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BCC NAACP 2013 Voter Education Forum Biographies

These are short biographies of the panelists and guest speaker who joined us for today’s BCC NAACP 2013 Voter Education Forum. Thanks to all who shared their support with the Bergen Community College NAACP chapter to make this event happen, and to those who by listening in, showed their interest in being an informed New Jersey voter.

Ivan’s opening remarks:

All New Jersey state level political offices are up for election this year, and will be decided by voters on November 5. Gov. Christie, the Republican candidate for governor, declined our invitation to join us today. But, we are fortunate that New Jersey State Senator Barbara Buono accepted. Sen. Buono is also running for governor as New Jersey’s Democratic candidate, and I am very excited that she took time out of her busy campaign schedule to share wisdom and thoughts with us about life, career choices and why it’s important for students to be engaged civically and politically.

New Jersey State Sen. Barbara Buono, Guest Speaker
Barbara Buono has been a New Jersey State Senator since 2001 and in 2010 became the first woman in our state’s history to be named as Senate Majority Leader. When Sen. Buono served as Senate Budget Chair she was able to shrink our state budget by $4.5 billion. Sen. Buono has also served as Metuchen Borough Councilwoman and New Jersey State Assemblywoman. She champions conservative fiscal spending, ethnic and gender diversity; strong public education and excellent public health systems.

JEFF GARDNER, Panelist
Jeff Gardner is an outspoken community advocate. He grew up in New Jersey, attended Rutgers College and Law School and for the past 15 years he has been a successful labor attorney with a private practice in Hawthorne. Jeff is a Co-Founder and Past President of the Hawthorne Historical Society, a Trustee of Passaic County Community College and Chair of the Garden State Equality Educational Fund. Jeff prides himself on being a fighter who is not afraid to take on tough career and community advocacy challenges. He is currently a candidate for Hawthorne Borough Council.

BETH MARMOLEJOS, Panelist
Beth Marmolejos is past President of the Medco Diversity Network and an expert at supporting community-based organizations. She believes in a proactive approach toward effecting change and has been active in the social and political life in both Bergen and Passaic Counties, with stints as Ward President an as a community advocate of individuals with disabilities. Beth served in 1998 as President of the Dominican Empowerment Political Association Committee (DEPAC). She is currently a Democratic candidate running for Wayne Council.

THOMAS REYNOLDS, Panelist
Thomas Reynolds is currently serving his second term as President of the Montclair Branch NAACP. Tom and his executive committee have doubled chapter membership; successfully applied for two economic development grants and one health grant; increased young voter engagement; rallied the community to bring back the community policing program; protected programs that directly affect minority students and more. Tom’s branch has been recognized by the State NAACP as the Most Outstanding Chapter and is working with six other branches throughout the country to raise engagement of young adults in the NAACP.

Tom’s Essay, Why I Vote, will give you insights about why you, too, should vote.

ALEXIS BRAVO, Panelist
Alex is a Communication Arts Major, a Bergen Community College sophomore and speaks fluent Spanish and some French. Although she is a New Jersey native, Alex’ mother is Puerto Rican and father, Ecuadorian. She is active in campus groups including the Business Club, Model UN, Student Activities Board, the Torch newspaper, and she serves as this year’s Student Government Association President. Alex interns for the NJ Republican State Committee, working on the campaigns of Chris Christie and the District 36 Republican candidate.

IVAN GOMEZ WEI, Moderator and BCC NAACP President
Ivan Gomez Wei is an aspiring Urban Farmer and social activist who organizes community around food, sustainability, equal rights and student issues. He holds an AS in Business Administration from Bergen Community College, and is obtaining a horticulture degree. He leads the BCC NAACP Chapter and is chair of the NAACP’s Youth and College Division in the northeast. Ivan is a Chinese-Hispanic Jew; attended Chinese school for many years and is active in Latino political and cultural activities.

BCC NAACP Voter Education Forum a great success

Today was a great and historic day at Bergen Community College! The NAACP, in conjunction with the Student Government Association, Caribbean club, African student union, Latino American student association, Women’s club and the Black student union, held the college’s first Voter Education Forum. A panel of speakers included the SGA president, Alexis Bravo; candidate for Hawthorne Council, Jeff Gardner; Montclair NAACP President, Tom Reynolds and Wayne Council candidate, Beth Marmolejos.

BCC NAACP president, Jorge Ivan Gomez Wei served as both MC and panel moderator. Following the panel discussion and a Q & A session, New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Barbara Buono, arrived to share thoughts and inspiration.

Among some of the questions students put to the panelists were: “Why should I vote? How will this election affect students? How can I hold politicians accountable?”

The forum’s main goal was educating students about the importance of voting not just in presidential elections but on the local level as well for municipal, county and state officials … and of introducing the concept that engaging in the democratic process doesn’t end with casting a vote. As several panelists pointed out, civic engagement is another very important aspect of participating in a democracy and a healthy society is reliant on citizen participation. The panelists shared interesting and thought provoking views and answers with students.

The forum was held in the BCC Student Center and was well attended. Most of those present came for the event. However, there were a few students sitting in the Center’s comfy seats when the panel discussion started, who became interested in the forum as it went on and ended up giving it their full attention. Capturing the interest of students who might not go out of their way to attend this type of event if it were held in a more private venue, was one of the day’s key goals and as an NAACP member who helped with planning, I was pleased with results of holding it in the Center’s semi-open space. Many of those passing through the center on their way to class from the bus stop outside, stopped for a while to listen as topics under discussion caught their interest. Some professors brought their classes down to the forum and members of several campus clubs cancelled weekly meetings in order to participate. The number of those in attendance increased enormously when Barbara Buono arrived to speak. One student commented, “Barbara Buono being right here, at the college. That’s huge!”

Barbara Buono’s gave an impassioned, energetic speech. She shared details of her own life, allowing us to see how down to earth she is, and we were able to see that she relates well to the concerns of community college students like ourselves. Many of us struggle with life and financial difficulties and because Buono lost her father at 19 years of age and later became a single mother, she experienced many of the same challenges we do. It is reassuring to know that a person able to affect issues important to us and able to protect our interests, is truly looking out for us as Barbara Buono does in her role as State Senator. Equally reassuring is knowing that Barbara Buono triumphed over her personal challenges to become an attorney and an elected official.

Plenty of work, goodwill and collaboration went into putting this event together and it paid off handsomely as the forum was a great success. Very special acknowledgement goes to Mr. Gomez Wei, who had the vision for creating the first of what we hope will become an annual voter education forum at BCC, and whose desire and ability to create positive change as a civil rights and social equality activist keeps growing and growing. Keep up the great work my friend.

Here are some pictures!

Buono with the BCC NAACP

Members of the BCC NAACP and gubernotorial candidate Barbara Buono


Buono with Bergen students

Buono takes a foto with Bergen students


Students turn out for BCC NAACP Voter Forum

Students turn out for BCC NAACP Voter Forum

BCC NAACP’s 2013 Voter Education Forum: panel & guest speaker, Sen. Barbara Buono

REMEMBER – YOU CAN VOTE YOURSELF A RAISE ON NOVEMBER 5th SO MAKE SURE YOU VOTE!

Bergen Community College NAACP President Ivan Wei says: “Please come to the awesome Voter Education Forum we put together for Tuesday October 22 2013 from 12-2. Bring interesting questions and share this event and flier widely! We have an excellent panel scheduled from 12-1pm and gubernatorial candidate NJ State Senator Barbara Buono will be our guest speaker from 1-2pm.
2013 BCC NAACP Voter Education flyer
Our panelists are:
Alexis Bravo, BCC Student Government Association (SGA) President
Jeff Gardner, Esq, Candidate for Hawthorne Council
James E. Harris, Immediate Past President New Jersey State NAACP
Beth Marmolejos, Candidate for Wayne Council

The Moderator is Ivan Gomez Wei, BCC NAACP President, SGA Senator and NAACP Region II Youth and College Chair

The Voter Education Forum will take place in the BCC Student Center located at the eastern tip of the main building (Pitkin). The general public is welcome to attend, and we hope to see MANY students there learning how to make a positive difference through political and civic engagement and supporting this historic student-run education initiative.

This event is being co-sponsored by the BCC Student Government Association, Caribbean Club, African Student Union, Latino American Student Association, Women’s Club and the Black Student Union.

For more information about the event or to volunteer, contact Ivan Gomez Wei at 201.688.0036 or tweet him. We need community or student volunteers to help out during the forum. Your help will be greatly appreciated!

Please like the BCC NAACP on Facebook!

What are some of the important issues concerning New Jersey college students and voters today?

Here’s a list of issues, alternative (real) news portals and fact checking resources. You can also download this list as a flyer.