This Black History Month, we celebrate a community leader who has empowered the people, fought for justice, and inspired others to do the same.
The People’s Assemblyman
A life of public service isn’t for everyone. The job requirements are arduous, the hours notoriously long; the needs of the community are never-ending. There is no time to rest on laurels.
Choosing a life of public service requires more than just a dedication to improving the world in which you live. It also requires the rare kind of person who is prepared to start work that someone else must finish; to plant a tree under which others might someday sit.
A truly dedicated life of public service requires yet another step beyond that: The truly exceptional people’s champion accepts their vocation knowing full well that the work will never, ever be finished.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of these dedicated individuals, who often toil in relative obscurity without the recognition they deserve, the world is a better place.
One such individual deserving of recognition this Black History Month is New Jersey State Assemblyman, Gordon Johnson.
Assemblyman Johnson serves in the position of Speaker Pro Tempore as part of General Assembly Leadership and has since 2018. Johnson, who is only the second African-American to serve in the New Jersey State General Assembly, has made tremendous strides in his tenure.
Johnson’s impressive legislative track record includes social justice reform, expanded access to health care, increased access to education for New Jersey students, veterans and DREAMer’s, and much more.
He has sponsored bills to reduce gun violence, including limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds and requiring gun stores to stock personalized handguns when they become available.
As a former law enforcement officer with 24 years of experience, Assemblyman Johnson has been responsible for enforcing the laws and is now responsible for writing them. This expanded perspective has made him very effective at drafting legislation targeted towards police and criminal justice reform.
In 2015, Mr. Johnson was the prime sponsor of legislation to enhance oversight of surplus military equipment being used by local law enforcement. He has also sponsored legislative efforts to mandate sexual assault response training for police officers and a bill to establish a minority recruitment program for police departments.
As a member of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, Mr. Johnson co-sponsored a bill requiring cultural diversity and implicit bias training for law enforcement officers. In addition, he has worked on legislation to increase access to DNA testing to help exonerate the wrongfully convicted.
Last year, Mr. Johnson passed a law that requires police departments to review personnel records before hiring a police officer from another department, which he says, “will prevent bad cops who are in trouble from resigning and then moving to a new department where they were unaware of past misdeeds.”
“Bad cops give all of law enforcement a bad name,” Mr. Johnson says. “There is no place for bad cops in any police department.”
Assemblyman Johnson himself served twenty-four years with the Englewood Police Department, attaining the rank of Patrol Sergeant and was appointed Undersheriff of Bergen County in 1999. He subsequently became Sheriff in 2001, making him the first African American to serve as Bergen County Sheriff.
In the days following Sept 11, 2001, then-Sheriff Johnson served as commander of the force, assisting the Port Authority Police in securing the George Washington Bridge as part Bergen County’s response to the terrorist attacks. When the newly elected Sheriff took office, Mr. Johnson was asked to remain with the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department as Undersheriff until 2005.
Currently, Assemblyman Johnson serves as Chairman of the Assembly Commerce and Economic Committee. In this role, he was the prime sponsor of the Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act, which has brought the film and television industries back to New Jersey and generated jobs and revenue.
As a member of the Assembly Budget Committee, Mr. Johnson dedicates his time to handling the district’s budgetary challenges and crafting the state budget based on each department’s budget requests.
Mr. Johnson previously served as the Deputy Speaker during the 2014–2018 legislative sessions, Majority Conference Leader during the 2012–2013 legislative session and as Chair of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee from 2006–2011. He was elected to the New Jersey State General Assembly in 2001.
He was recognized for his legislative efforts in 2016, and was named Legislator of the Year by the ARC. He has been honored by the New Jersey Library Association, the Englewood Rotary Club, the New Jersey Small Business Development Center and many others.
In honor of Black History Month, Mr. Johnson cites civil rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks as two African American leaders he admires. He also offered recognition to local leader Arnold Brown in Englewood, who was the first black Assemblyman from Bergen County and was present during MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Johnson also mentions Theodora Lacey, who was involved in the Birmingham Bus Boycott and later worked to integrate our public schools.
In addition to his time with the police force, Mr. Johnson served in the United States Army Reserve with the rank of Major. In 1990, Johnson participated in Operation Desert Storm, where he was responsible for two Convoy Support Centers in the Saudi Arabian Desert.
In 1991, he participated in Operation Joint Endeavor, where he was part of a team that coordinated the activities and missions of the Civil Affairs unit stationed in Bosnia.
Mr. Johnson is highly decorated and holds the National Defense Service Medal, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Southwest Asia Service Medal, NATO Service Medal, Kuwait Liberation Medal and more.
Mr. Johnson graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, New York with a B.S. in Social Science and holds a Masters Degree in Administration and Supervision from Seton Hall University. He is also a graduate of the United States Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
He lives in Englewood, New Jersey with his wife Jacqueline and their three children Stephanie, Brandon and Stephen.
As the first African American Sheriff in Bergen County and second African American to serve in the New Jersey State General Assembly, Mr. Johnson aims to continue breaking barriers as a State Senator for New Jersey’s 37th legislative district, which would make him the district’s first Black representative.
With his impeccable record of service to his community, Gordon Johnson deserves to be the next State Senator for New Jersey’s 37th; and New Jersey’s 37th deserves a committed leader like Gordon Johnson.
(Contributing journalist, Allegra Nokaj) (Contributing writer, Brooke Bell)