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Tomorrow brings us to February and the annual celebration of Black History Month nationwide with educational events focusing on the many contributions African Americans have made to our country.

And every year, the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey does its part with a black-tie gala called The Circle of Achievement Awards. This year marks the 10th edition of the Circle of Achievement, which will be held Thursday (Feb. 6) at the Palace at Somerset Park.

If you have been following our ChamberLink activities, you know we are all about networking here, and the Circle of Achievement awards offer plenty of opportunities for that. But its bigger purpose is to highlight those African Americans who are making history right now in New Jersey.

In that spirit, allow me to highlight this year’s winners.

The Business Award will be presented to Jay Morrison, the CEO/founder of the Jay Morrison Academy, a real estate investing school and mentorship program, and the CEO of the Tulsa Real Estate Fund, a real estate investing crowdfunding platform.

Jay is walking testament to the idea that people deserve second chances. A high school dropout and three-time felon, Jay turned his life around over a decade ago and now uses his personal story to help thousands of his Academy students, troubled youth, ex-offenders and real estate professionals.

The Education Award is going to Yla Eason, an assistant professor of Professional Practices at Rutgers University, where she teaches business communications, advertising, search engine marketing, and marketing strategy. She is no “ivory tower” denizen, though. She honed her business skills with Olmec Toys, a business she launched and grew to a $5 million enterprise with worldwide distribution to major retailers. Her Sun-Man action figure was the first Black superhero toy created to promote positive self-images for her son and other children.

The Community Service Award winner is Lawrence Hamm, a relentless advocate for African-American people and human rights for more than 30 years. Raised in Newark, he attended public schools and emerged at age 17 as a forceful and articulate spokesperson for the educational aspirations of Newark students and the community.

Veteran State Senator Shirley Turner, (D-15), will receive the Politics Award. During her long time in office, she has created laws to protect children, including criminal history checks of child care center employees, and school employees and volunteers, procedures for the placement of a minor child whose caretaker is incarcerated, and enhanced school bus safety.

Congratulations to the award winners and the AACCNJ for making a difference.

Now here’s a look at the network opportunities being offered next week by many of our ChamberLink members.

  • The Hunterdon Chamber of Commerce will hold a Leads Exchange event Feb. 5 at the Holiday Inn in Clinton.
  • The New Jersey LGBT Chamber of Commerce will hold a Networking Mixer at Montclair Art Museum Feb. 6.
  • The Meadowlands Chamber will celebrate 10 years of giving at its Brunch For Love 2020 7 at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford.