Hudson County Community College Trustee Bakari Lee Receives M. Dale Ensign Trustee Leadership Award

October 25, 2023

The Association of Community College Trustees bestows its most distinguished and competitive award to one lay trustee in the United States.


October 25, 2023, Jersey City, NJ – Hudson County Community College (HCCC) Board of Trustees Vice Chair Bakari G. Lee, Esq., has become the face of exemplary community college leadership in the United States. For nearly two decades he has invested his time and energy to social advocacy, student success, innovation, diversity, and public service on local and national levels. As a result of his work, the College has bolstered retention and expanded opportunities for students to achieve their career and educational goals and fuel the regional economy. 

The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) recognized Vice Chair Lee with its highest honor, the prestigious M. Dale Ensign Trustee Leadership Award, at the national ACCT Leadership Congress Gala in Las Vegas. Nearly 2,000 ACCT attendees, including more than 50 trustees, students, faculty, and staff from New Jersey community colleges, and the HCCC delegation of 11 trustees, faculty, staff, and alumni attended the event. The ACCT bestows the annual award to one lay trustee nationally who has made significant contributions toward promoting America’s community college sector.

“What a fitting tribute to Bakari Lee’s years of service to HCCC, the New Jersey Council of County Colleges (NJCCC), and the national community college sector, including his previous service as Chair of the NJCCC and Chair of the ACCT Board of Directors,” said HCCC President Dr. Christopher Reber. “This is an exceedingly proud moment for Bakari and the HCCC family!  We congratulate Bakari and thank him for his legendary leadership.”


Rose Benavidez, ACCT Chair; Bakari G. Lee, Esq.; M. Dale Ensign, Namesake of the Trustee Leadership Award; and Jee Hang Lee, ACCT President and CEO.

Rose Benavidez, ACCT Chair; Bakari G. Lee, Esq.; M. Dale Ensign, Namesake of the Trustee Leadership Award; and Jee Hang Lee, ACCT President and CEO.

For more than 120 years, America’s community colleges have played a vital role in transforming lives by creating pathways to economic opportunity and financial security. Today, community colleges face a myriad of challenges such as funding issues, keeping apace of rapidly changing technologies, and, most importantly, developing the means to assist students in continuing and completing their studies. Community college trustees work with college administrators and staff, local and national government entities, and area industries to meet these challenges, and to ensure that opportunities abound for those who wish to pursue a community college education.

To qualify for the M. Dale Ensign Trustee Leadership Award, trustees must earn a Northeast Regional Trustee Leadership Award for their contributions in promoting the community college concept in their region. Five lay trustees, one from each region, are selected throughout the United States. Vice Chair Lee received the ACCT 2023 Northeast Regional Trustee Leadership Award in August, and as a result became a finalist for ACCT’s national honor, the M. Dale Ensign Trustee Leadership Award. M. Dale Ensign lived a lifetime of service to others, was a trustee at a community college in Wyoming, and ACCT’s founding Chair and third president.

Appointed to the HCCC Board of Trustees in 2006, Bakari Lee has helped facilitate the College’s growth and efforts to provide a diverse student body with the highest level of educational instruction. He has diligently advocated accessible, high-quality higher education and experiential learning programs for area residents, especially people of color. “Bakari Lee’s experience in community service predates his work as an HCCC Trustee. He has publicly stated that he believes involvement with the community is critically important. He believes in giving back without expecting anything in return,” Dr. Reber said.

William J. Netchert, Esq., HCCC Board of Trustees Chair, noted that he has worked alongside Bakari Lee to provide a myriad of resources and opportunities for all HCCC students to thrive. “As Vice Chair, Bakari has been my partner in growing the College and providing our diverse and ever-growing community with excellent instruction in top-of-the-line facilities,” Chairman Netchert stated. “He is held in high esteem by the Board, the HCCC family, and our community, and is truly deserving of this honor.”

Bakari Lee credits his late father, Dr. Gerard W. Lee, Jr., a civil rights and community leader who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as the catalyst for his own dedication to community service. As an HCCC Trustee, he is a member of several committees, a frequent presenter at the HCCC Teaching and Learning Symposia on Social Justice in Higher Education, and a founding member of the HCCC President’s Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (PACDEI), among other initiatives.

Bakari Lee also served as Chair of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges (NJCCC) from 2011 to 2014. During his tenure as NJCCC Chair, the New Jersey Center for Student Success and the Big Idea Project were established, and legislation was passed for the Building Our Future Bond Act, an enhanced New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Rewards Scholarship (NJ STARS), and in-county tuition for undocumented students. He also made it a point to attend the commencements of the then 19 community colleges throughout the State of New Jersey, and he served as the commencement speaker at Bergen Community College, Warren County Community College, and Atlantic Cape Community College, which bestowed upon him an honorary Associate of Arts degree.

Additionally, Bakari Lee was the National Chair of the ACCT Board of Directors, playing an influential role in the establishment of student success programs, advocating increased funding and tuition stabilization, and working to ensure equal educational opportunities for all. In that capacity, he created the ACCT Student Trustee Advisory Committee; established Trustee Advisory Committee and Constituency Groups (trustees from African American, Latino, Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Native American communities) reporting at board meetings; and led the completion of ACCT’s first strategic plan.

The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) is a non-profit educational organization of governing boards, representing more than 6,500 elected and appointed trustees who govern over 1,200 community, technical, and junior colleges in the United States and beyond. These community professionals, business officials, public policy leaders, and leading citizens offer their time and talent to serve on the governing boards of this century's most innovative higher education institutions—community, junior, and technical colleges—and make decisions that affect more than 1,200 colleges and over 11 million students annually. “The voice of community college leaders,” ACCT brings its members together to address challenges and help students succeed through advocacy and education.