Untitled Document


February 26, 2013



Freeholders Pay Tribute to Dr. Neely Hackett of Irvington, Junius W. Williams, Esq. and Gladys Barker Grauer of Newark, and Albert E. Pelham and Thomas L. Puryear of East Orange

During Ceremony at the Hall of Records

The Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders honored outstanding members of the Essex County African-American community during their African-American History Month Celebration at the Hall of Records in Newark.  This year’s honorees were: (l. to r.) Dr. Neely Hackett of Irvington; Junius W. Williams, Esq., of Newark; Gladys Barker Grauer of Newark; Thomas L. Puryear of East Orange; and (back row, enter) Albert E. Pelham of East Orange.  (Photo by Glen Frieson)

(Newark, NJ) – The Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders held its Annual African-American History Month Celebration on Wednesday, February 26th, in the Hall of Records Lobby.  The theme of the event was “Recognizing Excellence”, and in that context this year’s outstanding honorees were:  Dr. Neely Hackett of Irvington; Junius W. Williams, Esq., and Gladys Barker Grauer of Newark; and Albert E. Pelham and Thomas L. Puryear of East Orange.

The event was sponsored by Freeholder President Britnee N. Timberlake of East Orange, Freeholder Lebby C. Jones of Irvington, and Freeholders Rufus I. Johnson and Wayne L. Richardson of Newark.  They were joined by their colleagues, Freeholder Vice President Brendan W. Gill of Montclair, and Freeholders Rolando Bobadilla of Newark, Leonard M. Luciano of West Caldwell, Patricia Sebold of Livingston and Cynthia D. Toro of Bloomfield.

Freeholder President Timberlake opened the program by welcoming everyone in the audience “…to a program that recognizes the dignity of the struggles of our brothers and sisters down through the years, applauds their achievements despite great odds and hateful barriers, and celebrates the indelible contributions they have made to the very notions of justice, liberty and the fabric of our nation.”  She explained that her family, which hails from Alabama and North Carolina, were sharecroppers from whom she learned so much, “and there is no doubt in my mind that my appreciation of their struggles has a lot to do with my tenacity to fight for social justice today.”  She also spoke about Africa being the birthplace of all civilization, and in a poignant moment, encouraged everyone to turn to the person sitting next to them and say, “You are African.”   She went on to say, “Today, we will write one more chapter in our efforts to honor our ancestors, each of whom had unique stories to tell, by respecting the work, accomplishments and irrepressible spirit of outstanding African-Americans in our midst today, our honorees, who have their own stories to tell, and from whom we can learn so much as they continue to make their marks on our lives, our community and our society.”

Freeholder Lebby Jones (l.) with Dr. Neely Hackett

It is a great joy for me to stand before you to talk about one of Irvington’s children, and the person I’m talking about is the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Neely Hackett!” said Freeholder Lebby C. Jones as she introduced her honoree, who went on to say, “I have known Neely basically all of her life, because I worked with her mother when we were both teachers at Newark’s Louise A. Spencer School.”  “Neely is my SHE-ro… Irvington’s SHE-ro… and I am so proud that the Township of Irvington has produced such a fine young woman who has come back home to serve her community… as a teacher… a principal… and now as our Superintendent.”

“Black History Month is a time for us to honor the people on whose shoulders we stand”, said Dr. Hackett, “and I stand on the shoulders of a great 2nd Grade teacher, my beautiful mother, who taught me that love, patience and inspiration are truly the traits of a great leader, and that there were no boundaries, ceilings or restrictions on my success if I worked hard every day; on the shoulders of my father and family who supported me; and on the shoulders of trailblazers like Freeholder Lebby Jones and the late Bilal Beasley, who saw something in a little girl from Irvington and believed that she could grow up to become the Superintendent of Schools.”  Dr. Hackett went on to say, “In the Irvington Public Schools, we are grounded in the art of the ‘possible’… that it is possible to become a superintendent, to find a cure for cancer, or to become the mayor of the township… and every day our 13 principals and over 1,000 employees work hard to give our 7,000 students opportunities and to be sure they believe that anything is possible.” 

Superintendent Hackett attended elementary school in Irvington and graduated from Newark’s University High School.  She then attended Penn State University where she was a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., served as President of the Minority Recruitment Task Force, mentored incoming freshmen students, and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Business Logistics in 1991.

Upon her graduation from Penn State, she began her lifelong dream of working with children and her outstanding career in the field of education as a substitute teacher in the Newark Public Schools from 1991-94.  She became a certified teacher at Irvington’s Grove Street Elementary School, where she taught for two years, before becoming a fourth grade teacher in the Teaneck Public Schools in 1996, during which time she returned to graduate school to earn a Master of Arts degree in Educational Administration in 1998.

She returned to the Irvington Public Schools in January 1998 as an Assistant Principal at Chancellor Avenue School, before being appointed Principal of Union Avenue Middle School in August of that same year, where she served for seven years.  She earned her doctoral degree from Nova Southeastern University in November 2004 and was appointed Principal of Irvington High School in August 2005, where she served for more than five years before leaving to become Principal of Franklin High School in Somerset, New Jersey, on December 1, 2009.  She returned to Irvington once again in November 2011 as the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, was appointed Interim Superintendent of Schools on July 1, 2012, and has served as Superintendent since July 1, 2013.

Dr. Neely Hackett knows first-hand that there are amazing, talented and intelligent students in the Irvington Public Schools and is committed to ensuring that they are provided with a quality educational experience that prepares them to be college and career-ready.

Freeholder Wayne Richardson with Gladys Barker Grauer

Today I have the pleasure of honoring one of the most outstanding women I know”, said Freeholder Wayne Richardson.  “She is a young-at-heart 91-year old phenomenon… a retired educator, renowned mixed media artist, and the founder of Newark’s first art gallery who helped launch careers of countless black and brown artists, especially women.  Her name is Gladys Barker Grauer, and she also happens to be my mother-in-law, the best mother-in-law in the whole wide world!”  Speaking directly to Ms. Grauer, Richardson said, “I am so proud and honored to recognize you today, and to present you with this well-deserved Commendation from the Board.  You are an inspiration to all of us, and I love you.”

“I’m not going to say a lot, but I want to cover two little things”, said Ms. Grauer.  “One of the biggest boosts we got as African-American artists in Newark way back in the 1970’s, was from the County of Essex which, under then-County Executive Peter Shapiro, permitted us to exhibit our art at the Essex County Courthouse and at the County Police Headquarters and Parks Department offices on Clifton Avenue.”  She went on to say, “As a retired educator, one of the wonderful things is to see the young people whose lives I touched… whether it be a young man who used to be one of the biggest clowns in my class at an ATM machine, which means he’s working and has a bank account… or to hear someone walking with three young children shout out from across the street, ‘Hi, Ms. Grauer!’”  “Those are the best rewards of all, and I thank the Board of Freeholders for this honor from the bottom of my heart.”

Gladys Barker Grauer of Newark is a mixed media artist, former Arts educator and founder of Newark’s first art

gallery.  She was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1923, raised in Chicago, Illinois, received her art training at the Art Institute of Chicago, and moved to New York City in 1946.  There she worked as a freelance artist, became involved in civil rights and political movements, and met and married Solomon Grauer.  They moved to Newark’s Clinton Hill section in 1951 before purchasing a home in the Weequahic section of the city in 1960, where they raised their four children (Antoinette, Edith, Edward and Leon) and became very involved in the community as founding members of the Clinton Hill Neighborhood Council and active members of the Weequahic Community Council and The Friends of Clinton Hill.

She fulfilled a lifelong dream when she opened Newark’s first art gallery in 1971, the Aard Studio Gallery on Bergen Street, a community-based art gallery that helped inspire and launch the careers of numerous black and brown artists in the Newark area; addressing the needs of artists of color by providing a forum for mutual support, professional networking, exhibition and selling of their art.  The Gallery’s exhibits were often covered by The Star-Ledger which broadened exposure and appreciation of the creativity of artists of color and in the early 1980’s and, through the newly-formed Essex County Department of Arts and Culture, led to the first major exhibit of the works of African-American artists at the Essex County Police Headquarters in Newark, which was followed by another exhibit at the Essex County Courthouse for Black History Month.  These exhibits, in turn, led to a 1983 exhibit at the Newark Museum, “Emerging and Established”, that featured New Jersey African American artists.

Ms. Grauer was a founding member of Black Women in Visual Perspective, an organization of African-American women artists, the NJ Chapter of the National Conference of Artists, and the Newark Arts Council.  She also served on the Boards of the Theater of Universal Images, City Without Walls and the Newark Arts Council, and mentored young art students through Art Reach.

She received formal teacher training at Rutgers and taught Commercial Art in the Essex County Vocational Schools from 1974 until her retirement in 1988.  A mixed media artist in her own right for over 60 years, her artwork has been exhibited locally, nationally and internationally, from the Newark Museum to Dakar, Senegal.  Her works are included in the permanent collections of the Newark, Montclair, Morris and New Jersey State museums, the Newark Public Library, the book collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England, the Museum of Modern Art, National Museum of American Art, Morgan State University, and numerous private collections.  She is included in numerous art publications, including: St. James Guide to Black Arts; Schomburg Collection; New York Art Review; Who’s Who in American Art; Gumbo Ya-Ya: An Anthology of Contemporary African-American Women Artists; Art by African-American Artists in the collection of the New Jersey State Museum; Transcultural in New Jersey, Rutgers Office of Intercultural Initiatives; and Defying the Odds: Triumphant Black Women of Newark.

Ms. Grauer has received numerous prizes and recognitions for her work, and since 2006 has completed 4 murals in Newark: the entrance vestibule of Arts H.S.; the gathering room of the Marion A. Bolden Student Center; the Route 280 underpass on Broad Street; and a mural entitled “Tribute to Newark Jazz Clubs” on the site of the former Boys & Girls Club on Hawthorne Avenue.  In recognition of her life’s work, she was also named Grand Marshal of the African American Heritage Statewide Parade in 2013, and an Honored Elder at NJPAC’s “Spirit of Kwanza Tribute to the Elders” in 2011.

Freeholder Rufus Johnson recalled when he first met his honoree, Junius W. Williams, Esq., in 1980 when Williams was a Newark mayoral candidate, and introduced him as “a truly outstanding man from Newark whose reputation for intelligence, integrity and activism extends far beyond its boundaries… across the nation and around the world, and as a true giant in Newark, the African-American community, and the nation.”

Williams thanked Freeholder Johnson for his kind words and recounted a life lesson he learned 50 years ago when he was jailed on his way to join the Selma to Montgomery March, a lesson he called the “Parable of the Blanket”, and which he has carried with him to this day: crowded into a holding cell with 150 others, jail guards threw only a handful of blankets into the cell, when someone spoke up to say that “real” men wouldn’t accept a blanket unless everyone had a blanket, to which the cellmates responded by throwing the few blankets into a pile until the jailors produced enough blankets for everyone.  “Ever since that moment”, said Williams, “my job has been to make sure that all of us have a blanket.”

Freeholder Rufus I. Johnson (l.) and his honoree, Junius W. Williams, Esq.

Junius W. Williams, Esq., is a nationally-recognized attorney, educator, musician and independent thinker who has been at the forefront of the Civil Rights and Human Rights Movements in this country for decades.  His life in the Movement in both the South and the North has been chronicled in the Civil Rights History Project, a collaborative initiative of the Library of Congress and the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian Institute, and his is one of eleven interviews shown nationally on C-SPAN.

He has been an advocate in the City of Newark for almost 50 years, beginning while he was still a law student at Yale when he founded and directed the Newark Area Planning Association.  Between 1968-70 he developed and administered Newark’s first broad-based housing CDC, the Newark Housing Council, and as its Executive Director obtained State financing to develop more than 1,000 housing units at New Hope Village and Georgia King Village.  He served as Director of Community Development and the Model Cities Program for the City of Newark from 1970-72 and was responsible for Newark’s “Project Rehab”, which was recognized by HUD as the best housing effort of its kind which resulted in the creation of more than 1,000 low and moderate-income apartments.  And in 1987, he participated in the creation of the University Heights Neighborhood Urban Renewal Development Corp. that brought low and moderate-income housing to Newark’s Central Ward.  As an advocate, planner, CDC administrator and real estate developer, he was responsible for more than 2,000 housing units, 3 community health centers, 2 day care centers and one commercial restaurant in Newark.

In 1978, Mr. Williams was elected the youngest President of the National Bar Association (NBA), the oldest and largest organization of African-American attorneys in the country, and presented an NBA paper at the United Nations advocating for democracy in Zimbabwe that was adopted by the UN and publicized in 7 different languages for international consumption.  He was also listed as one of the “100 Most Influential Blacks in America” by Ebony Magazine.  As Executive Director of Essex Newark Legal Services from 1982-84, he successfully argued for the right of the homeless in Newark to receive City welfare benefits even if they had no address, and represented voters in the successful fight to seat Oliver and Edgar Brown on the Newark Board of Education.  He also represented Rev. Jesse Jackson in the historic court decision to bring single-lever voting to NJ in primary elections for Presidential candidates’ Convention delegates; maintained a private law practice from 1973-82 and 1984-94; and in the Township of Irvington served as both Counsel to the Municipal Council (1990) and Township Attorney (1994-2002).  He was also an official Observer of the first South African National Elections in 1994; and is a former President of the Yale Law School Association of NJ, Associate Editor of the NJ Law Journal and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Education Law Center of NJ, an advocacy group responsible for bringing parity in school funding to inner city schools.

Junius W. Williams, Esq., served on the Essex County College Board of Trustees from 1981-87 and currently serves as Director of the Abbott Leadership Institute at the Department of Urban Education, Rutgers-Newark, which teaches parents and professional educators how to engage families as partners in the education of children.  He is the author of the book, Unfinished Agenda, Urban Politics in the Era of Black Power, a political and historical memoir about his efforts to bring change in this country, with a particular emphasis on Newark.  He is also an accomplished musician; the co-founder, performer and business manager for the singing group, “Return To The Source”, which specializes in spirituals, Gospel, Blues, Jazz and Popular Music; and a writer and producer of various educational multimedia projects.

He is the devoted husband of Dr. Antoinette Ellis-Williams; the father of Camille, Junea, Junius and Che; and the grandfather of Justice Coltrane Edmund.

Freeholder President Britnee Timberlake selected Presidents of NAACP chapters as her honorees: Thomas L. Puryear of the Oranges & Maplewood Chapter, and Albert E. Pelham of the Montclair Chapter.

Freeholder President Britnee Timberlake with Thomas L. Puryear

Mr. Thomas Puryear is a ceaseless educator and education advocate, and has served as President of the NAACP of the Oranges and Maplewood for the past five years”, said Freeholder Timberlake.  “Tom, you are an outstanding African-American and I am truly honored to know you, and in my brief time as Freeholder President, I have already had the opportunity to sit with you to discuss important issues and to learn from you.  Congratulations.”

Puryear thanked Timberlake and the Board for the honor, the members of his NAACP family, the oldest in New Jersey, for allowing him to lead the organization for the last five years, and his wife, Mary, “for allowing me to be who I am.”  He added, “I’m told that the real test of leadership is not who follows you, but whom you can inspire to become a leader, and that is my role, to inspire others to accept the burden of leadership, and to leave a path behind me for others to follow.”

Thomas L. Puryear is an activist who has resided in East Orange for nearly 45 years.  He has been President of the NAACP of the Oranges and Maplewood for the past five years, and serves as Chairperson of its Education Committee.  He also serves as Vice Chairperson for the NAACP’s New Jersey State Conference Education Committee.

He is a member of Our Children, Our School (OC-OS), a local education advocacy organization.  He is also a member of the New Jersey Department of Education’s NCLB (No Child Left Behind) Advisory Board, a member of the Essex County Youth Investment Committee and the Essex County Workforce Investment Board.

Puryear was employed as an Electronic Learning Coordinator and Academic Advisor at Montclair State University from 1981 until his retirement in 2008, where he coordinated a computer lab designed to enhance academic instruction and develop skills that promoted effective awareness and growth; he also provided academic, financial and effective counseling for a diverse population of Educational Opportunity Program students.  Currently, he works as an independent educational consultant.

He earned both his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Master’s degree in Student Personnel Services from Montclair State University.  In his spare time, he is a Marine Aquarist, plays tennis, enjoys photography, is an ardent museum attendee and student of African and African-American history.  He has been married to his dear wife, Mary Crenshaw, for 43 years, and they are the proud parents of three children: Corey, Kelli and Dayna.

Albert Pelham with Freeholder President Britnee Timberlake

Timberlake introduced Albert E. Pelham as “a pillar in our community”, with whom she crossed paths in her other role as the leader of an affordable housing organization, “and whom I have watched lead the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corporation with dignity, ethics and determination, helping children to succeed and not fall victim to the streets, and so much more.”  She went on to say, “You have truly devoted your professional life to empowering our community, and are someone I respect and admire.”

Pelham recognized his family members and the members of the Montclair NAACP in the audience and pointed out that “today is my late sister’s birthday, and  I know she is smiling down on me today.”  He also thanked Freeholder President Timberlake and all the other freeholders, and said he was being honored for simply being “obedient to the path laid down for me.”

Pelham currently serves as President of the Montclair Branch of the NAACP, a position he has held since November of 2014, and Co-Chair of the Montclair African-American Heritage Foundation since 2012.  Sixteen years ago he joined with others to found a summer program, Project Oasis, which has worked to bridge the academic achievement gap for Montclair African-American youth between the ages of 13 and 18, while also creating a safe haven for them to learn and have fun.  It is a collaboration between the Montclair Board of Education, Montclair Police Department and the United Way of North Essex, as well as concerned citizens, all of whom are determined to address this pressing problem which, rather than being a problem unique to the Township of Montclair, is a problem of concern across the nation.  Since its conception, more than 1,000 young people have participated

Pelham is currently employed as the Human Resources Director for the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN), Inc., located in Newark, which works to empower families and inform and involve professionals and other individuals in the healthy development and educational rights of children.  He also serves as Executive Director of the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corporation (MNDC), which strives to empower and support disadvantaged individuals, youth and families to achieve an improved quality of life through training, education and advocacy.

He has served on the Executive Committee of the Montclair African-American Parade and Festival since 2008, and was a member of the Executive Committee of the Montclair Branch of the NAACP from 2007-2008, where he currently serves as President.

Pelham has been the recipient of numerous awards, honors and recognitions over the years for his community service and efforts to improve the lives of African-Americans, including: the MNDC Community Service Award (1998), YMCA Minority Achievement Award (2003), NAACP Community Service Award (2004), Real Families Community Service Award (2006), NAACP Thurgood Marshall Award (2012), Alpha Kappa Sorority, Inc., Exemplary Community Service Award (2014) and the National Council of Negro Women, Inc., Community Service Award (2015).  He is a graduate of Bloomfield College, is married to his dear wife, Audrey, and the father of two children, Dwayne Jones and Rhonda Fischer.

The program also included the offering of the Invocation by Reverend Dana P. Owens, Pastor of Messiah Baptist Church of East Orange; the Benediction by Reverend Dr. Joseph Oniyama, Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church of East Orange; and vocal performances by Isaac Brown.

At the conclusion of the program, guests were invited to a Reception in the Blonnie R. Watson Conference Room on the 5th Floor.

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For Additional Information:
Kathy R. Brown, Research Analyst
Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders

Board of Chosen Freeholders, County of Essex
Hall of Records - Room 558, 465 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., Newark, New Jersey 07102
Tel: (973) 621-4486 Fax: (973) 621-5695