21 Sep ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE DIVINCENZO DEDICATES MEMORIAL PLAQUES ALONG ESSEX COUNTY LEGENDS WAY IN HONOR OF BALOZI HARVEY, DR. LEON SMITH AND LONNIE WRIGHT Bronze Plaques Recognize Community Leaders who Impacted Essex County
Newark, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. dedicated three bronze plaques in honor of the late Balozi Harvey from South Orange, the late Dr. Leon Smith from Essex Fells and the late Lawrence “Lonnie” Wright from South Orange on Wednesday, September 20th. Mr. Harvey was Director of the Essex County Office of Cultural Diversity and Affirmative Action & the Essex County Economic Development Corporation; Dr. Smith was an infectious disease specialist, and Mr. Wright was a two-sport professional athlete and Director of Minority and Underrepresented Student Recruitment at UMDNJ. The plaques are located along Essex County Legends Way at the Essex County Government Complex in Newark.
“Balozi Harvey, Dr. Leon Smith and Lonnie Wright followed very different paths, but they each impacted the lives of many and made Essex County a better place. They are deserving of being remembered as Essex County legends, and having their names at our government complex will remind people of their contributions,” DiVincenzo said. “Balozi was a community activist who joined my administration to promote diversity and economic development. Dr. Smith dedicated his life to treating the sick and researching some of the most deadly diseases our society faces. Lonnie Wright was one of the greatest athletes in New Jersey history who also changed the face of medicine by recruiting minorities to become doctors and nurses,” he noted.
The bronze plaque for Mr. Harvey begins with a quote from Marcus Garvey: “The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself, but the ends you serve that are for all in common will take you even into eternity.” It continues: “Balozi Harvey dedicated his life to building cultural bridges among Pan African people; promoting economic, trade and political development of Pan-African diaspora communities; and forging relations between people of all nationalities and races, at home and abroad. As a teenager, Balozi pledged to his father, a cook for Marcus Garvey and an activist in the Back-to-Africa movement, that he would carry forth the message of African heritage. He remained true to his word. After school and the USAF, he attended the United Nations Language School, learning Swahili, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and Zulu. Balozi labored with spiritual leaders including Imam Warith D. Muhammad, the Dalai Lama, Dr. Maulana Karenga, Cheikh Mourtada Mbacké and the Archdiocese of NY & NJ, and was invited to many African & Caribbean nations. He also became a Kwanzaa leader. From 2003-2007, he served as Director of the Essex County Office of Cultural Diversity and Affirmative Action and Executive Director of the County’s Economic Development Corp. Balozi’s was a life well-lived. Therefore, ‘he shall be counted and honored among the ancestors. His name shall endure as a monument and what he’s done on earth shall never perish or pass away,’ The Husia.” Mr. Harvey passed away December 28, 2016.
“Balozi was a proud husband, father, grandfather and friend. A man full of spirit, dedication, and selflessness. Balozi fought for freedom, equality and justice for the community and the diaspora. During his lifetime, he acted upon his heart and spirit and not for the appreciation he received, but for the love of his people,” said Hon. Karimu F. Hill-Harvey, Esq., Harvey’s wife. “Fate was kind to Balozi at the end of his life. He was blessed because he believed in Allah/God. Fate has been kind to me as well because Balozi was the best thing that ever happened to me. In remembrance of him let’s all raise our arms and fists and do seven Harambees, which represents us all pulling/working together,” she added.
The bronze plaque for Dr. Smith begins with a quote he is attributed to have said, which is “I just love being a doctor. I love the challenge of solving diagnostic problems, I love tough cases — the tougher the better.” It continues: “His father’s early death set young Leon Smith on the road to medicine, resulting in the development of a doctor with extraordinary diagnostic skills and worldwide leadership in the field of infectious disease. The son of Lebanese immigrants, he was the first in his family to attend high school. New York University and Georgetown Medical School followed. He brought all this knowledge and experience to St. Michael’s Hospital in Newark ~ where he practiced medicine for a half-century. His compassion for his neighborhood patients, mostly of little means, led him to develop the first Free Inner City Medical Clinic, Hepatitis and Leprosy clinics, and the first clinic for Fever of Unknown Origin in the country. His HIV/AIDS clinic was the first in the state and second in America, as was the in-patient AIDS Unit. With accolades and honors bestowed throughout the years, he left a personal legacy, too. A loving marriage of 54 years, four of his five children are doctors and two of his 15 grandchildren are in medical school, with more to follow. Dr. Leon G. Smith saved scores of lives, trained a multitude of physicians, and established new boundaries for medical care. Essex County is proud of him and grateful for his work.” Dr. Smith passed away December 19, 2016.
“I believe there are three types of altruism in the world and the one I believe characterizes my father involves encountering strangers and giving them your all even when they cannot do anything for you. My father believed everyone was a child of God and deserved your full attention,” said Dr. Leon Smith, Jr., Dr. Smith’s son. “I know I have really big shoes to fill and I am very proud to be Leon Smith, Jr.,” he added.
The bronze plaque for Mr. Wright begins with a quote from his wife, Johanna Wright: “It didn’t matter who you were, Lonnie found a way to connect to you – that was his gift.” It continues: “Lonnie Wright was one of New Jersey’s finest student-athletes, who excelled in every sport he played. At South Side High School (Shabazz) in Newark, he earned All-City, County, State and All-American honors in both football and basketball. At Colorado State University, he set the shotput record (52’9”) and scored 1,246 points on the basketball team. Despite not playing football in college, he was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 1966, playing for two seasons. In 1967, after football season ended, he played basketball with the Denver Rockets of the ABA, becoming the first modern day athlete to play two professional sports in one season. But most significant to his life story is the work he accomplished as Director of Minority and Underrepresented Student Recruitment for UMDNJ. For 36 years, he was a mentor, role model and father figure to the thousands of young men and women he brought to Newark to matriculate at the largest health science college in America. Through his work, he changed the face of medicine, “paying it forward” by empowering young people. Lonnie Wright was a fierce competitor, a natural athlete, a life coach with the booming voice of a giant among us. He lived a worthy life.” He passed away March 23, 2012.
“I am humbled to accept such a prestigious recognition in my husband’s honor. Thank you, County Executive DiVincenzo, for commemorating this athlete and honoring this man,” said Joanna Wright, Wright’s wife. “This has moved me to tears because this honor is one at home. This really means a lot to our family,” she added.
The former 13th Avenue on the southern side of the Essex County Hall of Records was transformed into a tree-lined promenade when the Jurors’ parking garage was opened in 2008. It was later named “Legends Way” and features bronze plaques recognizing people who have made significant contributions to Essex County. The plaques feature Major League Baseball Hall of Fame players Yogi Berra, Larry Doby and Monte Irvin; the late John J. Clancy, who served as the first Director of the Essex County Division of Youth Services; the late Adrian M. Foley, Jr., who served as Essex County Surrogate; the late Samuel Brummer, owner of Hobby’s Delicatessen and veteran who landed at D-Day during World War II; the late Cephas Bowles, longtime WBGO Executive Director; the late Larrie West Stalks, former Essex County Register; the late Clement A. Price, Rutgers University History Professor and Newark and Essex County Historian; the late D. Bilal Beasley, Irvington City Councilman and Essex County Freeholder; the late Raymond Durkin, long-time Chairman of the Essex County Democratic Committee and New Jersey Democratic Party; the late Philip Thigpen, Essex County Register and long-time Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman; the late Thomas Durkin, a prominent Essex County attorney; the late Lena Donaldson Griffith, a cultural arts and civil rights pioneer in Newark and Essex County; the late Raymond Brown, a civil rights leader and long-time attorney; and the late Superior Court Justice Thomas “Timmy” McCormack, who was one of the authors of the County’s current Administrative Code and Freeholder By-Laws.
In addition, several buildings and open spaces in the Essex County Government Complex have been named after prominent people who have influenced the development of Essex County. The plaza in front of the Hall of Records and a bronze statue honor Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; the park next to the Historic Courthouse and statue in front of the Hall of Records honor Barringer High School graduate and U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.; a plaza in front of the Essex County Veterans Courthouse and a statue honor Civil Rights pioneer Rosa Parks; the plaza in front of the LeRoy Smith Public Safety Building and a statue honor the late Congressman Donald M. Payne, who was the first African American Congressman in New Jersey; the plaza at the south entrance of the Veterans Courthouse and a statue honor former New Jersey Governor and Essex County Prosecutor Brendan Byrne; and the plaza in the Essex County Veterans Memorial Park and a statue honor the late Jorge Oliveira, a 10-year veteran of the Essex County Sheriff’s Office who was killed while serving his country in Afghanistan. The Veterans Courthouse and the Essex County Veterans Memorial Park are named as a tribute to the men and women who have defended our country and freedoms while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. The Essex County LeRoy F. Smith, Jr., Public Safety Building is named for LeRoy Smith, a Newark resident who served as Deputy Director of Emergency Medical Services for the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey for 38 years before retiring in 2007. In Brennan Park is a monument recognizing the late Charles Cummings, who served as the official Newark historian and librarian with the Newark Public Library for over 40 years. The plaza in front of the Historic Courthouse is named for former Essex County Prosecutor James Lordi.