Rutgers-Newark Center for Politics and Race in America Named in Honor of Late-NJ 
Lt. Governor Sheila Y. Oliver 

From Left, New Jersey Lt. Gov. Tanesha Way and James Jones, Co-Director of the Sheila Y. Oliver Center for Politics and Race in America, pose with a portrait of Oliver,
Nick Romanenko

The Center for Politics and Race in America was named in honor of the late-Lt. Gov. Sheila Y. Oliver, the first Black woman in New Jersey to hold statewide office, at a ceremony attended by Lt. Gov. Tahesha Way, Oliver’s family, members of the Sheila Y. Oliver Civic Association, and leaders from Johnson & Johnson.

A scholarship program, funded through a Johnson & Johnson charitable donation, was also announced. It will support the next generation of New Jersey public service leaders.

"It is my privilege to join Rutgers University officials to honor my dear friend and mentor, the late-Lt. Gov. Sheila Y. Oliver," said Lt. Gov. Way. "Sheila was and remains the epitome of what a true public servant should be; dedicated, compassionate, and filled with integrity. As we gather to launch Rutgers University-Newark’s Center for Politics and Race in America in her honor, I know she is sure to touch the many young people who will continue to build on the legacy of her passionate work."

The Center for Politics and Race in America, established last year with state funding, is a “fact tank” 
for research on the nation’s political life and a resource for underrepresented students seeking careers 
in government and public service. 

"Today, we proudly rename the Center of Politics and Race in America in honor of the late-
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, a trailblazer who fought tirelessly for justice and equality,’’ said James Jones, the center’s co-director. “Lt. Gov. Oliver's legacy will continue to inspire our center as we expand access to public service as a profession and promote research and public policy that confronts systemic inequalities.’’

To that end, New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson announced at the ceremony that it has made a charitable donation to fund the Lt. Gov. Sheila Y. Oliver Leadership Scholarship, part of the center’s Public Service Leadership Program at Rutgers School of Arts & Sciences–Newark.  The scholarship will provide four Rutgers-Newark students with stipends to participate in public service internships over the next five years.  The initial application process will be established and opened in the first half of 2024 with the first scholars awarded this Summer.

Johnson & Johnson has a long legacy of civil engagement within its home state throughout its 138-year history. The initiative highlights the company’s values of diversity, equity, and inclusion which fuel its pursuit to create a healthier, more equitable world.

“Lt. Gov. Oliver dedicated her life to public service and improving the lives of all New Jerseyans, especially those in underserved and marginalized communities. She was a trailblazer and continues to be an inspiration for so many,” said Vanessa Broadhurst, Johnson & Johnson’s Executive Vice President of Global Corporate Affairs . “Johnson & Johnson is proud to honor Lt. Gov. Oliver’s legacy of public service through the scholarship in her name to cultivate the next generation ‘Sheila Olivers’—well-rounded, passionate and driven public servants who represent the very best of New Jersey and the state’s rich diversity and culture.”

A Newark native, Oliver was the first African American woman in New Jersey history to hold statewide office when she was elected as the state’s second Lt. Governor in 2017 and re-elected in 2021. In addition to her role as Lt. Governor, she also served as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, leading state efforts to strengthen and expand initiatives for fair and affordable housing, community revitalization, homelessness prevention, and local government services that support New Jersey’s 564 municipalities. 

In 2010, Oliver became the first African American woman to serve as Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly and only the second in our nation’s history to lead a state legislative house. She died while in office as Lt. Governor on Aug. 1, 2023.

“While our family still mourns the loss of a beloved daughter, sister, aunt, cousin and friend, it brings us an immense amount of pride to see Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver’s legacy live on for centuries to come with the renaming of Rutgers University-Newark’s Center for Politics and Race in America, along with the Johnson & Johnson charitable donation to the  Lieutenant Governor  Sheila Y. Oliver Leadership Scholarship,” said Renee Oliver, Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver’s niece and President of the Sheila Y. Oliver Civic Association. “Aunt Sheila dedicated her heart and soul to her craft and serving those in need from all walks of life. On behalf of the entire Oliver Family, we truly believe that this fitting tribute will have a lasting impact on the next generation of public servants to come and that they will be inspired to invoke positive change in Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver’s honor.” 

Gov. Phil Murphy, who was not able to attend the event, shared a statement. "My dear friend and partner in government, the late, great Lt. Gov. Sheila Y. Oliver was a trailblazer whose legacy lives on in many ways. I am proud to see it continue with this fitting tribute as the Rutgers University-Newark’s Center for Politics and Race in America is named in her honor,’’ he stated. "Sheila’s work in New Jersey, especially in her community, has left a lasting impact on many folks who hold careers in public service. She was a mentor and role model to many, and this new honor will ensure that the legacy of her work lives on and continues to inspire young people seeking to make positive change in our state, nation's capital, and beyond."
A leading mission of the Center for Race and Politics in America, in addition to advancing research and political data analysis, is to diversify the field of young people who have access to opportunities in public service and politics, including internships on Capitol Hill, which often serve as stepping-stones to elected office and successful careers in the private sector. 

According to 2021 research from Center Co-director James Jones, Black and Latino students comprise 
15 and 20 percent of undergraduates but just seven percent and eight percent of paid Hill interns. 

The center will prepare others to follow in Oliver’s footsteps.

In a tribute video that was shown at the ceremony, an emotional Oliver, speaking after she was elected, declared: “This may not be the first glass ceiling I have broken, but it is certainly the highest. I hope that somewhere in this great state of New Jersey, a young girl of color is watching tonight and realizing that she does not have a limit to how high she can go.’’

Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor praised Oliver as a “shero.’’  

“Her vision and courage as a boundary-breaking leader were surpassed only by her compassion and her example as someone who fervently sought for our nation to live up to its promise. She embodied the principle of lifting as one climbs, which we saw time and again throughout her career as she engaged with our students, faculty, and staff to urge us forward in making educational opportunity a reality for all,’’ said Cantor. “I can think of no better enduring tribute to her at Rutgers-Newark than to name CPRA in her honor, and we couldn’t be more grateful to Johnson & Johnson for its investment in new generations of changemakers to emulate her.”

"As a daughter of Newark, Lt. Gov. Oliver's vision for political life was shaped by her experiences in Newark's public schools, her education at Lincoln University, a historically Black university, and Columbia University, an elite predominantly White university, and her work as an urban educator, as an activist and advocate. These are the settings and institutions that informed her understanding of the levers, power and possibilities of political engagement,'' said Jacqueline Mattis, co-director of the center and Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences-Newark. "She understood the complex ways that race intersects with other social identities including gender, class, sexuality, immigration status to influence all people's life outcomes, the attitudes that we all hold about the world around us, and our relationships with structures of power. It is fitting that this inclusive, non-partisan center is named in her honor."
At the ceremony, New Jersey State Sens. Teresa Ruiz and Britnee Timberlake read resolutions in honor of the center’s renaming and Johnson & Johnson’s gift.

About the Sheila Y. Oliver Center for Politics and Race in America

The center is a resource that rapidly disseminates high-quality data and faculty scholarship on race and politics at the national and state level–with a particular focus on New Jersey–and a place for cutting-edge training in political research methods and data analysis. It also seeks to diversify the field of young people who have access to careers in government and public service through paid internships and other programs. It is co-directed by Rutgers-Newark professor James Jones, a professor of Sociology and Africana Studies and a leading authority on congressional staff diversity, and Jacqueline Mattis, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences-Newark. More information about the center can be found at

About Rutgers University–Newark

Rutgers University–Newark (RU-N) is a diverse, urban, public research university that is an anchor institution in New Jersey’s cultural capital. It is exceptionally well positioned to fulfill higher education’s promise as an engine of discovery, innovation, and social mobility. It has a remarkable legacy of producing high-impact scholarship that is connected to the great questions and challenges of the world. It is in and of a city and region where its work on local challenges undertaken with partners from many sectors resonates powerfully throughout our urbanizing world. Most importantly, RU-N brings an incredible diversity of people to this work—students, faculty, staff, and community partners—making it more innovative, more creative, more engaging, and more relevant for our time and the times ahead.

About Sheila Y. Oliver Civic Association

The Sheila Y. Oliver Civic Association, is a private, non-profit, non-partisan charitable organization, committed to empowering underserved communities and educating and developing young women of color who are interested in government, public policy, and community organizing. Visit for more information.