essex commissioners recognize community leaders for asian american pacific islander heritage month

L to R: Pastor James Kang, Srinivas & Priyanka Salandra, George Shen, Allison R., Amber Reed, Commissioner Patricia Sebold, Jun Zheng, Commissioner VP Tyshammie Cooper, Concordia Stefano, Commissioner President Carlos Pomares.

Wednesday evening, May 8, the Essex County Board of County Commissioners held its third annual Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration. It is held each year to acknowledge outstanding community members of Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native Hawaiian background throughout the County for their accomplishments and contributions.

The honorees this year included Allison R. of Maplewood, Amber Reed of Montclair from AAPI New Jersey, George Shen of Livingston, Concordia Stefano of Newark, and Jun Zheng of East Orange.

“Tonight, we stand in proud recognition of community members from Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native Hawaiian backgrounds,” said Commissioner President Carlos M. Pomares. “Their unique contributions to their friends and neighbors, to the County, and to the State are invaluable and irreplaceable. The vibrant tapestry of Essex County is made so much stronger and welcoming by their presence. Congratulations to all our honorees, and thank you for all you do!”

Pastor James Kang delivered opening and closing prayers during the occasion. Musical accompaniment was provided by musicians Srinivas and Priyanka Salandra.

Commissioner A'Dorian Murray-Thomas (center-left), Concordia Stefano (center), and KIPP NCA School Leader Sharmaine Lewis (center-right)

See more pictures of the event here. Watch a recording of the event here.



Allison R., presented by Commissioner A’Dorian Murray-Thomas, is a marketing leader with 20 years of healthcare experience across various disciplines.  She has expertise in medical devices and specializes in launching innovative products, building strong, cohesive teams, and developing strategies to boost sales effectiveness and drive revenue. Allison is an advocate for social justice, channeling her passion into empowering marginalized communities through activism and policy advocacy. She is particularly passionate about causes related to immigration reform, the unhoused population, and racial-ethnic equity. In her spare time, Allison is on the board of SOMA Cross Cultural Works, a non-profit based in Maplewood that organizes and supports multicultural artistic and educational programs. She has also enjoyed her role as a District Leader in the Maplewood Democratic County Committee representing District 17.  Allison earned an MBA from Fordham University, where she was part of the honor society Phi Kappa Phi, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies from Tufts University.

Amber Reed, presented by Commissioner President Carlos Pomares and sponsored by Commissioner Brendan Gill, is the President and Co-Executive Director of AAPI New Jersey, a nonprofit advocacy organization established in 2021 that activates the power of the state’s 1.1 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to advance social justice. Led by community members who came together to respond to anti-Asian hate, this grassroots nonprofit, which began as AAPI Montclair, has become a national model of the power of locally rooted Asian Americans organizing to plant and nurture the seeds of generational change. Amber is a Korean American adoptee, writer, and mother of two school-aged children. She also serves on the Episcopal Diocese of Newark’s Racial Justice and Healing Commission and as Vice Chair of the New Jersey AAPI Commission. Prior to AAPI New Jersey, she spent over 15 years advancing equity in public education through research, policy, and data analysis. At the state and national levels, AAPI New Jersey has worked in diverse, multiethnic coalitions to advocate for educational equity and inclusion, language access, immigrant rights, ballot reform, government transparency, and voting rights, among other policies advancing the welfare of communities of color. AAPI New Jersey’s rich calendar of year-round cultural programming includes celebrations of Lunar New Year and Diwali, and events featuring AAPI authors, filmmakers, and artists, with past luminaries ranging from Michelle Zauner to Jeff Yang to Sheetal Sheth. Through its work, AAPI New Jersey hopes to encourage structural change, build solidarity among communities, and fight for equity for all oppressed groups, while celebrating AAPI cultures.

Xiaole “George” Shen, Ph.D., presented by Commissioner Patricia Sebold, obtained his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the City University of New York, and a B.S. from FuDan University. He is a research scientist with Bristol Myers Squibb, a pharmaceutical company based in New Jersey. Ever since he moved to Livingston in 2005, George has been actively involved in various community service activities. This includes the Livingston Citizen Institute, the Children’s Theater of Livingston, the Livingston Chinese Association, the Livingston Huaxia Chinese School, the Livingston Multicultural Celebration, the Livingston Community Outreach Committee, the Livingston Committee of Diversity & Inclusion, and AAPI Livingston. He was elected to the Livingston Board of Education in 2017 and served until 2020. George has also served as an organizing committee member of the Livingston Multicultural Celebration, member of the Livingston Community Outreach Committee, coach of the Livingston Robotics team and Livingston Huaxia soccer teams, volunteer for the Livingston Committee of Diversity & Inclusion, and volunteer for AAPI Livingston. Professionally, George has served as Chairman, Executive Vice President, and Treasurer of the Sino-American Pharmaceutical Professionals Association (SAPA). He has taught as an adjunct professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Department of Chemistry & Environmental Science, and has spearheaded professional development programs for college and graduate students in collaboration with Princeton, Columbia, and Rutgers Universities. George lives with his wife, Qing, who also works as a pharmaceutical scientist. Together they have raised three daughters in the Livingston public school system: Christine, Jessica, and Rebecca.

Concordia O. Stefano, presented by Commissioner A’Dorian Murray-Thomas, received her BA in Science Education from Leyte Normal University, and her MA in Educational Management from Eastern Samar State University, both in the Philippines. She received an MS in Mathematica Education from Lehman College in New York City, and she is in the process of obtaining her PhD DA in Educational Governance from the Philippine Christian University this July. In 2003, while teaching at Guiuan National High School, Concordia was hired by the NYCDOE as an international teacher and relocated to New York City in September 2004. She started teaching math at a New York City public middle school in the South Bronx. Despite the cultural challenges between the Philippines and the South Bronx, she was able to exceed everyone’s expectations and significantly improved her students’ performance year after year. After several years, Concordia was chosen as the school’s Math department head, and as a mentor to new and veteran teachers. She continued teaching in the South Bronx for 11 years, because she loves teaching, she loves her students, and she knew she could make a difference. In 2015, when it was announced the school would be closing, Concordia submitted her application to KIPP, New Jersey, and was immediately hired at Newark Collegiate Academy (NCA) as an Algebra 1 teacher. As a teacher in Newark, she encounters students who are dealing with the effects of poverty, trauma, and other social issues. To be truly effective with her students, she teaches not only with her brain, but with her heart as well. Her proudest accomplishment has been the success of her students, whose test performance has been the highest not just at NCA, but in all KIPP high schools. She believes that a combination of deep content knowledge and unwavering passion for teaching is the greatest gift we can offer the students.

Jun Zheng, presented by Commissioner Vice President Tyshammie L. Cooper, was born, raised, and educated in Nanking, China. She graduated in 1986 with a major in Water Supply and Drainage. She designed many substantial projects related to waterworks, wastewater treatment plants, stormwater, sanitary sewer systems and sustainable management, etc. These projects totaled billions of renminbi (RMB). In 1999, Jun emigrated to the United States when her son was an infant and entered a completely different world. While she took care of her son full-time, she continued her studies and secured her first job as a staff engineer and draftsmen. She quickly familiarized herself with the engineering industry and specialized in civil engineering. She participated in the design of several major water infrastructure projects in Jersey City, totaling more than $30 million. In 2008, Jun joined the East Orange Department of Public Works as a Senior Engineer and Manager of the Plans and Construction Division. During her tenure, she has overseen the design and construction of $28.3 million worth of projects, including the extensive renovations of Rowley, Elmwood, Soverel, Columbian, and Oval Parks. She is also responsible for managing the $3.5 million Main Streetscape Project, a key component of the city’s plan to transform lower Main Street into a local arts district. In addition to being a Licensed Professional Engineer, Jun is also a Certified Construction Contract Administrator, Certified Municipal Engineer, Certified Public Works Manager, and a Licensed Life Insurance Broker. She is a 2017 recipient of the East Orange Urban Excellence Award. In her spare time, Jun enjoys traveling, hiking, hunting, gardening, raising goldfish, and Chinese calligraphy.

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