Essex County commissioners celebrate AAPI Heritage Month

Photo Courtesy of Lloyd Holmes
At the Essex County Board of County Commissioners’ 2022 AAPI Heritage Month event are, from left, Allison Kim representing honoree Jeannie Kwon, Allison Ladd, Vineeta Khanna, Commissioner Patricia Sebold, Commissioner President Wayne L. Richardson, Commissioner Brendan W. Gill, Toral Patel, Commissioner Tyshammie L. Cooper and Mengxing Perez.

NEWARK, NJ — On Tuesday, May 17, the Essex County Board of County Commissioners held its inaugural Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month event. At the event, the board recognized: Allison Ladd, Newark deputy mayor and director of economic and housing development; Vineeta Khanna, vice president of the Livingston Board of Education; South Orange resident Jeannie Kwon, vice president for stations–capital delivery at Amtrak; Toral Patel, co-chairperson of the South Asian American Caucus; and Mengxing Perez, special education teacher at Park Elementary School in Newark.

“Our board has made a point to celebrate the diversity of Essex County by holding yearly ceremonies where we honor individuals from various ethnic groups and highlight the importance of their contribution,” Commissioner President Wayne L. Richardson said. “The AAPI community has always had a profound effect on Essex County and we will now look forward to this yearly event.” 

In Newark, Ladd has focused on implementing Mayor Ras J. Baraka’s equitable growth strategy: harnessing the many billions of dollars of new investment in Newark to create opportunities for all residents and businesses. She also oversees the city’s new Equitable Growth Commission and is board chairperson of Invest Newark, the quasi-governmental organization charged with strengthening Newark’s small businesses, implementing the city’s new land bank and operating the nation’s fastest broadband fiber network.

Khanna said she feels a great sense of humility in being the first person of Indian American descent to be elected to public office in Livingston. She individually conceptualized and executed the very first Livingston Public Schools multicultural event at Harrison Elementary School, and the event has since spread to all the schools in the district. Additionally, she hosted a very popular radio program for 16 years on WWTR 1170 AM on which she engaged listeners on social issues. She founded Orator Academy where she teaches students to communicate with confidence and conviction.

At Amtrak, Kwon is overseeing the rebuild of major stations including New York Penn Station, Chicago and Washington, D.C. She also serves on the board of the Women’s Transportation Seminar chapter of New Jersey and on the board of the New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition. Previously, she was the chief administrative officer for NJ Transit, where she was the executive in charge of strategy and planning, human resources, contracting and purchasing, and the Office of Business Development for civil rights, diversity initiatives, equal employment opportunity and affirmative action.

Patel is a second-generation Indian American, born and raised in New Jersey. She has been involved in local, state and federal politics for almost 20 years. As the deputy director of ethnic and minority affairs under Gov. James E. McGreevey, she helped build that office, which is dedicated to harnessing the strengths, needs and ideas of the diverse communities across the Garden State. Since leaving the governor’s office, she has built a career in public affairs and health care communications, working for a number of communication strategy firms before joining the global corporate affairs team at Johnson & Johnson. Over the years, she has leveraged her grassroots advocacy and political skills to add value to the political system by running campaigns, educating underserved and new communities on the critical issues that are relevant to them, promoting civic involvement, and mentoring the next generation of civic leaders.

Perez educates children with special needs from pre-K to second grade. She works intensively with her students, their families and the school’s student support team to ensure that her students achieve and excel, despite the significant obstacles posed by their impairments and disabilities. She is also a classical music aficionado who has played the piano from age 6, and enjoys studying Chinese calligraphy and art. To celebrate these aspects of her culture — and to encourage students to embrace their own cultures — she incorporates themes of classical music and Chinese art into her lessons.