Vic Carstarphen, Jamila Odom Bremmer among 11 winners of Camden County Freedom Medal

Feature photos of Mayor Jamila Odom Bremmer, left, and Mayor Vic Carstarphen.

AC JosepH Media

CHERRY HILL – Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen and Chesilhurst Mayor Jamila Odom Bremmer are two of 11 residents who will receive the Camden County Freedom Medal from the Camden County Board of Commissioners for their selfless contributions to improving their community  on Feb. 24.

The event, which was slated to be held Jan. 20, was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The commissioners created the award in 2001 to recognize civic leaders who demonstrate ideals and actions that reflect the principles of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

“The individuals selected for the Camden County Freedom Medal truly embody the teachings and beliefs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Commissioner Jonathan Young. “The recipients are striving to improve their communities and deserve to be recognized for their selflessness and sacrifice.

This year’s award winners include:

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*Mark Bodrog – Sicklerville: Mark Bodrog is a Marine Captain whose mission is to be a voice to the veterans who have bravely served and to bring awareness, understanding and compassion to civilians. Mark served two tours in Afghanistan and earned two degrees from Rutgers-Camden University. While at Rutgers, he was instrumental in granting honorably discharged veterans academic credits upon enrollment to help with reintegration into the academic world. He took the same idea and has helped introduce three legislative bills within the state. His current project is focused on ending the epidemic of suicide among veterans. Along with the help of a fellow Marine Corps veteran, Mark published “22 a Day: A Tragedy in Three Acts.” Written as a play, the piece sheds light on the sheer number of veterans who take their own lives every day. Mark conducted research and drew from his own experiences in writing the book. Mark is also the author of “Second Platoon: Call Sign Hades: A Memoir of the Marines of the Combined Action Company.”

*Jamila Odom Bremmer – Chesilhurst: Jamila Odom-Garnett, Mayor of Chesilhurst Borough, is dedicated to civic awareness, public policy, corporate trailblazing and education. In 2004, Jamila’s first husband was murdered in Camden, which led to her to create the ministry “Say Yes to Life.” The organization’s mission is to support people with similar experiences and show them that life goes on after facing a tragedy. This work led to long-time Chesilhurst Mayor Michael Blunt recruiting Jamila as the city’s Drug Alliance Coordinator in 2005. In 2011, Jamila became the first female Pastor of First Baptist Church of Chesilhurst and the Corner Cupboard Food Pantry, founded by her parents. Jamila’s biggest projects include bringing new businesses to Chesilhurst, advocating for a new municipal building, improving the local community center and providing activities for youth. In 2020, Jamila received the prestigious Candance Women of Achievement award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women of Southern New Jersey Chapter. The award is given annually to women of minority descent to honor their contributions to society and representation of the NCBW mission.

*Shirley Conroy – Collingswood: Shirley Conroy was the founder of the New Jersey chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and was widely known as a passionate gun violence prevention leader. Shirley dedicated her final years of life advocating for common-sense reforms to make our neighborhoods safer and supported the work of organizations working to address Camden’s gun violence problem. She fostered a partnership with the Center for Family Services’ Cure4Camden violence interruption program and was later selected as the service provider at Cooper Hospital’s new Violence Interruption Program. She also worked with Cure to set up a monthly partnership meeting to bring together like-minded community leaders and city police to encourage collaboration. In 2018, Shirley worked with a group of Urban Promise Academy students to craft narratives about their personal experiences and brought four of these students with her to Trenton to testify about gun law reform. Shirley rallied dozens of volunteers to hand out thousands of ribbons and secure proclamations from their town councils and worked closely with the Commissioner Board of Camden County to organize an annual Wear Orange event. Shirley passed away in October, but her spirit and commitment to peace continue to drive the work of Moms Demand Action volunteers across New Jersey.

*Dave Cornwell – Clementon: Dave Cornwell, resident of Clementon and Executive Director of Friends of Clementon Food Pantry is a true advocate for food insecurity in Camden County. The Friends of Clementon Food Pantry is a Client-Choice Pantry, which allows clients to choose their own options. Client-Choice pantries resemble small grocery stores with products arrayed on shelves and in coolers/freezers where clients can fill their bags and boxes. The option of choice gives clients a sense of control and variety. Dave is always finding ways to stock his shelves so community members are able to support themselves and their families. At the height of the pandemic, Dave made sure his pantry was consistently stocked with items for breakfast, snacks and lunch for children. In November 2021, Friends of Clementon hosted their first Annual Car Show, raising over $5,000 dollars and a large quantity of food donations. Dave shares a similar path and mindset of Dr. King, fighting to end hunger and deprivation in cities and at tables.

*Greg DeShields – Cherry Hill: Greg DeShields is a member of the Board of Directors at the Independence Business Alliance is passionate about diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in the community. Greg is a loud voice for the underserved and has helped improve the inclusivity of other boards for people of all backgrounds. These Boards include: Boy Scouts of America; the African American Chamber of Commerce for Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware; the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; the Asian American Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia; and SKAL International. On every volunteer Board he serves, Greg leads with intent and ensures everyone is welcome. As an out LGBTQ+ black man, he has had to navigate uncomfortable and discriminatory spaces to find his place. He is someone who never closes the door behind him, ensuring others won’t have to experience what he had to. Whether he is teaching others the importance of DEI, or raising money to fund the experience for others, Greg is one of Camden County’s most important voices.

*Falio Leyba-Martinez – Camden: Falio Leyba-Martinez, Board Member of the Camden City School Advisory, is passionate about helping make the city a better place, especially for children. Since joining the board, he’s supported several district initiatives, including a safe zone resolution to assure immigrant parents it’s safe to send their kids to school and that their personal information won’t be shared with ICE. In addition, the Imm Schools program helps immigrant families find grants and scholarships available for college. Apart from the school board, Falio restarted little league baseball in East Camden in 2019. Today, just two years later, the league has eight teams with more than 100 kids involved and a waiting list of three dozen. Falio is an advocate for the Latino community and is committed to their voices being heard. He is invested in his community as a resident, small business owner and an advocate for the youth.

*Diane McKenzie – Atco: Diane McKenzie is the leader of the organization, “Rubies and Pearls” and is known in the Winslow Township community and surrounding area for her tireless efforts to help others, especially young girls. Her organization was established in 2011 and has since recruited and mentored over 132 girls, ages 5 to 18. Diane assists young women through tutoring, personal health, counseling and guidance. In addition to her organization, she is also active in her church, has served as an Emergency Crisis Counselor for Atlantic County for three years and is a member of the Winslow Township Senior Citizen Association, Winslow Red Hatter’s Club and the Winslow Township Drug and Alcohol Alliance Volunteer Board. Rubies and Pearls was recognized by the Camden County Commissioners in 2019 for its efforts and is the recipient of the Martin Luther King Award through Lighthouse Church of Deliverance. Diane is a true example of how we can build up the next generation to ensure they have the skills and resources they need to follow their ambitions, meet their goals and be successful on their own.

*Marla Meyers – Cherry Hill: Marla Meyers, resident of Voorhees and Executive Director of Samost Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Southern New Jersey, is a social service professional who has devoted the entirety of her 25+ year career to building a stronger and more vibrant community. Marla’s agency assists 10,000 individuals annually, and has instituted numerous new initiatives for our communities most vulnerable members under her leadership. These initiatives include “Right in Our Backyard,” an interactive panel presentation for parents and teens on the critical topic of drug addiction in the suburbs, “Take the Wheel,” a veteran peer to peer driving service, The Life Counts, a teen suicide prevention program, Repair the World, a social justice curriculum for high school students, “Safe House” also known as ‘Charlotte’s Place’ for victims of domestic violence, and “A VISTA” program to assist Holocaust Survivors and a successful corporate philanthropy program. Marla has also overseen the purchase, renovation, and opening of the agency’s Rhona Fischer Family Assistance Building and Betsy & Peter Fischer Food Pantry in Cherry Hill. Marla brings a wealth of knowledge and support to the Camden County Addiction Awareness Task Force (AATF). She provides invaluable insight, concern and uses her agency to increase awareness and education towards achieving the ultimate goal of reducing overdoses, fatalities among Camden County’s residents. Through funding from Gregg Wolfe (a parent who lost his son), her agency, in collaboration with the AATF, provides education for parents, youth in schools and other venues throughout the county. Marla is currently working on securing training for her staff on the use of naloxone (Narcan), and faithfully attends all of the AATF’s meetings and events. Because of residents like Marla, lives are being saved in Camden County.

*Nichelle Pace – Camden: Nichelle Pace is Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Camden Business Association and possesses an unyielding love for her community and passion for issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. In her role as vice president, she led the organization into a full rebrand to better serve the needs of the Camden small business community and is currently advocating for COVID relief. Nichelle launched the Small Biz Digital Bootcamp, a series of workshops and consultations to help local small businesses in Camden and the region with affordable resources and education in branding and digital marketing. This work evolved into on-going advocacy of small, women, veteran, and minority-owned businesses in the Camden area. Nichelle has also previously served as associate vice president of MarComm to the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Marketing Association, the Accreditation Committee Marketing Lead for the African American Chamber of NJ and on the volunteer Marcomm committee for Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region. Not only does Nichelle provide a voice for Camden area businesses as a liaison to the city, but she also educates, trains and prepares businesses to be competitive in both the private and public-sector marketplace.

*Isis Williams – West Collingswood Heights: Isis Williams is the president of the non-profit Haddon Township Equity Initiative and is known as a barrier breaker, an uplifting hand for vulnerable communities and a committed warrior in the battle for equality. Isis serves as Director on the Board of Education for Haddon Township and has spearheaded creating the non-profit Haddon Township Equity Initiative. The organization hosted its first-ever pride parade in the town this year, which received a proclamation from the state of New Jersey for its efforts. Isis united town leadership, police and fire departments, and a wide range of community members behind the task of launching the three-day event encompassing a parade, a nonprofit fair and a pool party for LGBTQIA families. In addition to leading the initiative, Isis is a Board Member of COLLAB, co-leads the district’s Parent Equity Group, serves on the Board of Directors and Finance Committee of the Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union and is a member of the HT Special Education Parent Advisory Group. Isis is a civic-minded individual who works tirelessly and effectively to make her community a place where everyone can thrive and prosper, regardless of their ethnic background or orientation.

*Congressional Medal, Victor Carstarphen – Camden: Victor Carstarphen has been serving the community long before his inception as Mayor in 2021. Victor was born and raised in the City of Camden and educated through Camden Public Schools up until high school graduation. As one of the most decorated basketball players in Camden High School History, Mayor Carstarphen used his experience to give back by serving as a coach to the Camden High School Boys Basketball team for six seasons. He also served his community as a board member for more than a decade with the Camden Educational Foundation. Through this role, he helped provide over two hundred and fifty college scholarships to students graduating from the Camden City School District. Furthering his dedication to the community, Mayor Carstarphen was appointed to the Camden City Council in January 2020. Mayor Carstarphen and his team continue to work with police to keep the city as safe while working to strengthen the public health of the community by investing in senior centers, creating athletic and recreational opportunities for youth, increasing vaccine access, safely returning our children to school, investing in rental assistance and addressing homelessness. Mayor Carstarphen and his administration are dedicated to bolstering the city’s economic opportunities by creating an environment to attract new businesses to rebuild the city’s economy and nurture the rich cultural and arts history that exists within the city.

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