OLEAN, NY -- On the last day of June, it was 85 degrees and hot and sticky. Della Moore wiped the sweat off her brow as she began the opening remarks for the Juneteenth celebration that the African American Center for Cultural Development has sponsored for the last eight years,.
Approximately 20 people sat in their lawn chairs listening to Moore, the center's director, talk passionately about how the Olean community supported the center through the closing of its most recent home.
“You know what we say: When one door closes another one opens,” Moore said. “Places have opened their doors to us. So many wonderful places have.”
Moore named Raymour & Flanigan, Four Mile Brewing and local congregations that have allowed members to celebrate, to congregate and to raise money for a new center in the future.
She said that funds from events held throughout the past year will be used to establish a new home for the center in the former Church of Christ, Scientist, at 201 E. State St.. The center plans to rent space from the owner, Olean Alderman Kevin Dougherty. The building is under consideration for state Downtown Revitalization Initiative funds.
The Juneteenth celebration was the main fundraiser for the center's new home. Also known as Freedom Day, Juneteenth commemorates the delayed announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas. The holiday is recognized in 45 states, New York among them. Olean Mayor William Aiello presented a proclamation to Moore, recognizing June 30 as “Juneteenth in Olean."
Moore closed her opening remarks with a resounding “God bless you all” and jumped straight into work. Her sister Carol handle the money for food and 50/50 tickets while simultaneously hugging and personally greeting everyone who came into her view.
Moore’s sweat and tears were the fuel behind the 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. celebration, which started with a drum circle and speeches by the Twin Tiers Writers.
Before the St. Bonaventure Blues Ensemble took the stage, their drummer, Martin McCall, gave a speech about his family’s past, from slavery to the present day. McCall, a veteran, military recruiter and member of the Praise Team at Trinity United Methodist Church, talked about the positivity and character of his family. He discussed that bias and racism are not something people are born with, but something children learn. He asked the audience to show children better and teach them a better way.
Those gathered responded with countless "amens."
McCall then rejoined the Blues Ensemble. Comprised of Danny Wood, Ronnie Magnano, Mike Manross, McCall, Steve Capitani, Tim Bush, and Dorsie John, the ensemble was rounded out by none other than Della Moore, who sported “bluesy" outfits for the high-energy concert and even wore a longsleeve shirt in the sweltering heat.
“I had to start to improv during the second song, asking people to bring the band water,” said Moore.
The heat stayed around for the last round of events. Ola Mae Gayton, a center founder, gave a moving speech about Sojourner Truth. Gayton cooked and served during the event. Rounding out the entertainment list was the Rev. Wesley Gilbert.
Moore said that the event did very well, but did not raise as much money as in earlier years. She blamed the heat and other events scheduled in the area for the dip in funds.
“Every little bit counts, a lot of history was shared, and I was grateful to be part of it,” Moore said. “No matter what, no matter who speaks, there is always something to learn."
She added that the center plans to hold a Juneteenth celebration on the last Saturday in June every year.
“ I am so thankful for the small community that comes out and supports the event every year,” Moore said. “It warms my heart.”