‘She cleared so many barriers.’ Community activists remember late-Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver

People say that Sheila Oliver is one of the government officials who come to mind when thinking about social justice for people of color and women.

Matt Trapani and Amanda Lee

Aug 3, 2023, 12:14 AM

Updated 318 days ago

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Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver left an impact on many New Jersey community members who say that they felt heard when speaking with her. Those groups are now in mourning following Oliver’s death on Tuesday.
People say that Oliver is one of the government officials who come to mind when thinking about social justice for people of color and women.
“She cleared so many barriers to women and to Black women, so she definitely left a legacy of achievement that we can all be proud of,” says Lawrence Hamm, chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress.
Hamm says that Oliver will be remembered as a true agent of social change.
“She was the lieutenant governor and we’re a protest group, so you can imagine what kind of interaction we had,” says Hamm.
He says that most recently she was supportive of an important issue many legislators are afraid to talk about.
“That’s the issue of reparations for African Americans and I was uplifted to see that she could speak out on that issue,” says Hamm.
And when it came to issues for working families, women and housing, local activists say she not only listened to them, but took action.
"She was a great champion for earned sick leave, paid family leave. She was there when I had my 8-month-old at the bill signing. She was really supportive on making sure these policies were passed to protect working families,” says Yarrow Willman-Cole, of NJ Citizen Action.
And community leaders say that most importantly, Oliver really listened.
“It’s not every day that you meet a legislator that is kind, caring, compassionate and is just willing to talk to you,” says Willman-Cole.
Activists say that they hope to see more state leaders like Oliver who listen and have a heart for the communities across the state.


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