N.J. Gov. Murphy honors four-time Olympic runner, bus boycott organizer, and Newark’s first Black woman city council member

Gov. Murphy also announced initiatives he said will positively impact communities of color across the state.

A group of people pose for a photo.

Gov. Phil Murphy with honorees at his annual Black History Month celebration on February 21, 202. (Tennyson Donyéa/WHYY)

Gov. Phil Murphy honored a four-time Olympic runner, an organizer of the Montgomery bus boycotts, and several others at his annual Black History Month ceremony on Tuesday.

He also announced initiatives he said will positively impact communities of color across the state.

Honorees included Mildred Crump, the first Black woman to serve on Newark City Council; Theodora Lacey, who worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks during the Civil Rights movement; Dr. James Still, one of the first Black medical practitioners in New Jersey history and an organizer of the Underground Railroad; Joetta Clark Diggs, a four-time Olympian, whose career spanned 30 years; and Bobbi Wilson, a nine-year-old girl who made headlines after a former elected official called the cops on her while she sprayed spotted lanternflies in her hometown.

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Lacey gave an impassioned speech about her work during the Civil Rights Movement and encouraged those in attendance that they can make a positive contribution to society — no matter how small or large.

“Martin Luther King said that you don’t need a college degree to serve, you don’t need to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve, your verbs don’t have to agree to serve, all you need is a heart full of grace,” Lacey said.

Dozens attended the formal ceremony which took place at the Governor’s Mansion near Princeton. For many in attendance, it was their first visit to Drumthwacket.

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“I think one of the things that was really illuminating is the legacy building and continuing the marathon,” said Tomas Varela, Jr., an attendee and leader of the New Jersey Black Empowerment Coalition. “You had a woman that was 90 years old being honored, along with a 9-year-old being honored, that was just a constant reminder that as our progress is made, there’s still more work to be done. And it’s very important that the new generation pick up the baton and continue to fight for racial justice.”

During the program, Murphy announced that he had signed an executive order requiring all major state departments to appoint a chief diversity officer to advance forward equity and diversity initiatives statewide.

Murphy also promoted the expansion of Advanced Placement African American Studies at 26 schools in New Jersey, six of which are in Newark.

He said that his latest budget proposal would include more funding to allow behavioral health professionals to accompany police on mental health welfare checks.

“Equity sits at the middle of every impulse we have, whether it’s criminal justice reform, affordable housing, funding education,” he said.

Murphy will give his fiscal year 2024 budget address Feb. 28 at 2 p.m.

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