Gloucester Township celebrated Black History Month in a big way during Monday night's Council meeting, recognizing the achievements of 12 African-American residents who have helped make the township a better place to live.
"On behalf of our Council and myself, I just want to say how proud I am of all the award recipients and that you are truly examples for all of us to guide our lives by," Mayor David Mayer said.
The 12 honorees for 2013 Black History Month were:
- Brianna Golden, a Timber Creek High School senior who carries a 4.0 GPA, is vice president of the school's Student Council and volunteers as a Sunday school teacher;
- Joel Grant, a Timber Creek High School senior who plays on the school's basketball team and has earned a full academic scholarship to Coppin State University;
- Jahleel Coleman, a Timber Creek High School senior who has done missionary work in India and volunteers with Minds of Men Ministries, among other groups;
- Jasmira Lewis, a vocalist at Timber Creek High School and church volunteer who has been accepted into the prestigious Berklee College of Music;
- Sabrina Umstead Smith, the founder of Erick's Place, a non-profit foundation that aids families caring for chronically ill children;
- Jeffrey Booker, a Triton High School junior who carries a 3.7 GPA, teaches Sunday school and volunteers in the kitchen at his church every Saturday morning;
- Myrtle Salley, a longtime Gloucester Township Public Schools and Black Horse Pike Regional School District employee who has worked in the local district's Latchkey Program for the past 8 1/2 years;
- Ke'yonnie Mitchell, an honors student at Triton High School who helped to start an annual fundraising walk for the National Kidney Foundation, held at the Philadelphia Zoo every October, and volunteers with the Cooper River Breast Cancer Walk;
- Takiyah McLean, a Trinidad native who has excelled in her studies at Highland High School since moving to the United States, carrying a 4.0 GPA;
- Jamil Grant, a Highland High School senior who carries a 3.87 GPA (Did not attend Monday's ceremony);
- Quadier Lewis, a hospital volunteer from Highland High School (Did not attend Monday's ceremony);
- Jayson Pinnock, a Renaissance scholar at Charles W. Lewis Middle School (Did not attend Monday's ceremony).
Among the highlights from Monday's ceremony:
- Smith's son Erick Umstead died in 1992 at the age of 3 after being born with cerebral palsy and underdeveloped lungs as a result of a fire that killed his father and left his pregnant mother unable to provide enough oxygen. She told the audience, "I just thank God for being here to be able to help families and children with special needs. ... It was a long journey for us to even get here to be able to do this. A lot of pain. A lot of anger, disappointment and always saying to myself for a while, 'Why me?' Well, 'why me?' has turned into 'why not me?'"
- Coleman told the audience: "I made a decision about two years ago to be different, to not be a statistic, to not be like the average African-American male that you see on TV every day, to not be like the rapper that you see on TV and to not be like the sterotypical 17-year-old man. I made the decision to be different. I made the decision to follow Christ."
- Of the Timber Creek honorees, vice principal Garry Saunders said: "They're basically all from the same mold. They're like our quiet fire. They're very quiet in their words, very outspoken in their actions. They don't talk about it. They are about it. And we're very, very proud of them."
- Councilman Frank Schmidt did a humorous turn as talk-show host in presenting Mitchell with her award certificates and plaque.