It was a night to recognize the unsung heroes of Monmouth County, while raising money to support the students who may one day take their place.
The 33rd annual Wilbur Ray Scholarship Dinner, held April 6 at Jacques Reception Center in Middletown, honored six local professionals, community leaders, volunteers and activists for their “everyday heroics” in towns such as Asbury Park, Red Bank, Shrewsbury, Neptune and Ocean Township,
This year’s honorees were: John Jones, executive director of the Monmouth County branch of the Program for Acceleration in Careers of Engineering (PACE); Mary Nicosia, clinic director of the Parker Family Health Center; Michael Perry, engineering program director for PACE; the Rev. Terrence Porter, senior pastor for Pilgrim Baptist Church in Red Bank; Sheri Lynn Stanford, Brookdale Community College academic tutor; and Maureen Taylor, corporate treasurer for PACE.
Full bios for each honoree are available here.
The annual awards dinner drew an audience of nearly 100, with proceeds supporting the Wilbur Ray Scholarship Program. The program, which supports students of color at Brookdale, is named in honor of the late Wilbur Ray, former Brookdale police sergeant and an active volunteer in the Long Branch community.
Ray’s daughter Catherine Hamlin joined his son-in-law Jerome and grandson Tyrone at the event to recognize and thank the evening’s honorees for their selfless acts of service and leadership.
“One of the things Wilbur Ray said, that I certainly agree with, is that the key to our success is education,” said Jerome Hamlin. “If we wish to be the special people that we are, we have to remind the young people every chance we get how important education really is.”
Education was a recurring theme throughout the program, as many of the evening’s honorees shared both a passion and a professional interest in the transformative power of learning.
Jones, Perry and Taylor were collectively recognized for their work on behalf of PACE, which provides unique curriculum and mentorship opportunities to local African American and Latino high school students who aspire to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“It’s incumbent upon organizations like PACE to continue to inspire our students to become the innovators, the creators, the designers, and the architects of the solutions that both solve problems and move us forward,” said Taylor, accepting her award. “And it is important for us to provide the role models that allow students to see themselves in us.”
Stanford, a senior staff member in the Brookdale Writing Center, dedicated her Wilbur Ray Award to the countless students she has tutored and mentored throughout her professional career.
“At the end of the day I want them to do well, I want them to succeed, I want them to be exposed to things that they have never been exposed to. It’s all about students for me,” she said. “Anyone who knows me knows that I am incredibly outspoken. But tonight I am humbled. I am very appreciative of this award, I am appreciative of the Wilbur Ray Scholarship Committee, and I am grateful.”
Porter took time out to acknowledge each of the individual award winners for their service – and sacrifices – on behalf of the residents of Monmouth County. He also expressed his gratitude for the members and supporters of Pilgrim Baptist Church and the communities it serves.
“God has planted us in a place with extraordinary people,” he said. “We serve together, we celebrate together, we volunteer together, we grow together. For the last 15 years we have been on a journey to do things together. I am a better pastor because they are great people… So we thank you for this opportunity, we celebrate all the recipients and we thank the Wilbur Ray Committee.”
The awards dinner also featured a keynote address by Wayne Boatwright, vice president of diversity and inclusion for Hackensack Meridian Health. Boatwright, who was introduced by Monmouth/Ocean County Pan Hellenic Council President Kenneth Morgan, spoke passionately about the need for courage, advocacy and action in times of strife, uncertainty and struggle.
“I know that sometimes it gets to be very difficult, and we think that things are not moving the way they should, but we have to be in a position to give back,” he said. “And this is why we are here tonight… Tonight we acknowledge and recognize these great community leaders who have stood up, spoken up and given back.”
During the ceremony, Monmouth County Freeholder Director Thomas Arnone presented each of the honorees with an official certificate of recognition on behalf of Monmouth County. Wilbur Ray Committee members also took time to recognize two recipients of the 2017-18 Wilbur Ray Scholarship: Elesia Peterman and Karl Waldron.
Waldron, who was also selected as a 2017-18 NASA STEM Fellow and participated this winter in the 2018 Minority Male Initiative Conference at Brookdale, thanked the attendees for their support of student scholarships and recognized the faculty, staff and community mentors who have helped him pursue his dream of becoming a doctor.
“So many people have gone out of their way to help me, and I want to take this opportunity to tell you all how much I appreciate you,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here without you.”
The Wilbur Ray Scholarship Dinner was hosted by Mary Scott, chair of the Wilbur Ray Scholarship Dinner Committee, with an invocation by Rev. Henry P. Davis Jr. The Wilbur Ray committee also included Louis Rodriguez, Phil Smith, Bessie Wade, Nancy Washington, JayShaun Nicholson-Scott, Michelle Stathum, Avis McMillon, Lisa Savage, Ernestine Austin, Peggy Austin, Fidel Wilson, and Timothy Zeiss.
To learn more about the Wilbur Ray Scholarship or to apply visit the Brookdale Foundation webpage.
Check out more photos of the 33rd annual Wilbur Ray Scholarship Dinner here.