African-American History Celebration Raises Concerns Over Councilwoman’s Votes

LINDEN – A Black History Month event planned by a city councilwoman is sparking debate over her votes against hiring African-American and Hispanic employees for city jobs.

Councilwoman Rhashonna Cosby-Hurling will host her second annual celebration of African-American history on Thursday, Feb. 21. The event will include historical information, poetry, music and the recognition of notable local African-Americans.

Cosby-Hurling says, “It’s time that we as a community embrace and celebrate the many contributions of our forefathers and acknowledge the efforts of African-Americans who are today making history.”

But some doubt her words. Just last month, Cosby-Hurling joined Councilman Peter Brown to oppose electing Councilman Derek Armstead as the council’s president pro tempore. It would have been the first time an African-American had risen to such a high political rank in Linden, and an NAACP representative said that the vote amounts to “a slap in the face to the city’s minority community.”

In 2011, Cosby-Hurling organized the first Black History program in Linden’s Fifth Ward. She also initiated the annual designation of a portion of Blancke Street, located in front of City Hall, as “African-American Way” for the month of February.

Last year, Lee V. Rooper, Linden’s first African-American firefighter, was recognized. This year the program will recognize Linden’s first female African-American female police officer, Anisha Jones, who joined the force in 2010.

However, according to Armstead, Linden should have had a female African-American police officer before Jones was hired.
When Chief of Police Sal Bivona first submitted the name of Lori Ann Charles, a young African-American woman from Linden who passed the police test and was next in line to be hired, both Brown and Cosby-Hurling voted “No” with no explanation.

Armstead, who was the head of Personnel and Finance at the time, was disappointed and apologized to Charles and her family who were sitting with tears in their eyes at the council meeting. “Lori Ann was not asking for political favors. She studied hard, passed the police test and waited her turn only to be shut down publicly. What kind of a message are we sending our young people?” Armstead said. “Lori Ann would have been an asset to the young people, especially the teenage girls at Linden High School.”

Uttering the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right,” Armstead and Bivona got together and found Officer Jones, along with two other minorities, and gave Linden its first Hispanic and African-American female police officers. The amount of attention gave Cosby-Hurling no choice but to vote for the appointment of those two officers, according to Armstead.

Cosby-Hurling also voted against the hiring of a police dispatcher recommended by Mayor Richard Gerbounka who would have been the first Hispanic woman to hold that position in city history. “This is not the Dream the great Martin Luther King Jr. had envisioned,” one Linden observer noted. “Dr. King Jr. envisioned a world of equality, no matter what color, race, or religion.”

The African-American history celebration will be held from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at the Linden Multi-Purpose Center, 1025 John Street. Free light refreshments will be served.

Cosby-Hurling invites Linden students to submit original poems or essays about what “Black History Means To Me” or create original posters and deliver them to the Councilwoman no later than Feb. 20 for a chance to win cash prizes. For more information, email or call 1-908-477-4120

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