Essex Unveils Bronze Bust of the Late Sheila Y. Oliver

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. dedicated a memorial bronze bust of the late Lt. Governor Sheila Y. Oliver on Wednesday, May 15th. The Essex County Division of Family Assistance and Benefits building at 320-321 University Avenue in Newark also was dedicated as the Essex County Sheila Y. Oliver Division of Family Assistance and Benefits Headquarters. Ms. Oliver was the first African American elected to a statewide office when she was elected as Lieutenant Governor with Governor Murphy in 2017 and was the first female African American to serve as Assembly Speaker when she was elected in 2010.

“We have named buildings and fields and created statues and markers to highlight our history and remember the people who shaped the development of Essex County and our nation. This will keep the legacies of those who came before us alive and remind future generations about the people who impacted us,” DiVincenzo said. “Sheila had an extraordinary knowledge of government having served on the East Orange Board of Education, Essex County Board of Freeholders, NJ State Assembly and as Lieutenant Governor. She broke barriers in Trenton to become our first African American Assembly Speaker and our first African American elected to a statewide position as Lieutenant Governor. More importantly, Sheila pursued a career in government and politics because she cared about helping people and making the lives of those in need better,” he added.

“Sheila was a trailblazer and pioneer who broke racial and gender boundaries in politics and government. Naming our DFAB building in her honor will keep Sheila’s legacy alive, give hope to those who come to our offices seeking assistance and inspire future generations to help others,” the County Executive said.

“The Oliver Family is filled with an immense amount of pride and emotion to see the legacy of Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, our beloved daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, and friend live on in Essex County, the place she called home. The dedication of a memorial bronze bust, the Essex County Sheila Y. Oliver Family Assistance and Benefits Headquarters and Lt. Governor Sheila Y. Oliver Conference Room further cements the legacy of one of the greatest public servants not only Essex County, but New Jersey has ever had,” said Renee Oliver, Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver’s niece and President of the Sheila Y. Oliver Civic Association. “My aunt dedicated her life to helping those in need and being a voice for the voiceless. May these dedications serve as a constant reminder for those that come across them, to lead with excellence and serve with grace,” she added.

“Sheila broke barriers and forever impacted our lives in ways we can’t fathom,” said Senate Majority Leader and Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz, adding that it is appropriate to have the Lt. Governor’s likeness in the County Justice Center.

“Lieutenant Governor Oliver was the embodiment of a true public servant: kind, passionate, and thoughtful. She cared deeply about social justice, racial equity, and looking out for the underserved, and showed up every day to work as an authentic and passionate advocate for the great people of New Jersey, especially those in most need,” said Lt. Governor Tahesha Way. “This memorial bust is another great dedication to the life and legacy of my dear friend and mentor. I hope its presence will inspire the public servants of Essex County who can look to Sheila, literally, as they serve our communities,” she added.

“Sheila understood the people she represented and was astute about how to work with people. Having her image in this building will remind others to live like the Lieutenant Governor and to serve others,” Department of Community Affairs Director Jacqueline Suarez.

“I applaud the County Executive for bestowing this well-deserved honor. Sheila deserves all the accolades,” Commissioner President Carlos Pomares said.

“It’s been difficult over the last nine months to not see her smile. She was like family to all of us,” Sheriff Armando Fontoura said.

“Having her bust in this building will enable her memory to live on,” Prosecutor Ted Stephens said.

“This will make sure we don’t forget the path Sheila laid for us. It’s appropriate to have her likeness in this justice building, alongside people like John Lewis,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said.

“I want to thank her family for sharing Sheila with us. She really set the tone for woman and so many others in politics because of her leadership,” East Orange Mayor Ted Green said.

“Today we are honoring a hero. I am proud to have been part of Sheila’s long journey and it’s a journey that is just beginning because we have an obligation to caring on Sheila’s work,” NJ State and Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman LeRoy Jones said.

The bronze bust is located on the first floor of the Essex County Martin Luther King, Jr. Justice Building and rests on a granite pedestal that is inscribed with a quote by Ms. Oliver: “I never set out to get involved in politics, but I knew that politics could transform lives.” It continues: “A pioneer in State politics, Sheila Oliver overcame racial and gender barriers to become the first African American elected to a statewide office when she became Lieutenant Governor and the first African American female to serve as Speaker of the NJ Assembly. Our beloved and respected public servant worked at every level of government and advocated for the issues that mattered the most – education, affordable housing, health care and senior citizens. Her life’s work was to improve the quality of life for others, promote access and equity, and give a voice so that everyone could be heard.”

After her passing last year, the County Executive presented a proposal and the Board of Commissioners approved the ordinance to name the headquarters of the Essex County Division of Family Assistance and Benefits as the Essex County Sheila Y. Oliver Division of Family Assistance and Benefits Headquarters in honor of Ms. Oliver. Her name was installed on the buildings at 320-321 University Avenue in Newark. Her photograph and a plaque bearing the same inscription as the granite base are located in the lobby of both buildings.

Lt. Governor Oliver’s public service career is long and varied, and she has served on every level of government in New Jersey. Lt. Governor Oliver became the first African American elected to statewide office when she was elected as Lieutenant Governor with Governor Phil Murphy in 2017. Lt. Governor Oliver was elected to the NJ General Assembly in 2004 representing the 34th Legislative District and served there until 2017. While in the Assembly, she was the first African American woman to be NJ Assembly Speaker when she served from 2010 to 2014. Previously, Lt. Governor Oliver was the Essex County Director of the Department of Citizen Services and Department of Economic Development, Training and Employment, the Assistant Essex County Administrator, a member of the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the President, Vice President and member of the East Orange Board of Education.

She was one of the founders of the Newark Coalition for Low Income Housing, which sued the Newark Housing Authority and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in federal court to block the demolition of publicly subsidized housing in Newark when there was no plan to replace units for low-income families. In addition, Oliver was the first woman in East Orange to launch a competitive campaign for mayor when she unsuccessfully ran for that office in 1997.

Lt. Governor Oliver campaigned to fill the remainder of the late Senator Frank Lautenberg’s term after his death in June 2013. The only female in the special election, she used her state-wide platform to raise awareness and start a conversation about important issues affecting New Jersey residents.

Lt. Governor Oliver was born in Newark, resided in East Orange and graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and from Columbia University with a Master’s Degree in Planning and Administration.

DiVincenzo previously recognized Ms. Oliver’s accomplishments by naming the 14th floor conference room in the Essex County LeRoy F. Smith, Jr. Public Safety Building as Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver Room. The name of the room was rededicated as the Lt. Governor Sheila Y. Oliver Conference Room after she became Lt. Governor.

The bronze bust was created by Jay Warren from Oregon.

The Essex County Martin Luther King, Jr. Justice Building opened in June 2021. The first bronze bust in the building is of the late U.S. Representative and Civil Rights leader John Lewis from Georgia. Bronze busts of Supreme court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Congressman Peter Rodino were added to the lobby in 2022. Busts of Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Thurgood Marshall and civil rights activist Rabbi Joaquim Prinz were dedicated in 2023. The lobby also includes a mural and video that depict pictures of and quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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