Commission gives Vespa-Papaleo its first Teasley Humanitarian Award in Freehold

Vespa-Papaleo accepts Humanitarian award

February 7, 2011
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Earl Teasley Humanitarian Award Meeting
Monmouth County Human Relations Commission presents its first annual Earl Thomas Teasley Humanitarian Award to J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, Esq., former director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights as well as an attorney in the N.J. Public Advocate's Office, during a meeting at the Agriculture Building in Freehold, Monday, February 7, 2011. Vespa-Papaleo, right, greets Earl Thomas Teasley's mother, Myrtle Miller, seated. Standing back, left to right, are Earl's family, Sisters, Melissa Teasley, of Philadelphia; Marguerete Teasley-Graves, of Cherry Hill, and Earl's niece, Danielle Graves, 20, of Elizabeth. / STAFF PHOTO: MARY FRANK

FREEHOLD Carrying the torch for the late Earl T. Teasley, Monmouth County's former Human Relations Commission chairman who died in 2010, was at the forefront of Frank Vespa-Papaleo's thoughts Monday, as he received the first Teasley Humanitarian Award from the commission.

"This is a bittersweet day, that Earl is not here, but it is a great honor," Vespa-Papaleo said. "It means a lot more work needs to be done to honor who Earl was, his tremendous work ethic and sincerity about human decency and equality."

Teasley was a guidance counselor and assistant professor at Brookdale Community College known for his gay rights activism and for his work with GLBT and other struggling students. Vespa-Papaleo, who worked as the state's civil rights director from 2002 to 2009, and in the public advocate's office until it closed last year, was presented with a hurricane candle holder with Teasley's name engraved, "as a recognition of the people that do shine a light, and allow other people's lights to shine," said commission vice chairwoman Linda Zucaro, of Tinton Falls, who led the committee that chose Vespa-Papaleo as the first recipient of the award.

"Frank really was head and shoulders above this year's crop. He is tireless in finding ways to help," she said.

Vespa-Papaleo, now a private-sector lawyer and professor at Montclair State University, worked with legislators last year to craft the anti-bullying law passed by Gov. Chris Christie in January. He also was a friend and colleague of Teasley's, who he said he tried to emulate in his civil rights work across the state.

"Earl was a gentle giant who could get much more done his way than I could my way, being loud," Vespa-Papaleo told the audience of 15 or so, who nodded and murmured in agreement. "His approach to conflict was to make everyone feel safe. He was inclusive but not just by saying it, but by really making it that way," Vespa-Papaleo said. Fellow commission members and friends of Teasley spoke of the dreadlocked 43-year-old's legacy during the meeting. Following the award ceremony, Vespa-Papaleo was congratulated by Teasley's mother, Myrtle Miller, who drove from Philadelphia for the ceremony.

Vespa-Papaleo lives with his husband and foster son in West Orange.

Colleen Curry: 732-308-7758;