Untitled Document

February 23, 2012


Freeholders Pay Tribute to Montclair Councilor Renee E. Baskerville, M.D.,
Lyndon Brown, Newark Police Chief Sheilah A. Coley, the Cushnie-Houston Funeral Home and the late Kenneth Travitt 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: (front row from left to right) Olivia Travitt, wife of the late Kenneth Travitt, Delores Cushnie of the Cushnie-Houston Funeral Home and Newark Police Chief Sheilah A. Coley; (second row) Lyndon Brown; and (back row) John B. Houston of the Cushnie-Houston Funeral Home and The Honorable Renee E. Baskerville, M.D.  (Photo by Glen Frieson)

(Newark, NJ) – The Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, in collaboration with the Office of the Essex County Surrogate, held its Annual African-American History Month Celebration on Wednesday, February 22nd, in the Lobby at the Hall of Records.  The theme of the event was “Recognizing Excellence”, and in that context this year’s outstanding honorees were:  the Honorable Renee E. Baskerville, M.D., Montclair Township Councilor; Lyndon Brown of Newark; Newark Chief of Police Sheilah A. Coley; Delores Cushnie and John B. Houston of the Cushnie-Houston Funeral Home of East Orange; and the late Kenneth Travitt of Newark, who was represented by his wife, Olivia Travitt.

The members of the Essex County Board of Freeholders are: Freeholder President Blonnie R. Watson of Newark, Freeholder Vice President Patricia Sebold of Livingston, Freeholder D. Bilal Beasley of Irvington, Freeholder Rolando Bobadilla of Newark, Freeholder Carol Y. Clark of East Orange, Freeholder Brendan W. Gill of Montclair, Freeholder Rufus I. Johnson of Newark, Freeholder Leonard M. Luciano of West Caldwell, and Freeholder Donald M. Payne, Jr., of Newark.  The Essex County Surrogate is Theodore N. Stephens, II, of Montclair.

The Honorable Renee E. Baskerville, M.D., of Montclair, is a Pediatrician and the 4th Ward Councilor for the Township of Montclair.  She attended the Montclair Public Schools, earned her B.S. degree from Oberlin College, and her Medical Degree from the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry.  Dr. Baskerville began her medical career as a Pediatric Resident at UMDNJ-United Presbyterian Children’s Hospital, worked for the Newark Community Health Centers for 8 years, served as Director of Pediatrics at the Newark Multi-Medical Plaza Comprehensive Care health facility, for the Newark Mini-Surgi site, and then as a private practitioner.  She has also served as the pediatrician for The Leaguers Head Start facility, served on the Board of Directors as the Health Advisor for Newark Head Start, on the boards of the Montclair and Orange Head Start programs and Newark Babyland Nurseries, as school physician for East Orange Campus High School, and is currently employed by the East Orange Public Schools Early Childhood Division. 

Dr. Baskerville also served on the Montclair Board of Education, including as its Vice President, and was elected to her first term on the Montclair Municipal Council in 2008 as Fourth Ward Councilor.  She is a civil rights and social justice champion who speaks out against local and state voter suppression initiatives, to eliminate the “crime” of Driving While Black, and to facilitate peace and reconciliation among the gangs in Montclair by identifying healthy employment, entrepreneurship and other productive alternatives to gang activities.  Dr. Baskerville has been the recipient of many awards and citations for her community service and leadership, and strives to find ways to provide quality, comprehensive health care to vulnerable populations with special medical needs.

Freeholder Brendan W. Gill of Montclair presents Renee E. Baskerville, M.D., Montclair Councilor, with her Award from the Board.   (Photo by Glen Frieson)

Before beginning her remarks, Dr. Baskerville asked members of Montclair’s Fourth Ward Collaborative “…from the Fourth Ward Village of Montclair” to come forward to join her on the dais in the spirit of “Ubuntu”, the South African ethic which, as she explained, “means that we are universally bound in sharing and moving things collectively.”  “I wanted you to see them”, she told the audience, “because they provide my air, and there is nothing I can do to serve without them.”

Lyndon Brown of Newark  has been an active member of the Newark Community for 30 years, first as President of the Youth Tri-Block Association and later as District Leader for District 47.  He has generously volunteered his time to assist young people and to encourage them to achieve academically.  He is the Founder and Director of the High School Academic Support Program for Greater Newark, and has assisted countless teens in their college admissions process through weekly SAT/HSPA prep sessions, financial aid workshops and college fairs, often chaperoning tours of colleges.  He has also coordinated service projects for teens and college students, including nursing home visits, care packages for troops, peer tutoring and peer mentoring programs and events.

Mr. Brown also serves as President of the Thirteenth Avenue School PTA, which has received local, state and national recognition under his leadership, and also founded the Boys & Girls Clubs of Newark Alumni Association that has evolved into an international network that includes such notables as Queen Latifah and Shaquille O’Neal.  As President of the Fourth Bureau Community Precinct Council, he has also worked to enhance the quality of life in Newark through collaborations and monthly dialogue with law enforcement officials, elected officials and the community.

Honoree Lyndon Brown (center) receives his Award from Freeholder Rufus I. Johnson of Newark and Freeholder Vice President Patricia Sebold of Livingston.  (Photo by Glen Frieson)

Mr. Brown opened his remarks by saying that he was “overwhelmed with this award.”  “I’ve been fortunate to impact many young people and their families in Newark, and I could not have done that without inspiration from all of you who sit before me today.”  He went on to say, “I hope we will continue to inspire and encourage our young people, and one another.  We need to support and embrace each other’s efforts so that we, as a community, can continue to grow and thrive.”

Sheilah A. Coley became the first female Chief of Police in the history of the Newark Police Department when she was sworn-in on August 19, 2011.  She began her career with the NPD in 1989 as a patrol officer and then served as a detective in the Narcotics Unit and the East District Detectives’ Squad.  She was promoted to Sergeant in 1996, served as Patrol Supervisor in the West District, and was later assigned to the Internal Affairs and Professional Standards Bureau.  She was assigned Commander of the South District Detective Squad in 1999 and promoted to Lieutenant in 2000, when she was assigned to the Safer Cities Task Force and as Commander of the Sexual Assault Rape Analysis Unit.  In 2002, she became Executive Officer of the Criminal Investigation Bureau and also served a brief term as Investigative Lieutenant in the Communications Division.  Chief Coley was promoted to Captain in 2004, assuming responsibility as Executive Officer of the South District, and then as Commander of the South District (5th Precinct).  She also served as Commander of the Newark Police Academy and the Criminal Investigations and Communications Divisions until her appointment as Chief in 2011.

Chief Coley attended the Community College of the Air Force and Essex County College.  She also attended the Yale University Child Study Program, the Senior Institute for Policing, Penn State University’s POLEX Program, Northwestern University, and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Freeholder President Blonnie R. Watson of Newark (left) presents the Board’s Award to Chief Sheilah A. Coley of the Newark Police Department (right).  (Photo by Glen Frieson)

Chief Coley thanked Freeholder President Watson and the Board for honoring her as part of its African-American History Month celebration, as well as the men and women of the Newark Police Department, saying, “Thank you for taking this amazing ride with me.  I could not have done it by myself… no one has ever done it by themselves.”  Reflecting on the fact that although one month may not be enough time to honor all the contributions of the African-American community, “…it only takes less than 30 seconds to say ‘thank you’ to our ancestors, ‘thank you’ to the people who support us, and ‘thank you’ to the people who sit in this room.”

The Cushnie-Houston Funeral Home of East Orange has provided quality funeral services to The Oranges and Essex County for 55 years.  It was founded by the late George Enos Cushnie in 1957 as the George E. Cushnie Funeral Home at its current address, 102 Sanford Street, and remains a highly-respected African American-owned business and financial anchor of the community to this day.  Mr. Cushnie operated the family-owned business with professionalism and dignity for 42 years until his passing in 1999.  Thereafter, it continued to be operated in the same manner by his wife, Delores, and their children, Gail and Robert, until 2003, when the business was sold to John B. Houston, who has since upheld the trust the community had placed in the George E. Cushnie Funeral Home, now known as the Cushnie-Houston Funeral Home.

Delores Cushnie, born in Orange, New Jersey, received her B.S. in Elementary Education from Seton Hall University and enjoyed a 29-year career as an elementary school teacher in the Edison Township (NJ) School District.  Upon her retirement in 1994, she attended the American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service to become a licensed funeral director, where she met a fellow student, John B. Houston, to whom, years later, she would sell and entrust her family’s business.

Mr. Houston, born in Decatur, Alabama, earned his B.S. in Fashion Marketing from the University of Alabama, and his M.B.A. in Finance from Atlanta University.  After being employed by AT&T as a product manager, he went on to pursue his lifelong dream of owning his own funeral home by earning his Diploma of Funeral Service from McAllister, where he graduated summa cum laude.  He served apprenticeships in New York and New Jersey, and became a licensed funeral director in both states.  He purchased the Triboro Funeral Home in Corona, Queens, New York, in 2001, and then the George E. Cushnie Funeral Home in 2003.  Mr. Houston is the proud father of three children: Devon, and twins Kyla and John.

Freeholders Rolando Bobadilla (far left) of Newark and Carol Y. Clark (far right) of East Orange present the Board’s Awards to John B. Houston and Delores Cushnie of the Cushnie-Houston Funeral Home of East Orange.  (Photo by Glen Frieson)

Delores Cushnie accepted the Board’s honor on behalf of her late husband, George E. Cushnie, and her children, Gail Cushnie-Bell, Robert Cushnie and Baruti K. Kafele.  “Today we honor the legacy of a man whose very principles were built on professionalism and dignity for all families, and who believed that serving families was not just funeralizing the deceased, but a ministry for the families.  I thank you”, she said, “for keeping his memory alive.”  John B. Houston, who purchased the business from the Cushnie family in 2003, commented that, “The African-American funeral home is generally the oldest business in the African-American community; it has survived integration and presently is the only business owned solely by African-American, serving African-Americans.  What we do is important and relevant.”  He went on to say that being a funeral director is more than a job to him, “It is my passion, and a ministry designed to soften the finality of death.”

The Late Kenneth Travitt of Newark was born on December 10, 1936, and passed on Wednesday, November 16, 2011.  He attended Newark Technical High School and Fayetteville State College in North Carolina, where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Education; he later went on to earn his Master’s degree from Seton Hall University.  Kenneth Travitt enjoyed a distinguished 34-year teaching career in the Newark Public Schools as a teacher, Vice Principal and Principal..  He also mentored young teachers, especially by educating them about African-American history and culture; he was a trailblazer in this area of learning, and was one of the first African-American teachers to be awarded The Educators Award Grant for African-American History.

Kenneth Travitt’s love for, and commitment to peoples of the African Diaspora was immeasurable and unwavering; he spent vast amounts of time reading, studying and attending lectures, and traveled extensively throughout the African continent to Algeria, Liberia, Togo, Senegal, Guinea, Ghana, Egypt, Ivory Coast and Benin.  As a young man, he traveled to Ghana with Operation Crossroads Africa, and helped to build The Bob Beadle Elementary School in Mpeseduadze, returning there many times.  Over the years, he sponsored nearly 200 Ghanaians for educational visas to study in the U.S.; sent thousands of books to schoolchildren; sponsored a women’s shoe drive; and even provided villages with electricity and a tractor, for which he was enstooled and bestowed the title of “Nana” (translated as “Chief”) in Mpeseduadze.

Mr. Travitt was charitable and civic-minded, and was recognized often for his generosity.  He was married to his beloved wife, Olivia, for nearly 47 years, and was the proud father of their three children: Bonita, Kenya and Kenneth Omar.

Olivia Travitt, widow of the late Kenneth Travitt of Newark, received the Board’s posthumous Award in memory of her husband from Freeholder D. Bilal Beasley of Irvington.  (Photo by Glen Frieson)

“On behalf of my husband, who passed away 3 months and 5 days ago, I wish to express my gratitude and appreciation to the Freeholder Board for recognizing him on this special occasion – Black History Month”, said Olivia Travitt, Kenneth Travitt’s widow.  “I know Kenny would be more than delighted for this unique recognition, given all the time he spent educating people, especially us, about our history and the great people who came from this land (Africa).”  She concluded her remarks by saying, “Kenny, I love you, and I’m trying to follow in your footsteps to educate people about our history.”

At the conclusion of the program, guests were invited to a Reception on the 5th Floor of the Hall of Records.

The Invocation was offered by Reverend Elizabeth Campbell, Pastor of Rising Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Montclair, and the Benediction was offered by Imam Abdul Kareem Muhammad of Masjid Al-Haqq in Newark.

Entertainment was provided by the UBC Singers, all members of the music ministry at Union Baptist Church in Montclair: Mark Beckett, Kathy R. Brown, Janet Hall, Christine McCune, Brandon McCune, Joyce Shears and B. David Whitworth.  The program also included a poetry reading by Jenan Mattox-Milligan, a noted poet, journalist and community activist.

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For Additional Information:
Gary Kroessig, Public Information
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