NAACP honors local visionaries at Freedom Fund Brunch

LIVINGSTON, NJ — The NAACP of the Oranges and Maplewood will host its Freedom Fund Brunch on Sunday, April 24, from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Crystal Plaza in Livingston. The theme of this year’s brunch is “Connecting Our Past to a Brighter Future through Equality, Opportunity and Community.”

Paulette Brown will serve as keynote speaker and the Rev. Dana P. Owens, Deborah Davis Ford, Paul L. Tractenberg, Michellene Davis and Robert Balozi Harvey will be honored.

To purchase tickets, contact 973-675-5325 or [email protected]

MAP-paulette brown-WKeynote speaker Paulette Brown, partner and co-chairwoman of the firm-wide Diversity & Inclusion Committee at Locke Lord LLP, is president of the American Bar Association. She has held a variety of leadership positions within the ABA, having been a member of the ABA House of Delegates since 1997, a former member of the ABA board of governors and its executive committee, as well as the governance commission. While serving on the board of governors, Brown chaired the Program, Planning and Evaluation Committee.

Brown has served on the Commission on Women in the Profession and was a co-author of “Visible Invisibility: Women of Color in Law Firms.” She has chaired the ABA Council on Racial and Ethnic Justice — now called the Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice — and is a past co-chairwoman of the Commission on Civic Education in our Nation’s Schools. She has served on the Section of Legal Education’s Council on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and its executive committee. She joined the ABA Young Lawyers Division in 1976 and became active in the section of litigation in 1995, which has continued to be her section “home” ever since. She is a former member of The Fund for Justice and Education, its President’s Club and a life fellow of the American Bar Foundation.

Brown has held many positions throughout her career, including as in-house counsel to a number of Fortune 500 companies and as a municipal court judge. In private practice, she has focused on all facets of labor and employment and commercial litigation.

She has been recognized by the National Law Journal as one of “The 50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America” and by the New Jersey Law Journal as one of the “prominent women and minority attorneys in the State of New Jersey.” She has received the New Jersey Medal from the New Jersey State Bar Foundation and currently serves on its board of trustees.

Brown has repeatedly been named as a New Jersey super lawyer and by U.S. News as one of the best lawyers in America in the area of commercial litigation. In 2009, Brown was a recipient of the Spirit of Excellence Award from the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. In 2011, she was honored with the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. Brown, who served president of the National Bar Association from 1993 to 1994, received the NBA’s highest honor, the C. Francis Stradford Award, in 2015.

Brown had earned her J.D. at Seton Hall University School of Law and her B.A. at Howard University.

MAP-dana owens-WThe Rev. Dana P. Owens, pastor at Messiah Baptist Church, will receive the Spiritual Award. Owens has served as the 12th pastor of Messiah Baptist Church in East Orange since May 2004. Under his pastorate, the congregation is demonstrating the importance of having a personal and committed relationship with Jesus Christ.

Messiah’s spiritual re-commitment has touched the hearts and minds of many as evidenced by its significant growth in membership, Bible Study attendance and the formation of eight new ministries, according to the release.

Owens’ contributions at Messiah are recognized far and wide and his ministry’s impact extends beyond the church. He has served on various clergy associations as well as civic boards in Essex County and New Jersey. Owens has facilitated numerous workshops for churches in New Jersey and Ohio and has preached in pulpits across the United States.

A native of Dayton, Ohio, Owens is a 1992 graduate of Wright State University. There he received his bachelor of arts degree in mass communications with a concentrated minor in African-American studies. He is currently enrolled at New York Theological Seminary where he is completing his master of divinity degree.

Owens is married to the former Shalonda Michelle Bayless.

MAP-deborah davis ford-WDeborah Davis Ford, clerk of the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders and member of the South Orange Village Board of Trustees, will receive the Community Award. Davis Ford is a professional woman, wife, mother and fully engaged public servant. A resident of South Orange since 1994, she was elected to the South Orange Board of Trustees in May 2007. She went on to be appointed clerk of the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders on May 6, 2009, and took her aath of office the following June.

Davis Ford brings an impressive record of more than 20 years of corporate experience and success to her role as clerk, according to the release. She is a respected professional in the field of personnel training and development, as well as client management, holding leadership positions including vice president and partner of a start-up staffing company, Superior Staffing Services — a woman-owned firm — and regional vice president of Transworld Services Group. Additional past positions include corporate client manager for a large pharmaceutical company and director of a professional services firm providing IT staffing, project management and managed services solutions.

Davis Ford is also recognized as an effective and motivational team player. Her combination of interpersonal skills and professional talents have resulted in a consistent track record of delivering bottom-line results, improving customer satisfaction and developing strong community relationships.

Davis Ford has a rich history in civic service, having been a member of the Newark Rotary Club — where she served as the first African-American and female president from 1993 to 1994, serving on the executive board of North Jersey Jack & Jill, and being a member of the Regional Business Partnership, the NJ Transit advisory board and the Cancer Care advisory board. She also served as president of the Greater Newark Chamber Small Business Council and was chairwoman of Partners in Education and Quality.

Outside of being a good and caring mother, wife and family caregiver, Davis Ford believes one of her greatest accomplishments is her dedication to community service. She hails from the city of East Orange and is the oldest of four siblings. She is the mother of Rachel and is married to Rocky Ford, her high school sweetheart.

MAP-paul tractenberg-WPaul L. Tractenberg, professor emeritus at Rutgers Law School-Newark, will receive the Education Award. After an acclaimed career of more than 45 years that has included serving as the Rutgers University Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor and the Alfred C. Clapp Jr. Distinguished Public Service Professor of Law, Tractenberg now serves as a professor emeritus at Rutgers Law School in Newark.

Throughout his tenure at Rutgers and now as a retiree, Tractenberg has studied major legal and policy issues involving public education, and has used the law to improve it, especially in N.J. cities. Tractenberg also has been heavily involved in efforts to achieve racial balance in New Jersey’s public schools.

Through a Ford Foundation grant, he founded the Education Law Center in 1973. The ELC serves as the leading voice for New Jersey’s public school children and has become one of the most effective advocates for equal educational opportunity and education justice in the United States. As director, Tractenberg provided the vision and leadership for landmark school funding equalization litigation, such as Robinson v. Cahill and Abbott v. Burke. The Abbott decision’s importance and impact on school funding policy has been recognized both nationally and internationally, including in a 2002 New York Times editorial describing it as “the most significant education case since the Supreme Court’s desegregation ruling (in Brown v. Board of Education) nearly 50 years ago.”

The importance and value of racial balance in public schools is also a passion for Tractenberg, according to the release. He represented the Englewood School District in a case that reached New Jersey’s Supreme Court and sought to have the state regionalize Englewood with two adjacent districts to create a racially balanced high school. He has also collaborated with UCLA’s Civil Rights Project on two reports dealing with New Jersey’s extreme segregation. He is currently directing a major project studying the Morris School District, the only district in New Jersey and probably the nation that was regionalized for racial balance reasons by order of the state.

Tractenberg’s involvement in education law and policy has extended beyond his advocacy efforts. In 2000, he established the Rutgers-Newark Institute on Education Law & Policy, which is the state’s premier center for interdisciplinary research and innovative thinking on education policy. IELP has undertaken major research and policy subjects that impact funding for public education such as property tax reform, school choice including inter-district and charter schools, identification and replication of excellent urban schools, developing an effective state education accountability system, reestablishing local control, data management, early childhood education, school governance innovations, and the impact of extended learning time programs. IELP was also instrumental in establishing the state’s most prominent professional development program for school administrators and teachers.

Throughout his career, Tractenberg has been widely sought out by state and other education organizations for guidance and counsel on a wide range of issues. He has spoken at national and international conferences and has been a visiting professor and scholar at schools of law and of education in the United States and abroad. He is the author of numerous articles and books published for scholarly audiences, legal and educational professionals, policy makers and the general public. His most recent works include “A Centennial History of Rutgers Law School in Newark: Opening a Thousand Doors” in 2010 and “Courting Justice: 10 New Jersey Cases that Shook the Nation” in 2013. He  remains a thought leader in law and education. In his spare time, he is a devoted and doting grandfather and cycling enthusiast.

MAP-michelline davis-WMichellene Davis, executive vice president and chief corporate affairs officer at RWJBarnabas Health, will receive the Corporate Award. Having joined Barnabas Health in 2009 and named executive vice president of corporate affairs, Davis now serves as executive vice president and corporate affairs officer for RWJBarnabas Health. Davis helps to direct the strategic policy decisions of the system and strengthens the system’s position with state and federal elected officials and agencies. She oversees the areas of strategic messaging and corporate communications, community partnerships, external affairs, governmental affairs, healthy living, community and employee wellness, public relations, and marketing and branding. Davis is the first woman and first person of color to serve as an executive vice president in the system’s history.

Frequently appearing in publications, she has graced the cover of Positive Community and most recently been featured in Montclair Magazine. She has been named to NJBIZ Magazine’s Health Care Power 50 list in 2015, and ranked by NJBIZ as New Jersey’s top lobbyist in the health care industry and by PolitickerNJ as one of the most politically powerful people in New Jersey. Prior to her current position, Davis served in several high-ranking statewide political appointment positions.

Prior to joining Barnabas Health, she served as chief policy counsel to former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine; she was the first black person to serve in this role. Before that, Davis served as acting state treasurer for New Jersey — again being the first black person and one of only a few women to hold this position. Prior to Treasury, Davis led the $2.4 billion New Jersey Lottery as executive director and CEO and served as a senior policy adviser in the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.

She has a proven record of supporting women throughout her career and, while acting state treasurer of New Jersey, founded the New Jersey Department of the Treasury’s Office of Supplier Diversity and Division of Minority and Women Owned Businesses in order to ensure that women and minorities were included the state’s contracting opportunities.

At Barnabas Health, Davis led the effort to create the Barnabas Health Women’s Leadership Forum. The forum was created to advance access to leadership development for dynamic leaders from diverse backgrounds and to encourage collaboration among the exceptional women of Barnabas Health in order to advance their positions within the organization and to enhance their personal contribution to the world.

Davis is also active in her civic community. She serves as a member of the board of governors of Rowan University – Rutgers Camden; trustee of the New Jersey Women Lawyers Association; secretary to the board of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus Foundation; and president-elect of the Executive Women of New Jersey. She also serves on the board of directors of the Caucus Educational Trust, and is a member of the Seton Hall Law School Diversity Council, the Association of Black Women Lawyers, the New Jersey State Bar Association, the Garden State Bar Association, the National Bar Association, the American Bar Association and the Women’s Political Caucus of New Jersey. Formerly, she served on the corporate advisory board of the Boys and Girls Club of New Jersey, the board of trustees of Essex County College and Sacred Heart University in Connecticut.

Davis has received national and statewide recognition for her dedication and career accomplishments. Most recently, she received the 2016 Evangelica Trailblazer Award from U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez and was also the recipient of the 2016 Corporate Sector Award from the New Jersey Women Lawyers Association. Previously, she was named the 2015 LUPE Amiga of the Year, 2014 Business Advocate of the Year by the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and selected as one of The Network Journal’s 2014 Top 25 Most Influential Black Women in Business in the United States. She has been honored by numerous civic organizations, including the New Jersey Primary Care Association, the State NAACP, the Coalition of 100 Black Women of Bergen/Passaic County, the YWMCA, the Newark Community Health Centers, Babyland Family Services and others.

She began her legal career as a trial litigator, is an honors graduate of Seton Hall University and holds a J.D. from Seton Hall School of Law.

MAP-robert harvey-WRobert Balozi Harvey, an educator and activist, will receive the President’s Award. Harvey was born in East Orange to parents Clifton Harvey and Willie Bell Harvey. A graduate of the East Orange public schools system, he went on to study political science at Seton Hall University. Harvey later attended the United Nations Language School where he learned to speak Swahili, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and Zulu. From 1957 to 1961, Harvey served in the Strategic Air Command of the United States Air Force.

Early in his childhood, Harvey was mentored by his father, an activist in the Marcus Garvey movement, on the African legacy and pan-Africanism ideology. Reflecting this, he has dedicated his life to building cultural and economic bridges between and among Africans and peoples of African descent.

Harvey is a visionary leader, according to the release. His accomplishments include founding and leading the Black Community Development Corporation in Essex County, functioning as a non-governmental organization representative to the United Nations for the Congress of African People, serving as executive director of the Harlem Third World Trade Institute, and serving in liaison positions for governing bodies in Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire. He has traveled extensively in service to his passion to nearly 100 countries around the world, including at least 200 trips to Africa.

Locally, Harvey has been the director of Drug and Alcohol Control for East Orange and special aide to former Mayor Kenneth A. Gibson, in which position he was responsible for protocol and international relations. He was assigned as mayoral liaison to the United Nations to help expand trading links between Newark companies and developing nations. More recently, he served as executive director of the Essex County Economic Development Corporation, and director of the Essex County Office of Cultural Diversity and Affirmative Action. He is also a dedicated civic contributor, serving on many civic organizations, including the Essex County Pan-African Cultural Society, which he co-founded, and the New York City Partnership, Essex County Workforce Investment Board and the NAACP.

Harvey’s many contributions have been widely covered in media outlets at home and abroad, including newspapers such as the New York Times, Star-Ledger, New York Daily News and the Amsterdam News. Magazine coverage includes Ebony, Jet and Black Enterprise. Television Appearances have included “Like It Is,” “Black Journal,” BBC and Senegalese National Television. He has appeared on radio talk shows at WLIB, WBGO, WBAI, 1010 WINS and BBC Radio.

Harvey is a Muslim by faith, and he serves as president of the Murid Islamic Community in America. He is married to Judge Karimu F. Hill-Harvey, and is the proud father of six children and five grandchildren.