The following was submitted by the Office of the Essex County Executive:
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. hosted the 11th Annual African American History Month Celebration. During the ceremony, the County Executive presented the Essex County Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award to Rev. Joe A. Carter, Pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, and the Coretta Scott King Leadership Award to State Sen. Sandra B. Cunningham.
Both of the honorees have made significant contributions to the community and their dedication truly captures the dignity and determination of the King family.
"African American History Month is a special time of the year when we highlight the many contributions and achievements African Americans have made to our culture, economy and daily lives throughout our history," DiVincenzo said. "Rev. Joe Carter and NJ State Senator Sandra Cunningham are role models who have dedicated their professional lives to public service and have made a significant impact on influencing government policies and improving the quality of life in their communities and throughout the state," he added.
Pastor Joe A. Carter came to New Hope Baptist Church in 1993 as assistant pastor, a position he served until April 26, 1998, when he was installed as co-pastor. He became the pastor of The New Hope Baptist Church on Nov. 1, 2000, making him the sixth and youngest pastor in the church's 110-year history.
Pastor Carter has been very involved in the development and expansion of New Hope Baptist Church during his two decades of service. In 1999, he championed the organization of the church's non-profit status as a social service agency. As an agent for change, Pastor Carter's efforts continue to have an expansive reach, providing resources for over 25,000 clients annually and supplying them with life's basic needs.
On Nov. 2, 2012, Pastor Joe A. Carter established "Operation Recovery Newark," an emergency resource center providing relief to those impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Pastor Carter called New Hope to action and urged all houses of worship and community organizations to unite under one banner to help Newark residents recover from and survive the storm. Pastor Carter has worked with more than 30 churches, which have provided for the basic needs of 200,000 individuals within the Greater Newark area and surrounding communities, reaching as far as Bronx, NY.
Pastor Carter told his father of his desire to preach when he was 9 years old, and gave his first sermon from Genesis 1:1, titled "The Magic of God," on Sunday, March 16, 1980. His family relocated to Waukegan, Ill., where he preached late night services at the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A. Inc. It was during that 1990 convention that Reverend Dr. C.E. Thomas, then pastor of The New Hope Baptist Church, heard Carter preach as a 21-year old.
"It is an honor and privilege to represent my pastor, Rev. Joe Carter," said Rev. Anthony Hawthorne, who accepted the award for Carter, who could not attend because of a personal matter. "Pastor Carter is a lover of all people. He believes the difference between building structures and helping people is that when you invest in people you get a better return," he added.
Sandra B. Cunningham was elected NJ State Senator for the 31st Legislative District on Nov. 6, 2007, becoming the first woman elected to represent that district in the State Senate. Senator Cunningham is the widow of the late Glenn D. Cunningham, who served as the mayor of Jersey City and the state senator of the 31st Legislative District. For nearly a decade, the couple fought for their community until his untimely death in 2004.
Today, Senator Cunningham continues the legacy she began with her husband.
She is a vocal advocate of children and working families and believes that quality education is the passport to achieving social equity. In addition, the senator believes that recidivism would be greatly reduced if offenders received comprehensive rehabilitation, education, job training and counseling while incarcerated. She is supportive of legislation that would provide public and private sector jobs to offenders and supports legislation to expand he Jersey City "Second Chance" program, which trains and places eligible recently released offenders with jobs at the Jersey City Incinerator Authority. She is also a sponsor of legislation that would revise eligibility requirements for expungement of juvenile and criminal records-a barrier to employment.
Senator Cunningham is a member of the senate leadership, serving as majority whip, in which she is responsible for advancing the legislative agenda of the Democratic Caucus. She currently serves as the Chair of the newly formed Senate Higher Education Committee, sits on the Labor Committee, and is a member of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, the Joint Committee on the Public Schools, The Ellis Island Commission, The Amistad Commission, and the New Jersey State Council for Interstate Adult Offender Supervision.
In addition to public service, Senator Cunningham is the board president of the Sandra and Glenn D. Cunningham Foundation, a Jersey City-based non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to college-bound Hudson County high school students. Prior to serving in the state senate, she was the executive director of the Hudson County Bar Association, a community and public relations coordinator for Essex-Newark Legal Services and the deputy director of the Metropolitan Ecumenical Ministry. She is a native of Newark and a graduate of Bloomfield College where she earned a bachelor of arts degree. She also attended New York Academy of Theater Arts, and received a fundraising certificate from New York University.
"This is a very nice award and is very precious to me. It's an honor to be included in the same conversation as Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King," Cunningham said. "This is a wonderful time to look back and see all the contributions and sacrifices that African Americans have made throughout American history, and to understand that we are here today because of what they accomplished," she said.
The African American History Month Celebration is the part of a year-long cultural series created by County Executive DiVincenzo to highlight Essex County's diversity. Other cultural celebrations highlight Irish, Italian, Jewish, Latino and Portuguese heritage and women's history.