Cumberland County’s Mission for Diverse Representation
By Dr. Tiffanie ThrBak, NJEA MLR Committee Chair
Cumberland County, a rural county with less than 3,000 members, has plenty to brag about. In terms of population, the county is the fifth smallest in New Jersey. When you see the diversity of leadership in Cumberland County, it should make you proud. Believe it when you see it: minority leadership and recruitment work.
Representation is important, and we provide grassroots leadership and recruitment: one member at a time, one-on-one conversations, leading by example, and encouraging others to get involved! As chair of the NJEA’s statewide Minority Membership and Leadership Committee, I want members to know that Cumberland County is becoming leaders.
Mildred Johnson is president of the Cumberland County Council of Educational Associations (CCCEA) and administrative assistant in the Vineland School District. She is also an NJEA UniServ consultant.
“One of the most important jobs in building any organization is fostering an atmosphere of unity,” Johnson says. “The MLR committee is important because it engages what is often the most disenfranchised group within the union, recognizing leadership abilities they themselves may not see. Recruiting minorities into leadership roles creates and sustains the skills, experiences and racial diversity necessary for all aspects of union work to be truly effective.
Ashanti Rankin is the NEA’s director for the ESP-at-large headquarters. He was re-elected to this position in 2020 by NEA Representative Assembly delegates from across the country. At the CCCEA, he holds the position of 2nd vice-president and is a paraprofessional in Millville.
Rankin believes minority leadership and recruitment is important to people of color and culture for several reasons. Inclusion brings additional voices to the table to resolve issues. He believes that diversity in association leadership reflects community and serves as an example while inspiring hope for opportunity in education and for school and non-school communities.
“It’s important to have culturally and racially diverse schools that provide the opportunity to create an engaging educational profession for authentic diversity,” Rankin says. “Together, we can create pathways for maintaining diversity in staff and leadership.”
Damita White Morris is the Cumberland County ESP of the Year. Responsible for attendance in Bridgeton, she is the membership chair for the CCCEA. She also represents Cumberland County as an alternate delegate. She chairs the CCCEA Youth Services Committee and represents the county on the NJEA Youth Services, Congressional Contact, and NEA Resolutions Committees.
“It’s important to have a seat at the table, a speaking point on the agenda, and a face in the crowd,” says White-Morris. “If we don’t represent and speak for ourselves, then who else will actually speak for us?”
Temika Langston-Myers, a paraprofessional from the Bridgeton School District, was recently appointed by NEA President Becky Pringle to serve as NEA Principal in a full-scale ESP position. She is the Chair of Government Relations for CCCEA and Chair of the Legislative Action Team for the Bridgeton School Employees Association.
“Our union leadership must have the potential to reflect the diversity within our union,” says Langston-Myers. “Minority leadership and organizing has created an environment where ethnic minorities can engage in union work and add their voice to the collective.”
Michael Morton, teacher at Bridgeton, is a member of the resolutions committee of the NEA.
“In identifying and mitigating issues that affect our members, especially members who have been marginalized, it is imperative to activate all of our resources, including minority leadership,” Morton said. “We must continue to recruit members who can be empowered to take corrective action to preserve the integrity of the organization.”
Leston Room, is president of the Bridgeton School Employees Association, the largest local ESP association in Cumberland County.
“I believe minority representation is important, especially for women of color,” Hall says. “Take advantage of leadership opportunities. We are with you.”
Many other people of color hold leadership positions on CCCEA and NJEA committees, including: Nicole Kinsey, MLR County Chair and Co-Chair; April Stevenson-Kinder, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity; Sherman Denby, Urban Education (former president of Bridgeton EA); Lawrence Hickman, professional development; Ta’ja Board, NEA Activities; Shinese Harvey, retirement policy; Debra Byrd, Technology; Romaine Street, Paul Dimitriadis Rights of members; Gerri Lane, retired representative of Urban Education; Adrian Garrett (posthumously), Occupational Safety and Health.
The most active members of our new Cumberland County MLR Committee include, but are not limited to, Elyse Bittner, Rosa Colon, Norma Castro, Shirley Santos, Maria Negron, Yolanda Day-Palmer, Jackie Gentry, Chantel Frazier, Cherie Douglas, author Horn, Christine Nickle (president of Bridgeton EA) and growing.
The NJEA Minority Leadership and Membership Committee seeks to ensure participation of ALL members
The NJEA’s Minority Leadership and Organizing Committee (MLR) has an important charge within the association, to encourage people of color into the teaching profession as the NJEA seeks to strengthen its role as a centered union on justice.
The MLR commission is responsible for:
- Encourage multi-ethnic members to become active at all levels of association work.
- Recruit multi-ethnic members to get involved in the association.
- Identify and recommend ways to attract multi-ethnic members to school employee occupations.
- Develop and initiate training opportunities for school staff.
Committee members represent their counties, higher education, NJEA Preservice, and NJREA. In this article, you will meet the members of the committee. Dr. Tiffanie ThrBak, teacher of students with special needs in Bridgeton, is the chair of the committee. With the committee, she worked for the formation of an MLR committee within each county and local association, modeled on Essex, Burlington, Camden and Mercer, which have been thriving for years.
To contact your county’s MLR representative, check with your county’s education association.
Dr. Tiffanie ThrBak, President
NJEA MLR Committee
Bridgeton Education Association
Teacher of students with special needs
Co-founder of NJEA REAL
I am passionate about involving ethnic minorities in leadership at all levels of our association. With this and the MLR committee load in mind, I wanted one of our goals to be the establishment of an MLR committee in every local and county. I was encouraged by a member of the association to chair the MLR at the county level many years ago. Today, I feel it is my duty to do the same for others like me – to help them find what excites them and develop their leadership.
When our former NJEA President, Marie Blistan, asked me to fill the seat of State Chair of the NJEA MLR Committee, I was honored, but I knew the task ahead of me. I had so many people to show the way and encourage my leadership. I am grateful to these people. They showed me that minority leadership is about: growing, inspiring others to lead, and fighting for social and racial justice with my presence and with my leadership.
I’m not just here to pave the way for people like me, but I’m bringing my allies with me to show them what it’s like to be a ‘Love Warrior’ on this journey for peace and solidarity in struggle.
Atlantic County MLR Chairman
Atlantic City Education Association
Eighth grade inclusion teacher
Michelle N. Hammond-Dudley
Bergen County MLR Chairman
Hackensack Education Association
third year teacher
Burlington County MLR Chairman
Willingboro Educational Association
Special Education Reading Specialist
Crystal G. Love
Camden County MLR Chair
Voorhees School District
Language Arts Literacy Teacher
Cape May County MLR Chair
Intermediate Township Education Association
Middle school math teacher
Cumberland County MLR Chairman
Bridgeton Education Association
Mathematics teacher, fifth grade
Essex County MLR Chairman
Newark Teachers Association
Gloucester County MLR Chairman
Paulsboro Education Association
Hudson County MLR Chair
Western New York Education Association
Special education teacher
Aaryenne S. White
Mercer County MLR Chairman
Middle school science teacher
Middlesex County MLR Chairman
New Brunswick Education Association
Teacher on Assignment – Coordinator of Restorative Justice Practitioners
Monmouth County MLR Chairman
Neptune Township Education Association
Special education teacher
Morris County MLR Chairman
Washington Township Education Association
Camden County Board of Educational Associations
Camden Education Association
Retired specialist instructor
Maria R. of Venecia-McFarland
Ocean County MLR Chair
Lakewood Educational Association
english as a second language teacher
Somerset County MLR Chairman
Somerville Education Association
Michael L. Boyd
Union County MLR Chairman
Roselle Education Association
Kenneth L Buck of Salem County and Bridget C. Gum of NJEA Preservice also sit on the NJEA MLR Committee. Gabriel Tanglao is the NJEA staff contact to the MLR committee. Collen Lopez is the contact for associated personnel