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Paterson Youth Council Holds 17th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Recognition Awards

Paterson Youth Council Holds 17th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Recognition Awards

January 27, 2023

View our Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Recognition Awards Breakfast photos on

To honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy, each year our Paterson Youth Council (PYC) holds the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Recognition Awards Breakfast. The event highlights community-minded individuals who share Dr. King's vision for public service and civil rights, and embody the "light" our nation needs to drive out darkness.

On Monday, January 16th—Martin Luther King Day—our Paterson Youth Council (a citywide youth-led and youth-driven civic leadership program) held the 17th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Recognition Awards. While Martin Luther King Day was first observed as a federal holiday in 1986, it was 28 years ago—in 1994 (also NJCDC's founding year)—that Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act, designating the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday as a national day of service and charged the Corporation for National and Community Service with leading this effort.

At NJCDC, we like to say Martin Luther King Day is a "day on" rather than a "day off"—and that was certainly the case this year! Throughout the event, the PYC honored four youth, an adult, an elected official, and a nonprofit organization who are making a difference here in Paterson. This year, for the first time since 2020, we were able to recognize and thank our winners in person over a wonderful breakfast at The Brownstone.

We had nearly two hundred guests in attendance, including Mayor Andre Sayegh, who spoke about Dr. King's visit to Paterson in 1968; Sheriff Richard Berdnik; County Commissioner Pat Lepore; Dr. Joshua Powers, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at William Paterson University; Michael Powell, Director of Economic Development for the City of Paterson; Joel Ramirez, the City of Paterson's Director of Health and Human Services; Ministra Patricia Raez Portocarrero, Cónsul General del Perú en Paterson; and Councilman Luis Velez.

NJCDC's Director of Community Outreach / Special Assistant to the CEO and PYC Advisor Eddie Gonzalez kicked off the event, sharing, "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a man who brought hope and healing to America, and greater equality for all people regardless of race. Today we celebrate the timeless virtues he taught by looking to his groundbreaking words that are just as relevant today as they were 50 years ago. As a man who stood by truth, justice, compassion, and courage—his character and leadership inspired real lives. On this holiday, we encourage our children to seek greatness.

Following Eddie's remarks, attendees watched the short video The Story of Martin Luther King Jr. by Kid President and heard from NJCDC's Chief Program Officer and PYC Advisor David Gelman, as well as PYC President Joseph Aranda. Congressman Bill Pascrell also addressed the crowd, speaking about the importance of recognizing Dr. King's legacy and continuing his work.

Guests were then delighted by a captivating live vocal performance from Paterson's very own Tiffani McCutchen, who sang Lift Every Voice and Sing and Lean on Me.

Simultaneously, at our Rogers building located at the rear of our headquarters, our AmeriCorps members held a Clothing Drive distribution event in honor of MLK Day. Volunteers came together in the morning and afternoon to help distribute articles of clothing to over 130 Paterson residents in need.

Reflecting on this important day, David Gelman said, "This is such a special event for NJCDC because it empowers the youth to take the lead and recognize other Paterson youth and adults who are doing great things in the community. We are fortunate to recognize the winners and also read about the wonderful initiatives that other nominees and nominators are involved in. Congratulations to all of the youth, parents, school staff, adults, and organizations who are serving Paterson in the spirit of Dr. King. Please keep up the good work!"

This year's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Recognition Awards recipients were:

Elected Official - Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter

As a representative of the 35th Legislative District, Assemblywoman Sumter is a tireless leader who works on behalf of the interests of young people. She fought diligently to keep the School Based Youth Services Program in place, and serves as head of the Legislative Black Caucus which is committed to improving conditions for children and teens statewide. Additionally, Assemblywoman Sumter is committed to job growth, women's health, voting rights, civil rights, and criminal justice reform. She serves as chair of the Community Development and Affairs Committee, where she looks forward to tackling important issues such as community blight, the wealth gap, and upscaling the needs of New Jersey's small businesses. She is also a member of the Labor and Law and Public Safety committees. Assemblywoman Sumter has led legislation addressing Black Maternal and Infant mortality in New Jersey, and her career in mental health services spans over 20 years of working with health systems throughout the state. The Assemblywoman continues to work hard with a purpose because she believes to whom much is given, much is required.

Middle School - Yamel Duran Acevado

Yamel is a 7th-grade student at the Joseph A. Taub School, where she maintains a 3.86 GPA. She is a member of the after-school program, plays basketball, and often takes care of her younger siblings. Yamel is an active recycler with an interest in conservation and has dreams of being a pediatrician. According to her nominator, Mr. Adam Jawiech, Yamel is tearing down the barriers between English language learners and their education. In Social Studies, it is often Yamel who translates class instructions to her fellow English language learners. She is described as a respectful and intuitive student who diligently takes notes and puts all of her effort into learning English and her course material. She thinks it's important to make subjects accessible to her ELL peers so that they are set up for success and have a head-start in their instruction.

Middle School - Britney Ebanks

Britney is in the 8th grade at Paterson School 24, where she boasts a 3.8 GPA. She is part of the School 24 Fine and Performing Arts program, and performed in the Hispanic Heritage Month celebration event in both singing and dancing ensembles. Britney also performed in the school holiday show and is a Bulldog cheerleader. Despite all her commitments, she recently earned straight A's and the Principal's List award. According to her nominator, Dr. Lisa Brooks, Britney is a go-to leader in the building. She is well-rounded, respectful, organized, focused, and caring. She is self-motivated, and her maturity and sense of responsibility were clearly instilled at home. There are expectations of her that many students do not have to deal with, and she handles it with grace and a quiet strength. She is also a leader and role model, not only for her sisters, but also for her fellow students at school.

High School - Elijah Carroll

Elijah is in the 12th grade at Garrett Morgan Academy, where he maintains a 4.3 GPA. He is a captain of both the Eastside High School track and football teams, and through those teams provides tutoring and mentoring to younger student-athletes in the program. Elijah participates in the Paterson Athletic Department community service events including feeding the less fortunate, backpack giveaways, and toy and coat drives. He was also President of the team's Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 and volunteers as a Residential Assistant at a local residential care facility for at-risk youth. According to one of his nominators, Mr. James Magazine, Elijah has preserved through many challenges and obstacles, which are true to his character. He remains positive in challenging situations and is overly determined, ambitious, educated, and compassionate. But he maintains an aura about himself that makes him approachable, congenial, and a strong team leader and member. The youth at the residential facility are fond of him as a positive role model, and he works wonderfully with the staff as well.

High School - Treyvon Watson

Treyvon is in the 12th grade at Paterson STEAM High School, where he boasts a 3.66 GPA. He participates in the National Honor Society and Interact Club, and is on the varsity basketball team for Eastside High School. He volunteers with Paterson Recreation's Biddy Ball basketball for elementary school students, and with the department's Fun in the Sun Day in the summer. Treyvon has performed community service by cleaning local parks, collecting items for food drives, and assisting with a gun violence awareness walk. He is a top student in the Rutgers University Dual Enrollment Program and aspires to be a Physician's Assistant. According to his nominator, Ms. Melissa Wright, Treyvon is an outstanding role model for Paterson's youth as a mature, responsible, determined and kind young man. He participates enthusiastically in classroom lessons and community service activities on a regular basis. Treyvon has overcome tremendous adversity in his life and has had to work even harder to ensure his success. But he has always done that and more with a smile, and is a tremendous asset to the school community and to the City of Paterson!

Youth Serving Adult - Anthony Wilson

Mr. Wilson works as a Youth Development Specialist at the School-Based Youth Services Program (the Teen Center) at John F. Kennedy High School and has worked with youth in the City of Paterson for over 33 years. Mr. Wilson is involved in dozens of community activities and encourages his students to participate with him. He leads the All for One and One for All club, which is dedicated to giving back to the community. He volunteers for the Grandparents Association and recently took students to visit residents at the Doctor's Sub-Acute Care in Paterson, where he provided them with over 50 holiday-decorated mugs. For the holidays, Mr. Wilson took students to the Masonic Temple on both Thanksgiving and Christmas Day to feed the homeless. Mr. Wilson also volunteered at the Teens2BeHeard Trunk or Treat, and helped students decorate the city van and give out candy to Paterson children for Halloween. In October, School Based Youth Services Program students volunteered at City Green's Annual Harvest Fest led by Mr. Wilson, and he also coordinated recent college fair trips to Passaic County Community College and Montclair State University, where over a hundred students attended. This is in addition to coaching youth girls' basketball. According to his nominator, Ms. Priscilla Pineda, Mr. Wilson inspires, encourages, and motivates youth, and makes it clear that he expects nothing but their best self. He works hard, but knows how to have fun with the students. He excludes no one because of who they are, and shows up to work every day with an attitude of "being there for the youth". He believes that every student is capable of succeeding.

Youth Serving Organization - New City Kids

New City Kids operates two after-school centers in Paterson that serve over 120 students every day. In addition to homework assistance, students participate in daily music instruction classes, drama classes, and other creative arts offerings. There is also a Teen Life Internship program, which teaches students how to live well through an in-depth leadership development initiative that promotes classroom leadership. This program employs 37 local high school teens and boasts a 100% graduation rate since 2015. Additionally, New City Kids runs a summer enrichment program that combines a traditional day camp experience with spiritual development focused around a single and memorable Biblical theme. Kids participate in a variety of activities including bible-quizzing, games, and art that encourage self-expression through dance, chants, and raps. Paterson youth are exposed to day-long field trips that include hiking, swimming, exploring zoos, parks, and more. Over 25 years, New City Kids has had a positive impact on countless young people in Paterson and beyond, by combining meaningful community employment opportunities with enriching after-school and summer programming in academics, religion, and the arts.

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