Crump, Wright, Sessomes, Hart to be honored at AACCNJ gala

Ben Crump, the founder and principal of a law firm that bears his name — and a longtime champion for social and legal justice for Blacks — will be honored with the prestigious President’s Award at the 14th annual Circle of Achievement Awards Gala by the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, the AACCNJ announced.

Crump is one of four who will be honored at the black-tie event, to be held Feb. 22, 2024, at the Venetian in Garfield.

He will be joined by Keith Wright of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (Public Service Award), Darcella Patterson Sessomes of the New Jersey Department of Corrections (Community Service Award) and Brett Hart of United Airlines (Business Award).

The event always sells out. For ticket and sponsorship information, click here. Truist is lead sponsor of the gala.

The 2024 gala, themed “Leading the Way,” is in recognition of the ancestral DNA of African Americans and those who courageously paved the way for past, present and future generations of Black people in America. This annual gala provides the platform, on behalf of AACCNJ members and the over 88,000 Black-owned businesses in the state, to continue to increase the visibility of their businesses.

AACCNJ founder and CEO John Harmon said he is thrilled to be able to honor such a distinctive group.

“Each year during Black History Month, the AACCNJ recognizes a distinguished group of African Americans that have attained a significant level of accomplishment in business, politics, education, community service, sports and entertainment,” he said. “This distinguished group of honorees represents the best in class in their respective fields and underscores the level of excellence within the Black demographic in the United States. We look forward to your attendance and support.”

The evening will begin with a “Black Carpet Experience” for the attendees; the honorees and guests will also enjoy a cocktail reception in the grand ballroom and will move to the Palazzo Ballroom for dinner, dancing and the awards ceremony.

The emcee for the awards gala is the actor Lamman Rucker. Rucker began his career on the daytime soap operas “As the World Turns” and “All My Children,” before roles in “The Temptations,” Tyler Perry’s films “Why Did I Get Married?,” “Why Did I Get Married Too?,” and “Meet the Browns,” and its television adaptation.

Harmon was grateful for the support of Truist.

“Truist pledged a significant contribution after attending the 2023 gala, and we are thankful for their leadership,” he said. “We deeply appreciate their support and willingness to contribute to the success of the AACCNJ.”

Travis Rhodes, Truist regional president for Pennsylvania and New Jersey, said the bank is eager to be a part of the event.

“This event celebrates some of the most accomplished leaders in our state and spotlights the diverse tapestry of contributions they’re making in our community,” he said.

Harmon said Crump is an icon, worthy of the chamber’s recognition.

“Ben Crump’s legacy and contributions have led to significant advances in the arena of social and legal justice for Black people,” he said. “He has established himself as one of the nation’s foremost lawyers and advocates for social justice. We are thrilled that he has accepted the recognition and will join us to deliver remarks at our Black History month gala.”

Crump said he is proud of his role in the community.

“I am an unapologetic defender of Black life, Black liberty and Black humanity and, now more than ever, we all have to be unapologetic,” he said. “The only way we will defeat the enemies of equality is to make sure that our children are more intelligent than those that would seek to oppress them.”

Here is a deeper look at the other honorees:

Public Service Award

Keith Wright
Director, business diversity operations
Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Harmon: “In Keith’s role as director, business diversity operations, Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, he is one of the prominent voices of the PANYNJ. We appreciate his willingness to consistently speak to our members about how the Port Authority does business with small businesses and outline the programs.”

Wright: “My appreciation for the work done by the AACCNJ has grown exponentially each year. During the past five years, I have watched them advocate, educate and celebrate African American and minority businesses in our state.”

Community Service Award

Darcella Patterson Sessomes
Chief of programming and reintegration services
New Jersey Department of Corrections

Harmon: “In her role as chief, Division of Programs and Reintegration Services, at the New Jersey Department of Corrections, Dr. Sessomes has provided countless second chances to formerly incarcerated individuals, through NJDOC programs; she honestly believes in the importance of reintegration programs to help reduce recidivism in our communities.”

Sessomes: “I am humbled to be recognized by the AACCNJ. The AACCNJ is the leading voice in New Jersey, fighting to ensure that the voices of the marginalized are elevated and given equal opportunity to be successful. We share in that mission, as I have dedicated my career to being a Sojourner for the same. This is my divine assignment. This award is special because it says, ‘Well done, thy good and faithful servant.’”

Business Award

Brett Hart
United Airlines

Harmon: “In his role as the president of United Airlines, Brett’s responsibilities are voluminous, and we applaud his leadership, overseeing United’s global operations, external facing functions, including government affairs, market and community innovation, legal, global community engagement and business critical functions.”

Hart: “United Airlines is a proud long-term partner of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, with a shared goal of driving meaningful change and impact. Our organization firmly believes that ‘Good Leads the Way,’ and one way we demonstrate that motto is by investing in the communities where we live, work and fly. I am personally humbled by the Business Award recognition and grateful for our continued collaboration to advance opportunities for African Americans in New Jersey.”

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