Over a three-day period, some of the capital city’s most determined organizations and volunteer groups are teaming together to celebrate Juneteenth and transform Trenton into a central hub for diversity and entertainment. The celebration, which begins Friday, June 18 and continues through Sunday, June 20, is made possible by The African American Cultural Collaborative of Mercer County (AACCofMC), in partnership with the New Jersey Legislative District 15 (Senator Shirley K. Turner, Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli and Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds Jackson) and the Outdoor Equity Alliance.
“Juneteenth is a celebration of the emancipation of enslaved people in America. It is a time where Americans are meant to acknowledge the atrocities of the country’s past, celebrate the advancements of the Black community, and work toward a better, more equal future,” Syeda Khaula Saad from Bustle.
“If the cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. Because the goal of America is freedom, abused and scorned tho’ we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“It’s a truly collaborative event,” said Latarsha Burke, CEO of AACCofMC. “At the local level, the county level, the state level – everyone is involved in seeing that Juneteenth is successful.”
Trenton will kick off the Juneteenth celebration with an opening ceremony at the Trenton War Memorial on Friday, June 18. This exclusive, invite-only event begins at 5:00 p.m. with a drum call by local musicians, as well as a libation ceremony conducted by Nationally Certified Health Coach, Sa Mut Angela Scott of Mama Yoga Wellness.
A welcoming speech and acknowledgment of sponsors will follow shortly after from AACCofMC’s own Public Relations Chair, Helen Jones Walker. Local community members will provide an overview of the history of Juneteenth followed by a few words from the event’s presenting sponsors – Wells Fargo and St. Francis Medical Center – as well as NJ’s Legislative District 15, Mayor W. Reed Gusciora and a number of county officials.
The night will come to a close by 9:00 p.m. with a cultural performance from the Universal African Dance & Drum Ensemble. AACCofMC expects to see about 125 attendees at the Juneteenth opening ceremony, complete with light dinner, music and networking opportunities.
“We’re excited to be one of the many sponsors of this important event along with many of our board member organizations including Wells Fargo, St. Francis Medical Center, NJM Insurance, Thomas Edison State University (TESU), Capital Health, Princeton Area Community Foundation (PACF) as well as others including Wegmans, Berkshire Bank, Robert Wood Johnson, Henry J. Austin, African American Chamber of Commerce, Mercer County Education Association, and Bank of America,” said George Sowa, Greater Trenton CEO. “This significant celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States is particularly meaningful after such a challenging year of social unrest across the nation.”
By Saturday, June 19, the Juneteenth celebration will open up to all county residents. The day’s activities will be spread across three separate stages in Trenton; The Legacy Stage, The Healthy Living Stage and The Mill Hill Park Stage.
At the Mill Hill park stage, the main event stage, a full line-up of local artists and performers are set to entertain the city throughout the day. Featured artists such as The Amazin Grace & GLB, Showtime, violinist Brooke Alford, The James White Band, bassist Gerald Veasley and more will warm the stage before a headlining performance by jazz musician Marcus Johnson.
That same day in Mill Hill park, at the amphitheater, the AACCofMC has organized a children’s storytelling event in what the organization calls their literacy village. There, young children will have the opportunity to hear unique stories written by local authors of color.
“My goal is to have local Black children authors not only present books during this step storytelling component, but they’ll be able to sell their books and give away books to the children,” said Burke. “We are looking to give away at least 500 to 700 books to the children free of charge.”
According to Burke, Senator Shirley K. Turner, who’s a strong advocate for literacy, has joined on this committee and is working closely with the organization to help bring the literacy village to life. Additionally, a group of volunteers from Artworks Trenton will assist the literacy village with arts and crafts and face paints.
“There’s so much going on in the literacy village that maybe we need a literacy festival next year, or something like that. [We can] do something on a larger scale around children’s authors, and books, and book giveaways, and storytelling, and poetry and things of that sort,” said Burke. “So, this may be the start of something bigger to come.”
Outside of Mill Hill park, on downtown Warren street, between E State street and Lafayette street, is the Legacy Stage, where young adults will gain knowledge on the inner-workings of event planning and community planning.
“The Legacy Stage, for me, was an opportunity for our young adults to become more involved in what’s going on in the community,” said Burke. “We recruited some young folks, about 25 to 30 [people], and we’re actually working with them and showing them how to put together an event.”
A group of volunteers working on the Legacy Stage Committee have organized a mix of events and activities for the community to enjoy during the celebration. At the Legacy Stage, there will be young hip-hop dancers, the Cavaliers drill team, a fitness dance instructor, poetry readings, spiritual music, the Afro-Brazilian drumming team Batala and a community discussion about the impact of gun violence on the city. The Legacy Stage will celebrate from 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Just a short walk around the corner, on Lafayette street, between Barracks street and Warren street, attendees will find the Healthy Living Stage – the third and final stage for celebratory events on Saturday, June 19. There, a group of volunteers and organizations will assist the community with multiple activities and lessons for a full-fledged crash-course on getting active and living a healthy life.
Sa Mut Angela Scott of Mama Yoga Wellness will return to share her knowledge with the city. The Trenton Health Team will be present to teach line dancing and host obstacle courses. Joining the fun is the Capital Area YMCA and Isles inc. to assist with other activities such as yoga, aroma therapy, natural skincare, a gardening demo, an action bound scavenger hunt, head wrapping for men and women and much more.
The Healthy Living Stage will also focus on mental health and mind-body balance. Discussions around healing sexual trauma and generational wealth will be held, as well as a number of holistic approaches to health, including Reiki healing and the use of crystals.
To close off the three day celebration, the community will return to Mill Hill park on Sunday, June 20 for a gospel choir performance at the main stage. The concert will begin at noon and run until 6:00 p.m. Host Craig Hayes will welcome The Bishop’s Choir, Yolonda Briggs, Nikki Rochelle and headlining group JVR. The evening of music will wrap up the long, Juneteenth weekend of celebrations.
“I’m so proud of the Culture Collaborative because they are very invested, and as the executive director, I couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t have a great team of people around me, who supported me and lifted me up when I needed to be lifted up,” said Burke. “We’re not only an organization, we’re a team, we’re a family; and I think that shows in how we work to bring great things to the community.”
As one of the biggest celebrations in the city since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Burke and the AACCofMC are beyond thrilled to bring the community together to support the local businesses and organizations in the city.
“With COVID, it was very difficult for families in general. It hit our communities hard, it hit our small businesses hard, and I’m just happy that we’re having this event with the business downtown,” said Burke, “Businesses downtown like The Big Easy, Hummingbird, Downtown Deli, 1911 Smokehouse, Arlee’s, Starbucks, all of those businesses hung in there through this pandemic, and to be able to bring an event like this downtown to support them and uplift them is very important.”
She continued, “If we bring all of these amazing people together, all these amazing community organizations, all of these amazing officials at the local, county and state level, we can do phenomenal events in Trenton. I think we just got to keep pushing forward.”
Special thanks to The African American Cultural Collaborative of Mercer County Juneteenth Celebration sponsors – Wells Fargo, St. Francis Medical Center, NJM Insurance, Thomas Edison State University (TESU), Wegmans, Berkshire Bank, Robert Wood Johnson, Capital Health, Henry J. Austin, African American Chamber of Commerce, Mercer County Education Association, Greater Trenton, Bank of America and Princeton Area Community Foundation (PACF).