CAMDEN, NJ — Names called out in prayer during a libation on the waterfront, and red, black and green Pan-African flags gliding through the air in a motorcade were just the preview for residents celebrating Juneeteenth in Camden on Friday.

The commemoration honors the day in 1865 when Union Major General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and informed the slaves of their emancipation — two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. 

“We all came together as a community to have a good time, no drama, no riots, no looting is happening here...just peace and love,” Taylor Crawford told TAPinto Camden.

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The 34-year-old originally from Camden traveled nearly ten miles from her new home in Maple Shade Township to join in the festivities that culminated at the Jerrothia Riggs Adult Education Center in Parkside. 

Two $500 scholarships were awarded to Big Picture Learning Academy Seniors graduating this Monday. 

A backdrop was also provided for attendees to take photos and approximately 3,000 water ices were handed out in a variety of flavors.

Thousands around the country paid tribute to Juneteenth on Friday with marches, peaceful outdoor gatherings and moments of public reflection — even in the midst of a global pandemic. 

“My city needed to be uplifted,” said Troy Still, who organized the event as children kicked about a soccer ball behind him. “There’s been so much negativity out there — whether it’s the politics, issues with police reforms, or shootings...two of which happened on my own block recently. I felt like I was responsible for bringing people together like this.”

A live band was also on hand, with performances from singer Joe Rivers and Camden’s own Arnetta Johnson — a trumpeter renowned far beyond the city limits.

Quiana Still, Troy’s wife, said the energy in the room was contagious.

That was evident as night began to set in: the band improvised a riff inviting anyone to take the mic, leading to some breaking out in dance and an impromptu freestyle from rapper Sol ChYld.

“All you saw was positivity...was people representing their heritage and making others want to join in,” said Still. 

School board member Nyemah Gillespie said it was noteworthy to also pay homage to Mangaliso Davis, the Camden Juneteenth Celebration Founder and Chairman, who is known for his legacy of activism in the city.

“It's important for us to embrace our culture in every way we can, because there are still certain struggles we’re in even today,” said Gillespie, whose dance academy is based at the center. “We want to make sure that we’re able to educate our people, since a lot of this — what Juneteenth really means [for instance] — isn’t really taught in the history books.”

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