Aminah Toler wears many hats. She’s a founding member of Montclair Mutual Aid and a member of Friends of the Howe House, and she partners with PTAs in town to support students. 

Some call her “Ms. Montclair” because she is so involved. 

Though Toler rejects the title, it’s hard to deny her impact.

Recently, she was honored as one of U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill’s NJ-11 Heroes, an award given to those who have done work that makes a difference in New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District.  

Born in Newark, Toler moved as a young girl to Frog Hollow, which is a historic African American neighborhood half a mile from Montclair High School. She attended Mount Hebron Middle School, which is now Buzz Aldrin, and graduated from Montclair High School in 1989. 

The idea of giving back came naturally to Toler: Her grandfather was a pastor who was active in Newark, and she couldn’t fathom the thought of not being able to lend aid to people.

“I feel like helping a person and helping a neighbor is something we should all be doing,” she said.

Toler first recalls becoming active in the community when her daughter started attending Hillside Elementary. She joined the PTA and saw the difference between when she grew up and now: People she grew up with, who she knew had children, were no longer there. 

“I just kept seeing a need because I couldn't find my friends' kids in the schools,” she said. “And I was wondering what was going on.” 

Toler jokingly relates herself to the “Last of the Mohicans” as she thinks back to missing the people she grew up with. 

“Something was going on in town that I couldn't put my finger on,” she said. It wasn’t until later on that Toler realized that people she was missing had been priced out of their homes. 

This prompted her to join different community groups in town to become engaged. Any person, event or restaurant that people had questions about, they could count on her for an answer. 

In addition to her title of “Ms. Montclair,” she also became known as “The Connector.” 

People like Kimberly Latortue, her friend and one of the people who nominated her for Sherrill’s award, say that’s how they met Toler. When Latortue first moved to town, it was Toler who welcomed her with open arms and looped her into various volunteering opportunities. 

“She's been instrumental in connecting people with needs, services, and all around kind of represents the spirit of Montclair being a Montclair native herself,” Latortue said. 

It was in the moment of fulfilling a need that Toler started Montclair Mutual Aid. During the pandemic, she noticed neighbors who were out of work as a result of it. She noticed residents struggling to purchase necessities, like diapers or a jar of spaghetti sauce. 

“So what can I do to help?” Toler thought to herself. 

She came across a post from a resident on Facebook who felt the same way she did, and one Zoom call later, Montclair Mutual Aid was born.

Montclair Mutual Aid has hosted free food distributions, holiday gift giveaways and silent discos to raise money for the community. 

Toler is passionate about preserving Montclair’s African American heritage. 

“African Americans in the Fourth Ward on the south end of town had a very rich, vibrant history here in Montclair,” she said. 

Protecting that history is what led Toler to her involvement with the James Howe House, a house owned by a freed slave. When the house was at risk of being sold, she and other residents, members of the organization Friends of the Howe House, jumped into action. Through rallies and fundraising, they were able to secure the future of the house and make sure the history of the African American community will be amplified for everyone. 

For Toler, her work with Friends of the House is just another mission that seemed effortless. 

“Our history is slowly being erased, and to try to preserve some of it was my purpose in jumping all into the Howe House,” she said. 

Now that she has been awarded the title of NJ-11 Hero, a title she says she was shocked to receive, the work doesn’t end there. She recently finished the Adopt-a-Family Christmas drive and is working on a fundraiser with Friends of the Howe House. Toler is also a part-time administrative assistant and bookkeeper for Montclair Local.

“The need to help someone, it's not a reward,” she said. “It's just something you should do.”