The African Community Moves Irvington Forward – Wayne Smith, Mayor of Irvington, NJ

On May 1, 2014, I was honored as Mayor of the Year, by the New Jersey Conference of Mayors. Receiving such an honor by one’s peers compels a level of self-reflection that begs the question, how did I get here? Love, Grace and the support of a diverse community brought me here. My community, the great Township of Irvington New Jersey, has as one of its many strengths, Africans from all parts of the continent.
America owes much of its standing in the world to the contribution of Africans. I am often left speechless at the fact that the son of an African immigrant is at the helm of a country built by slaves from the continent. Although the son of an African immigrant is not the head of the governing body of the Township of Irvington, the contributions to the Township by Africans is no less significant.
A visitor to Irvington need only walk down Springfield Avenue, past the numerous African specialty stores and African hair braiding establishments and into our IHOP restaurant to see how the diaspora has shaped Irvington. Many years ago, at my urging, a young Liberian woman named Adenah Bayou became the IHOP’s youngest franchisee at age 28. Today, Ms. Bayou is the owner of many entrepreneurial ventures that provide much needed employment and revenue for the Township. Recently, Ms. Bayou and her partners purchased the site of the former Irvington General Hospital for one million dollars ($1,000,000.00) for development of a mix-use residential complex that will be one of the State’s most ambitious residential developments. Adenah’s story is but one of many contributions of the African diaspora that form the diverse tapestry of experiences that is Irvington. In recognition of the importance of the African community to the development of Irvington, I helped form the Irvington International Trade Commission to foster relationships between the Township, the African continent Asia and the Caribbean.
My tenure as Mayor has been filled with visits from Mayors and dignitaries of various African cities in Nigerian, Ghana and Senegal. I had the pleasure of presenting at the African Union Commission in New York City as well as the United Nations African Diaspora Committee.
Irvington, today, is at the precipice of enormous change. When I became Mayor in 2002, I inherited a Township infrastructure with high crime and low development. Today, the Township has a low crime level and high development. The latter is due, in no small part, to the African community. From our youth to adults that sit on my Planning Board, the African diaspora is well represented in Irvington.
In 2010, at the beginning of my third term as Mayor, I was honored to meet an Irvington High School student from Eritrea (by way of Ethiopia) named Shamm Petros. Ms. Petros, presently a Columbia University senior, is Irvington’s first Gates Millennium Scholar. Gates Millennium Scholars are high achievers chosen from across the country that earn scholarships covering their studies from bachelors degree to doctorate. In addition to being a Gates Millennium Scholar, Ms. Petros was the Township’s second National Coca-Cola Scholar, and received $20,000.00 towards her college tuition. The Township’s first National Coca-Cola Scholar, Evans Anyanwu, is a Nigerian-American whom I recently appointed as the first Nigerian-American Town Attorney for the Township of Irvington.
Evans is a graduate of Wesleyan University, where he co-founded the African Students Association. In 2004, Evans graduated from Rutgers University Law School and came back to Irvington to aid in its progress. As Town Attorney, I depend on Evans for legal guidance and assistance towards managing the complex legal challenges that face the Township.
Evans, Adenah and Shamm are only small representatives of the progress that comes from collaboration between the African diaspora and New Jersey municipalities. I am proud to lead one of the State’s most diverse communities and with the assistance of Irvington voters, my next four years will showcase even more collaboration between the African diaspora and the Township of Irvington.

Posted by on May 5 2014. Filed under top stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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