberly Gonzalez and Nishna Makala; middle row from left, Commissioner Patricia Sebold, honoree Makenna G. Davis and Commissioner Robert Mercado; and, bottom row from left, Commissioner President Wayne L. Richardson and Commissioner Tyshammie L. Cooper.

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — On Tuesday, April 26, the Essex County Board of County Commissioners held its 2022 “Essex County Celebrates Youth” event via Zoom. The event is held yearly to acknowledge outstanding young people throughout the county who have accomplished and contributed a great deal early in their lives. This year the board recognized: Makenna G. Davis, of South Orange; Kimberly Gonzalez, of Newark; Nishna Makala, of Livingston; and Derrick Ogega, of Irvington. 

“Tonight, I stand in proud support of our youth as we recognize their accomplishments. Our lineup of honorees is quite impressive, and they give all of us hope for the future,” Commissioner President Wayne L. Richardson said. “We can feel confident that our county will continue to produce competent doctors, lawyers, legislators and community leaders to guide us as we move forward.” 

Davis, a senior at Columbia High School, is the captain of the varsity track-and-field team, a member of the varsity soccer team, plays violin in the chamber orchestra and is a member of the National Honor Society, all while maintaining a grade-point average of 3.5. She gives back to her community by participating in the Achievement community executive board, which aims to close the academic achievement gap for black and Latino students at Columbia High School. She has served as an executive board member, treasurer and fundraising chairperson for the Greater Essex County Chapter of Jack and Jill Inc., and is co-founder of the MAPSO Youth Coalition, an organization of local youth who share a passion for racial justice, education and action.

Gonzalez is a senior at Technology High School and is in her second term as a student representative for the Newark Board of Education. As a student representative, she is the voice for more than 30,000 students in the district and serves as an approachable point of contact for students. She has been a Student Council member since her freshman year, a community service group leader during her sophomore and junior year, and is the president of her graduating class. As part of her efforts to serve the community, she has spent time with senior citizens at the New Vista Nursing Home, collected and distributed scarves at Penn Station to the less fortunate, created and distributed care packages at Newark Emergency Services for Families, and spent time reading to young children at Roberto Clemente Elementary School.

Makala is a sophomore at Livingston High School and grew up in a household that emphasized the importance of education and awareness about current events. As a seventh-grader, she became a student member of the League of Women Voters because she wanted to get more involved in the community, learn about government and educate others in the process. In December 2020, she started a junior chapter of the League of Women Voters at Livingston High School to address the gap between lawmakers and young people. The main focus of the organization is to promote voting and voting rights, but it also focuses on amplifying student voices and activism. She was part of the League of Women Voters amid a time of flourishing social movements, such as #MeToo, Climate Action Now and Black Lives Matter, which inspired her to petition for racial equity at Livingston public schools. She is also the director of research and development at the Women in STEM Club, a Lincoln-Douglas debater, and regularly writes film critiques on her Medium blog.

Ogega, who is an honor roll student, takes his academics very seriously and seeks to experience new things that build positive character, strength and values. He was born in Kenya and immigrated with his family to America in 2015. Upon his arrival, he attended elementary school in Hillside before moving to Irvington. In November 2021, his desire to serve led him to be an active member of The Bridge Inc., an youth services program in Irvington schools. He also participates with Oasis Monthly Food Distribution and works at the Irvington Food Pantry, providing peer-to-peer leadership. In his spare time, he is an avid basketball player and teaches Bible studies to children. His future goal is to become the pastor of a community church that caters to the needs of all people.