South Orange Trustee Bob Zuckerman was one of three honorees to receive the Pride of Essex County Award from Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr., the Essex County Office of LGBTQ Affairs and the Essex County LGBTQ Advisory Board on June 30. Zuckerman shared the honor with Sharronda “Love” Wheeler, President of the Board of Directors of Newark Pride Inc. and Julio C. Roman, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of OUT Agency.
From Essex County NJ:
Newark, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr., the Essex County Office of LGBTQ Affairs and the Essex County LGBTQ Advisory Board hosted the Essex County LGBTQ Pride Month Celebration on Thursday, June 30. During the ceremony, DiVincenzo presented Pride of Essex County Awards to Sharronda “Love” Wheeler, President of the Board of Directors of Newark Pride Inc.; South Orange Trustee Bob Zuckerman and Julio C. Roman, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of OUT Agency in recognition of their support in the struggle for equality for the members of the LGBTQ community.
“Every year in Essex County, we celebrate Pride Month and our LGBTQ community. It is our opportunity to raise awareness about issues that affect this segment of the population and recognize outstanding members of our own LGBTQ community,” DiVincenzo said. “Our three honorees have done the difficult work in their respective fields of providing support, protecting human rights and promoting understanding,” he remarked.
“Essex County has been a pioneer in advancing LGBTQ rights thanks to the leadership of our County Executive. Under his leadership, the County began providing health insurance coverage to partners of Essex County employees regardless of their sexual orientation in 2007, the Essex County LGBTQ Advisory Board was created in 2011, programs offered through the Essex County Office of Small Business Development provide education to LGBTQ-owned businesses about the government procurement process and most recently the establishment of the Essex County Office of LGBTQ Affairs in 2022, where I am honored to serve as the first director,” said Essex County Office of LGBTQ Affairs Director Reginald Bledsoe.
Sharronda “Love” Wheeler currently serves as President of the Board of Directors of Newark Pride Inc. In this role, Ms. Wheeler has leaned in and stabilized the organization by gaining a 501(c)3 status, BOD insurance, corporate sponsorship and expanding the vision to increase participation in programs, services, and resource referrals. She is also a self-employed senior care consultant and, in her role as an Angel Care Community Advisor, she contracts with multiple insurance agencies to determine how to best meet their medical needs. Ms. Wheeler was employed for 12 years at SHP Management, where she managed data-informed state funded programs that provided social services to senior citizens, families, developmentally disabled persons and parents and children. She has been recognized for three consecutive years by NJ LGBTQ Political Powerlist of 100 individuals who are making strides in the State. Each year moving up on the list from number 70 to 21.
“Its an honor to be here and receive this recognition. I don’t do the work to be recognized, but I do it because there’s work to be done and somebody must do it,” said Wheeler. “I do everything I do wholeheartedly, and I am grateful to have people I can call to put it all together and make things happen for people. I’m seen as a bridge to the services and help they need,” she added.
Bob Zuckerman was elected to the South Orange Village Board of Trustees in May 2019 and became the first openly LGBTQ Trustee in South Orange’s history. From 2013-2019, he served as the Executive Director of the South Orange Village Center Alliance, the nonprofit organization that manages the special improvement district for downtown South Orange. Zuckerman is also a proud Essex County native, having been born in Newark and raised in Livingston. After spending several years living in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Zuckerman and his husband Grant Neumann, a vice president of Random House, returned to his Essex County roots in 2014 to make a new home in South Orange.
Bob presided over the opening of over two-dozen new businesses during his tenure at SOVCA, and personally recruited many of those businesses. He also was responsible for adding new murals and artwork downtown and helped revitalize Spiotta Park and the area underneath the train viaduct. In addition to his work with SOVCA, he previously served on the South Orange Performing Arts Center Board of Governors, chairing the board’s Outreach and Education Committee. Additionally, he still serves as a member of the Village’s Development Committee, adding his small business expertise to issues surrounding development throughout the Village. He served as a founding member of the Design Review Board, an advisory commission that helps business owners beautify their commercial storefronts, and he also helped steer the South Orange Business Code Review Task Force, a group comprised of business owners and government officials who have been working to make it easier to open a small business in South Orange. Furthermore, he serves as President of Downtown New Jersey, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the state’s downtowns.
“I must thank County Executive DiVincenzo because it is a tremendous honor to be recognized here today for my work as the first openly LGBTQ Village Trustee in South Orange. I may be the first, but I am confident that I won’t be the last,” said Zuckerman. “Pride events are happening all over Essex County now and that is a testament to all our collective work. It is important that we, LGBTQ people, have a seat at the table to continue doing the work and advancing initiatives,” he added
Julio C. Roman, a Safe Space Expert and LGBTQIA+ Rights Advocate, accepted his calling in LGBTQIA+ activism and safe space design at the young age of 16 years old. Since then, Mr. Roman has dedicated over 22 years to creating LGBTQIA+ safe spaces and advancing the health equality and social justice initiatives of Black and Brown Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender communities, and other marginalized communities affected by HIV/AIDS and its related health, social, and economic disparities. His experience lies extensively in Safe Space Design, HIV Prevention and Harm Reduction Programming, Community Engagement, LGBTQIA+ Advocacy, Leadership Development, and LGBTQIA+ Organizational Development. He often presents and publishes his public health findings on local, state, and national levels. He has been honored to represent the LGBTQIA+ community on Capitol Hill DC, State Department DC, World Monetary Fund DC, and the United Nations NYC. And continues to be featured in Insider NJ’s “Out 100: The LGBT Power List” for his leadership in community organizing and HIV/AIDS work.
Roman is a founding member and co-founder of two LGBTQIA+ centers in the City of Newark. He currently serves on the Board of Directors at ARK of Freedom Alliance, a national anti-human trafficking organization, and proudly serves as an LGBTQIA+ Commissioner for Newark. He continues to work with LGBTQIA+ organizations nationally and is the proud author of the newly release bestseller Out of Space: Creating Safe Spaces in Unlikely Places. He resides in Newark with his partner.
“We hear about acts of violence against black and brown people, transgender individuals, which shows that the constitutional rights and freedoms of LGBTQ persons or those who exist at its intersections are not guaranteed. Thank you, County Executive, for this honor. I am honored to be receiving this award, not only for myself but for all the black and brown, queer and LGBTQ individuals who have partnered with me on building safe spaces and building community,” said Roman.
The Essex County LGBTQ Pride Month Celebration is the part of a yearlong cultural series created by County Executive DiVincenzo to highlight Essex County’s diversity. Other cultural heritage celebrations include African American History Month, Irish Heritage Month, Women’s History Month, Italian Heritage Month, Jewish Heritage, Portuguese Heritage and Latino Heritage. Created in December 2010, the Essex County Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Advisory Board is one of several volunteer advisory boards that discusses issues affecting the community and provides recommendations to the Essex County Executive.