essex county commissioners hold annual hispanic heritage month celebration

(Newark, NJ) On Wednesday evening, the Essex County Board of County Commissioners held its third annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration. This event is held yearly to celebrate the accomplishments of and honor outstanding Hispanic men and women of Essex County for their unique contributions to the Essex community and society as a whole.

This year, the Board recognized Marcia Almeida, a community leader of Montclair; the Hon. Rosaura Bagolie, Livingston councilwoman; Nelson Barrera, a business and education leader of Belleville; Amiris Perez, a humanitarian leader of Newark; and Griselle Ponce of Newark, President of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, Inc.

“Today we celebrate Hispanic Americans and Hispanic culture,” said Commissioner Vice President Carlos Pomares, “Our honorees exemplify and are a reflection of the outstanding people in our Hispanic community who have done great things here in Essex. Because of your contributions, we are all the better as a community. We thank you for all you do, and we congratulate all of you on this honor.”

“As a Hispanic American, I am certainly proud to take part in today’s ceremony. The Hispanic community is defined by our culture, history, pride, and diversity,” said District 1 Commissioner Robert Mercado. “It is impossible to imagine where Essex County, New Jersey, and the country would be without the work and contributions of Hispanic Americans and communities. Congratulations to all our honorees!”

Reverend Leslie A. Ramos, Senior Pastor of La Hermosa Christian Church in Newark delivered prayers during the occasion, and the audience was captivated by the musical talents of singer Angelina Martinez.

More photos of the event can be seen here. A livestream of the event can be watched here.



Marcia Almeida, presented by Commissioner Brendan Gill, was born in the Dominican Republic, and has been living in Montclair for more than 50 years. Since moving to the town, she has been involved in different aspects of the community. When her kids were young, Marcia had leadership roles in the school and district PTAs, and worked on programs that improved education and opportunity for all of the town’s younger citizens.  Recently she was appointed to the Montclair Juvenile Conference Committee to continue helping Montclair youth. She has been a member of Montclair’s Department of Recreation and Cultural Affairs Advisory Board for over 25 years and has volunteered in various town projects and committees. She is an active board member of May in Montclair and the Northeast Earth Coalition. About four years ago, her and her friend Jose German started a group called Latinos of Montclair to provide information and support to new town residents. At the beginning of the pandemic, Marcia got involved with the MFEE (Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence) Navegadores program, to better help the growing Latino population in town.

The Honorable Dr. Rosaura "Rosy" Bagolie, presented by Commissioner Patricia Sebold, is a Livingston Councilwoman. Dr. Bagolie earned her master’s degree in Elementary Education and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership at Seton Hall University. She earned a second master’s degree in special education at Rutgers University. Rosaura has dedicated her life to education, starting as a public-school teacher, advancing to Director of Special Education and Principal, and now serving as Superintendent/Principal of the East Newark public school district. In 2022, she successfully ran for Livingston Town Council in a fiercely contested race, becoming the first-ever Latina-Jewish woman to serve on the Council. She is now running for Assembly on the Democratic Line in New Jersey's 27th Legislative District. If she wins, she will become the second Dominican American to serve in the New Jersey Legislature and the only one sitting come January. She would also become the Legislature’s first Jewish Latina member. Her family’s history of resilience, escaping Nazi persecution as Dutch Jews to find refuge in the Dominican Republic, inspired her throughout her life.

Nelson Barrera, presented by Commissioner Vice President Pomares, is a financial professional advising clients for over 35 years. He has worked with companies such as Financial Benefits, LLC, Union City, NJ Legacy Benefits, LLC as a Senior Acquisitions Manager, and New York Life – Financial Professional throughout his years of service. In 2015-2020 Nelson had the honor of serving the Belleville Board of Education. Humility and perseverance allowed him and the Board the opportunity to impart programs of educational growth and community enrichment to all those we serve. As an immigrant child who studied in and raised four successful daughters within our country's changing school systems, Nelson understands firsthand from every level the role we all play. He has moved from student to parent, to professional and community volunteer in many capacities. The Belleville school district needs dedicated individuals to work as one to get the job done, and Nelson is proud to contribute his part.

Amiris Perez, presented by Commissioner Mercado, is the President and co-founder of Mujeres de Ayer Hoy y Siempre, Inc. (MAHS), a non-profit organization striving to promote women’s health, empowerment, and leadership.  She is the first Vice-President of the Latin Empowerment Alliance of NJ. She is also a Board member of Quisqueyanos Unidos of Newark, and of Clara Maass Medical Center Community Advisory Board for the Center of Excellence for Latino Health. Through her initiatives, she has provided food, medicine, emergency assistance, educational books, and toys to impoverished orphan children in the Dominican Republic. Under her leadership, thousands of food boxes have been distributed to low-income families and senior citizens since the beginning of Covid-19 pandemic; an effort that continues on a weekly basis. MAHS organized symposiums targeting female victims of domestic violence, and seminars about depression, breast and ovarian cancers, diabetes, nutrition, and mental health in the community.  They distributed free mammogram, sonogram, and pap smear vouchers to uninsured women. They donated dozens of medical supplies, such as wheelchairs, walkers, hospital beds, diapers, formulas, etc., among other efforts. Amiris’ commitment and dedication to decades of community work has been highly influenced by her family, motivating her to continue a legacy of community service.

Griselle Ponce, presented by Commissioner Mercado, is a multi-talented dynamo who has left an indelible mark in the worlds of dance, entrepreneurship, entertainment, and philanthropy. Griselle’s dance career took root under the tutelage of Mr. Ismael Otero, the Director of Caribbean Soul Dance Co. She swiftly became a global sensation, crisscrossing the world to showcase her salsa prowess. Ms. Ponce also honed her business acumen, venturing into the world of network marketing at ACN, a multi-level telecommunications marketing company. Within an astonishing four months, she rose to the rank of Regional Director. In 2019, Griselle became the owner of Latin Flavor Restaurant and Lounge, one of Newark's most iconic Latin cuisine establishments. She served on the Board of Trustees for the Puerto Rican Day Parade, Inc., where she assumed the role of Director of Pageant. She was appointed as a City of Newark Hispanic Commissioner, taking on the role of Treasurer. Ms. Ponce successfully ran for President of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, Inc., making history as the first female President of this prestigious organization. She was an actress, dancer, and Principal Choreographer in the film "In the Heights," (2021). She also lent her choreographic expertise to Off-Broadway plays, and has been involved in music videos for renowned artists like Jennifer Lopez. She has made appearances on Univision TV and Telemundo TV as a model, dancer, and co-host. She has performed for President Barack Obama, captivating one of the most prominent leaders of our time.

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For Additional Information - Contact:
Adam Tucker, Public Information Officer
Essex County Board of County Commissioners
973-621-4452 (phone) 973-621-5695 (fax)
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