Prominent Newark Education Activist, Community Leader Dies

The eldest of six children, Holder grew up in the Central Ward, where she attended Cleveland Elementary, 18th Avenue Elementary, West Kinney Jr. High, and Weequahic High schools.

For Holder, bettering education for students and parents in Newark was a lifetime commitment. She served in leadership roles within the Newark Public Schools, Essex County PTA, the Secondary Parent Council and other organizations. She assisted students with SAT and ACT preparation, applying for financial aid and scholarship assistance, and college fairs and tours.

Holder also ensured the voices of Newark’s education community was brought to the forefront. She served on several New Jersey State regulatory and policy boards, including the Secondary Education Initiative for the Abbott Districts, Abbott Secondary Education Advisory Group, Secondary Work Group for Education Reform, and the New Jersey Environmental Council.

A frequent speaker at school board meetings, she was known to never back down or shy away from holding district officials accountable.

When the Newark Board of Education proposed during a 2019 board meeting to ban disruptive members of the public from meetings, Holder was quick to speak up. For her, respect between the board and public speakers went both ways.

“We put our lives in this system," she said. "We feel like there should be some privilege in this. We earned it.”

Her efforts to raise the voices of Newark parents were not lost on her colleagues and peers.

City Historian Junius Williams revered his time working with Holder, highlighting her efforts to help him create the Abbott Leadership Institute at Rutgers University-Newark about two decades ago. The objective of the institute, Williams said, was to teach parents how to become more effective organizers to influence changes in schools.

“I had heard about her as being one of the most prominent persons to talk to,” Williams told TAPinto Newark. “For 18 years, I did two series of classes - six to eight classes per semester - and she was active in every one of them. She was a person I could rely on for support. She could bring other people to the table who I needed for support. She also helped me teach on occasions.”

Holder’s commitment to her community didn’t go unnoticed either. Her efforts were celebrated through numerous awards and recognitions, including the Rutgers-University Chancellor’s Award, Distinguished Seniors in the City of Newark, and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Frontier Award from the state Department of Education.

“You could depend on her. She was a straight shooter,” Williams said. “She was committed to children, and she was committed to parents. That’s why people loved her.”

Upon the announcement of Holder’s death, her impact in Newark could be felt as various education leaders and advocates voiced their sympathies.

“The Newark Public Schools mourns the passing of Mrs. Wilhelmina Holder who proudly served as an advocate for parents, students, local control, and the ongoing efforts toward the continuous improvement of the district system she loved," Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León said in a statement. "We are eternally grateful for all that Mrs. Holder did and for everyone she assisted along the way."

“We are heartbroken to hear of the passing of Mrs. Wilhelmina Holder, and we extend our sincere condolences to her family,” said Virgil Ecton, vice president for Advancement at Pathways to College, where Holder served as a Newark Advisory Board member. “Pathways to College has benefited tremendously from Mrs. Holder’s passionate championing of the brilliance of our youth, and her invaluable contributions to our Newark Advisory Board and our work in Newark Public Schools. Her impact on children, families and educational equity in Newark will be felt for many years to come.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-05-03 03:26:07 -0700