Essex County Commissioner A’Dorian Murray-Thomas Incredibly Accomplished and Just Getting Started

Simply catching up with A’dorian Murray-Thomas feels like a grand accomplishment. The newly-elected county commissioner is also CEO of the non-profit She Wins, Inc. Between her duties for the county, mentoring young girls, and taking local Newark students to Seton Hall basketball games, Murray-Thomas’ days, nights, and weekends fill up quickly with commitments she prides herself on keeping. At a game last December she said, “In many communities, basketball and other sports save lives. (She played lacrosse in college.) It is my hope that attending these games will inspire and motivate young people not just to play sports, but to attend college. Playing sports in schools and in your community creates direct pathways to college admission that disproportionately benefit Black and brown and low in come students. Education is always one of the greatest equalizers.”

Who She Is

A Newark native, Murray-Thomas understands the importance of education, as well as the challenges local youngsters face daily. Touched by tragedy with the death of her father due to gun violence at 7 years old, A’Dorian went through a period of falling grades and acting out. Her family members rallied to help her acknowledge and process her loss, anger, and confusion. She reflected, “When you’re in the middle of something traumatic, you don’t always really know it. The mind and the body don’t exactly fully comprehend what they’re experiencing until afterward. I remember feeling so low, like no one understood, and feeling so isolated.” I asked what she would say to her younger self now if she had the chance. “What I’d say to seven-year-old A’Dorian is that you’re not alone at all. You’re certainly not as alone as you think. And one day, one day you will be able to make use of your pain. I’m reminded of this quote by Audre Lord that I’ll paraphrase, but essentially, she said your areas of difference and then also even your sources of suffering. can be the greatest source of your power.”

Things turned around and A’Dorian was soon accepted to a private boarding school, and eventually Swarthmore College. She realized how important having someone in her corner was to her progress and success. Determined to be that person for other girls and young women dealing with similar situations, that’s when her mentoring program, She Wins, Inc., was born. “I don’t have kids, but I got a lot of kids,” Murray-Thomas chuckled. “I just feel like a proud auntie all the time. They’re doing incredible things in their community. They’re organizing for racial equity on college campuses and organizing for gender and racial equity and early childhood literacy in this city. These are young women who aren’t just scholars, they’re servants and leaders; and we just feel really thrilled to be a footnote in these really incredible journeys and stories.”

What She Does

Prior to her turn as county commissioner, at the tender age of 23, Murray-Thomas served as the youngest member ever elected to the Newark Board of Education. Moving on from that position was not an easy choice for her. “When an opportunity came to work for the county commission, it was a big decision because I felt like I was losing in the moment. I felt like I was leaving behind young people who I had fought so hard for.” But after speaking with her mentor, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, and praying about the opportunity, she decided to move forward. “What I came to understand was that I wasn’t leaving young folks; I was actually going to work on their behalf in their communities, from multiple lanes versus just one lane… And running for the county commission wasn’t a betrayal. It was actually an expansion of the work that I had already been doing. And in fact, it may even enhance it by being able to not only serve young people from multiple angles, but serve young people from multiple communities battling and struggling with some of the same issues.”

Murray-Thomas said her deep faith informs her work and every other area of her life. “I was raised by a praying grandmother who, when I went to school, would send me handwritten letters with scriptures and prayers… And so I know that I literally wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for the faith and prayers, for the labor of my grandmother— of my mother who said, ‘You will go to school, you’re going to do well in school. And you’re going to be of the church, you’re going to speak at Easter, recite verses.’” She continued, “It’s been through faith. It’s also been through church spaces like St. James AME, where I was born and raised in Newark; Bethany Baptist, where I currently serve as director of Youth Services. I’m also a master of Divinity student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. I understand faith and the idea that you have to work for a purpose higher than yourself. It has to be about something higher than yourself.”

In addition to her faith and work, Murray-Thomas cherishes her family. As if presciently bonding her more deeply to them, her parents were thoughtful and purposeful in naming her. “My mom’s brother actually had just passed away, he was Darren. Her great-grandmother was Dora. They both said Dorian because they felt like it was a good homage to that. But then added ‘A’ to it to make it different. That’s where it kind of came from. It’s a name in honor of the folks who’ve come before me, but also creating something a little different moving forward.”

When not advocating for the people of Newark, Murray-Thomas spends time with friends and family. She and her mom go to Zumba classes, she and her friends go to concerts and dancing. “I feel like I have family and support everywhere and I have friends and family who tell me, ‘Alright, it’s time to you know, take a pause on the meetings or take a pause on the events the conferences, etc.’”

Where She’s Going

Wherever Newark is heading, A’Dorian Murray-Thomas is going, too. She’s not going alone. She’s bringing with her the next generation of Newarkers who love their city, are committed to public service, and will do great things in their community, just as A’Dorian did. As an African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.” A’Dorian Murray-Thomas is definitely going far.

Editor’s Note: We first met A’Dorian 10 years ago when she won an essay contest we ran in conjunction with our 15th Anniversary. She spoke at our celebratory gala, read her essay, and blew the audience away. Everyone there knew she was a young woman who would do great things. She is recognized locally as a powerhouse, and received national attention when she was chosen as a Glamour magazine College Woman of the Year. To say the least, we are extremely proud of her.