By: Lauren T. Agnew
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr., hosted the County's Annual Women's History Month Program at the Essex County Martin Luther King, Jr. Justice Building on Wednesday, March.
The theme of this year's ceremony is "Students Achieving Today – Our Leaders of Tomorrow."
During the ceremony, the 2023 Essex County Althea Gibson Leadership Awards were presented to Michelle Ametekpor from the Essex County Donald Payne, Sr. School of Technology, Alyson Chavez from Essex County West Caldwell School of Technology, Ahmaya Johnson from Essex County Newark Tech School of Technology and Yahira Rosales from Essex County College.
"Through their academic achievements and contributions to their local communities, these remarkable young women are on the road to success. Each is unique in their own way, profoundly impacting their schools.
Striving for their goals and never letting anything stop them is part of what has driven them to reach the level of success that they have achieved thus far in their lives," DiVincenzo said. "These young women have made tremendous contributions and are establishing themselves as leaders of our future generations," he added.
Ahmaya Johnson is an Essex County Newark Tech senior with a 3.5 GPA. She is enrolled in the Career Technical Education Program, has excelled in the program's accounting, finance, and entrepreneurship components, and has earned her Business Certification.
Upon graduating, Johnson will attend the United States Naval Academy and pursue her goal of becoming a forensic scientist. Gaining admission to the Naval Academy is a prestigious accomplishment, which only 8 percent of the students achieve.
She was nominated to the Academy by U.S. Senator Cory Booker. Johnson credits her success to her mother, who has been her biggest fan and supporter, helping her study for tests, giving rides to school and activities, and always encouraging her to be her best.
"Getting accepted to the Naval Academy is a very exciting experience. Having access to an educational opportunity like this is something everyone should experience. I want to thank everyone for their support," Johnson said.
Michelle Ametekpor is a senior at Essex County Donald M. Payne, Sr. School of Technology and is captain of the Mock Trial Club, co-founder of the Crochet Club, and manages the school's social media accounts. Ametekpor is a College Board National African American Scholar, Borlaug, Cooperman Scholar, and a Payne Scholar outside of school.
Ametekpor has researched the Nigerian government's role in establishing infrastructure and presented the findings at Rutgers and the Global Youth Institute. Ametekpor also has worked with Oberlin College to study Black lesbian representation in the media and with Harvard Graduate School of Education and Sistas Choosing Abundance on addressing segregation in New Jersey schools.
Ametekpor is also an accomplished writer, winning several regional Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, two gold key poetry awards, and an American Voices Award nomination.
"The work I have done would not be possible without the strong women in my life and the women who I admire. I use my poetry and research to raise awareness about the issues affecting us today," Ametekpor said.
Alyson Chavez is a junior at Essex County West Caldwell School of Technology. Raised in Ecuador, she moved to the United States four years ago when she was 12.
Chavez has faced multiple challenges throughout her life, with one of the main obstacles being that she barely knew the language when she first arrived in the United States.
She is now proficient in the language and has received multiple awards for excellence in Language Arts.
She loves reading, meditating, and educating herself about current topics. Chavez's goal is to become a lawyer so she can help others. Her mantra is that every day is a new opportunity to prove to yourself how magnificent you are.
"This award means so much to me. I want to share my experiences and help people who experience the same obstacles I have," Chavez said.
Yahira Rosales is a computer science major at Essex County College and serves as the ECC Student Government president. In her leadership position, Rosales is advocating for women, especially women of color, and helping to organize the college's Women's History Month program.
She works with Citizens' Climate Lobby, an international grassroots environmental group, and volunteered with the Newark Water Coalition.
She eventually would like to combine her computer science background with her passion for the environment by developing computer applications and websites that help inform the public about the environmental crisis and things people can do to help protect the planet.
"What an honor to be surrounded by so many impactful women," Rosales said. "Never underestimate the girl who looks lost. It's just taking her a little longer to get there," she added.
Rev. Maria Ortiz of Fountain of Life Church in Newark gave the invocation.
The Payne Tech Choir performed choral selections. Choir performed choral selections.
The Annual Essex County Althea Gibson Leadership Awards are dedicated to the memory of the late professional tennis and golf legend, the first African-American to win the Wimbledon Tennis and U.S. Golf Championships.
In 1957, Ms. Gibson became the first African-American to win the All-England Championship. That same year she became the first black to be voted by the Associated Press as its Female Athlete of the Year.
The Althea Gibson Foundation exposes children in the inner city to the game of tennis and golf and provides recreational activities for students during the summer.
The Women's History Month Celebration is part of a year-long cultural series created by County Executive DiVincenzo to highlight the diversity and various ethnic groups in Essex County. Other cultural celebrations are African American Heritage, Irish Heritage, Italian Heritage, Jewish Heritage, Latino Heritage, and Portuguese Heritage.