“It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or white, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American, or young or old or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight, you deserve the opportunity to make it in America,” said civil-rights attorney Clare Geller at the American Conference on Diversity Atlantic County chapter Annual Humanitarian Awards Dinner to a packed audience of government officials, lawyers, law-enforcement leaders, educators, and other dignitaries.

Presented at the Atlantic City Country Club on December 6, Geller’s moving “Modern Civil Rights” keynote address was inspired in part by President Obama’s election and her own personal experiences growing up in South Jersey. There, she attended Atlantic City High School and was exposed to a life-changing program made possible by the American Conference on Diversity. Called Operation Friendship, our organization co-sponsored a trip for six African-American and six Jewish students to Senegal, Africa, and Israel “to learn about common bonds in our respective histories and to forge greater understanding and shared diversity goals born form these common experiences,” Geller said.

Geller went on to clerk for the Honorable James Giles, Chief Judge of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, before joining the civil-rights division as an honors attorney in 2002. Her experience working on numerous lawsuits alleging that state or local governments have unlawfully discriminated against employees on the basis of race, religion, sex, and national origin enlightened the audience of more than 100 who came to honor this year’s award recipients:

► Virginia A. Gormley dedicated her life to positively impacting those around her. Her lengthy career includes serving as director of Child Health and Wellness for AtlantiCare Foundation, division manager for the Family Part of Superior Court of New Jersey, Atlantic-Cape May, and working for the New Jersey Department of Corrections Juvenile Services. Currently, she volunteers with the Shirley Mae Breast Cancer Fund and is a member of the Downbeach Juvenile Conference Committee, the AtlantiCare Art Committee, and the Atlantic City Friends of Music. Along with her dog, Harley, Gormley is a certified pet therapist who regularly visits area nursing homes. She has also volunteered with the ESL program of Literacy Volunteers of America and served on the board of the American Red Cross of Atlantic County.

► Rabbi Aaron Krauss has been the spiritual leader at Beth El Synagogue in Margate, NJ, for nearly three decades. Previously, he served at the Community Synagogue in Atlantic City and was a Navy Chaplain with the Third Marine Division. Rabbi Krauss is also the founder and first chairman (1964 -1968) of the Greater Atlantic City Human Relations Forum, dedicated to breaking barriers and giving a voice to underrepresented and low-income populations in Atlantic City for better housing, jobs, and education. The organization is credited for bringing Head Start, the Neighborhood Youth Corps, and Cape Atlantic Legal Services to the area. It was also critically instrumental in creating what’s now known as the Martin Luther King Center, a community support and services facility. In addition, Rabbi Krauss secured a seed grant for senior-citizen housing, which helped build the 300-plus Community Haven apartment complex, and he provided support for the much-needed four-year Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Galloway.

“The American Conference on Diversity lights a candle in the midst of darkness so we can see ourselves and appreciate diversity,” said Rabbi Krauss.

► Patrick & Diane Tucker McKoy believe strongly in the need to give back to the community. Throughout Patrick’s 30-year career in the casino gaming industry and continuing today, he has remained actively involved in worthy organizations, including serving as audit committee chair and sitting on the development committee of the Alzheimer’s Association Delaware Valley Chapter. Since 1984, Patrick has been affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America Jersey Shore Council. He also supports in various capacities the following: Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City, the Miss America Organization, AtlantiCare Health Plans, the United Way of Atlantic County as well as the Rowan University Foundation.

Diane has been equally engaged within the community, volunteering with various youth organizations while working for Deloitte & Touche in Philadelphia. Today, while maintaining her private accounting practice, Diane is in her second term as president of the Atlantic Cape Community College Foundation. In addition, she serves as vice president of The Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City as well as vice president of The New Jersey Shore Arts Association. Other diverse organizations Diane dedicates her time and skills to: The Links Atlantic City Chapter, the Atlantic County Advisory Commission on Women, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Jack and Jill of America, the Girl Scouts of USA, among other youth-focused groups.

What attendees said about the Humanitarian Awards Dinner:

“Great honorees, a fantastic speaker…and a wonderful address by the American Conference on Diversity President and CEO Elizabeth Williams-Riley.”

–Eric Reynolds, Atlantic County chapter chair and vice president of community and employment initiatives at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa

“It was such a wonderful evening. I hope the American Conference on Diversity continues to raise lots of funds for programs that unite all people. Thank you for all that the organization does.”

–Diane Tucker McKoy

In addition to an entertaining musical performance by Atlantic City Friends of Music students, the event included a silent auction with gift baskets and tickets to local events from the following donors: Atlantic County Country Club, Bay Atlantic Symphony, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa (benefactor), Community Quest, Inc., Linda & Jonathan Diego, McCullough’s Emerald Links, Alyce Parker, Rowan University, and Zapatha.

Sponsors of the Atlantic County Humanitarian Awards include Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, DLA Piper, Caesers Atlantic City, The Gormley Family, Roy and Joanne Goldberg.

For a list of past Humanitarian Award recipients statewide, please visit http://www.americanconferenceondiversity.org/documents/Fo….

About the American Conference on Diversity

The programs, services, and initiatives of the American Conference on Diversity are among the most important work focused on creating a more inclusive society. It is the unfinished business of living in a highly diverse nation: educating and empowering our next generation of leaders; enhancing our workplaces; and helping to create inclusive communities. The American Conference on Diversity builds on a historic mission and creates programs and activities relevant and vital to 21st Century life. It is a journey we can all take together. The American Conference on Diversity operates eight chapters to help us to educate and empower leaders and bring our messages of inclusion and respect to communities throughout New Jersey: Atlantic County Chapter, Bayonne Chapter, Central Jersey Chapter, Essex County Chapter, Greater Bergen Chapter, Hudson County Chapter, Jersey Shore Chapter, and Mercer County Chapter. Visit www.AmericanConferenceonDiversity.org to learn more.