For more than 30 years, county officials say, Montclair resident Annette Strickland has worked to advance core values of respect for community, and for racial and economic equality.

For that reason and others, the Essex County Board of Commissioners celebrated Strickland, along with three other county residents, on Feb. 17 at their annual African American History Month Celebration.

“We know that there are no easy answers to difficult problems, but we know that change is possible when we work together to make the world a better place,” Strickland said. 

Strickland is the retiring executive director of the Schumann Fund for New Jersey, a private foundation that invests in the areas of early childhood development and public policy, with an emphasis on racial and economic equity within the state. 

She also served in a variety of roles in state and county government, including serving as the director of community relations for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. She is a member of the Essex County Human Services Advisory County and a board member of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers. 

In her years of service, she’s worked to foster “authentic relationships with community partners and belief in their resilience,” the commissioners said in an announcement of her selection as an honoree. 

Annette Strickland (COURTESY ESSEX COUNTY)
Annette Strickland (COURTESY ESSEX COUNTY)

“In our communities of color, we continue to lend a sensitive ear, a supportive hand, and a resounding voice to issues affecting those who are marginalized on the local and national front,” Commission President Wayne L. Richardson said during the virtual meeting. “We understand the struggle continues and we are here, and poised to continue valuable work for the citizens.”

He said as a Black man, “it is important to me that our contributions are celebrated both large and small because each of us are significant to the success of our communities.” 

Strickland’s award was presented by Essex County Commissioner Brendan Gill, a fellow Montclair resident.

“It’s really my honor and privilege to be able to do this. I’m sorry we couldn’t do it in person,” Gill said. “But still, this is really just as good, that we can carry on this tradition to not only recognize Annette Strickland’s contributions as a member of the African American community, but [of] the community at large here in Essex County each and every day.” 

Strickland said she was thankful for the honor, “but I think is important to share this recognition with my colleagues, the nonprofit partners, and those who work tirelessly to champion racial equity and justice, and work to eliminate the structures and policies that keep people in poverty,” she said.


Also honored:

  • Lionel Leach is a resident of Irvington and the head coach of men’s and women’s cross country and track and field at Essex County Community College. County officials said Leach has built up the number of student-athletes in both sports, and helped achieve success on and off the field. He was elected to the board of directors of USA Track and Field and became the first African American national chairman of youth programs for the organization.
  • Johanna L. Wright, a resident of South Orange, is an advocate for children and their learning environments, the county officials said. She has taught science, health and physical education at South Orange Middle School and coached basketball at Columbia High School in Maplewood.  County officials said she has been “widely recognized by her work in and out of the classroom, and her nurturing style has impacted the lives of many students throughout the country.” She has received a Congressional Citation for Community Services, the Essex County Education Association’s Human Rights Award and the National Black MBA Association Women in Leadership Award. 
  • Roger M. Yancey — a judge who was shot and killed in 1972 — was honored posthumously. Yancey moved to Newark in 1925 and lived there for the remainder of his life, according to county officials. He graduated from the New Jersey Law School (now Rutgers University School of Law) in 1928, and he was a “notable African American trailblazer in the legal field and forged a path for future Black attorneys to follow,” the county announcement said. 

]He was sworn in as a special assistant U.S. attorney for the New Jersey District, Newark Office, in 1942. In 1944, he became a full assistant U.S. attorney.  In 1952, he left that position to become the first Black appointed assistance corporation counsel for Newark. 

He was then appointed a deputy attorney general New Jersey. In 1956, he left that post to accept an appointment as judge of the Essex County District Court. In January 1960, he was nominated to the Essex County Court, and became the first African American to serve on a county bench in New Jersey.  He remained on the bench until his death.