NORTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Nearly 300 residents from North Plainfield and the surrounding community along with special guests from throughout the area gathered together Feb. 19 for a 'Celebration of Black History.' Held at the North Plainfield Community Center, the three-hour event - themed ‘Honoring Our Past, Inspiring Our Future’ - featured music, dance and spoken word.
“The Black History Month event was a huge success, and exceeded all expectations. I believe the attendance might have been a record-breaking number for the community center,” said North Plainfield Councilwoman and event organizer Keiona Miller.
In planning the Celebration of Black History, Miller, the first Black American to be elected to the North Plainfield Borough council, said the goal was to ‘create an opportunity for the community to coalesce its brightest talents, and to call on its best personal reserves to help cultivate a culture of knowledge and understanding that will strengthen the bonds of solidarity across the racial and cultural lines that have so markedly divided us as Americans for so many generations.’
“The entire community was represented; our youth and elders, our schools and churches, Republicans and Democrats along with various races and cultural groups,” Miller added. “I couldn't be any more proud of the community and pleased with the program and wish to thank everyone who attended.”
Special guest speakers included Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-10th L.D.), who delivered an informative and spirited yet light-hearted keynote address; North Plainfield High School Principal Dr. Jerard Stephenson; and Shanel Pullings-Robbinson, first vice president of the Somerset County Democratic Committee Black Caucus.
Representatives from the borough as well as Somerset, Middlesex and Union counties were also present, including North Plainfield Mayor Michael Giordano, Jr., North Plainfield Police Chief William Parenti, Middlesex County Freeholder Kenneth Armwood, Union County Freeholder Linda Carter, Somerset County Democratic Committee Chair Peg Schaffer, Warren Township Mayor Carolann Garafola, West African Community Foundation Chair Foday Mansaray;and Franklin Township Councilmembers Charles Onyejiaka and Shanel-Pullings-Robbinson.
“I was honored to have been a part of this past weekend’s Black History Month Celebration and to welcome so many from other communities to our borough,” said Mayor Giordano.
Other special guests included Willa Cofield, an 88–year-old social justice activist who was honored; Ingrid Hill, vice chair of New Jersey People’s Organization for Progress; Sharon Robinson-Briggs, the first female and first African American female to be elected as mayor of the City of Plainfield; and Micheleen Dashield, dean of multicultural affairs at the Paul Robeson Institute.
“During the event, we were reminded that that Paul Robeson, the great civil rights leader and political thinker, hailed from right here in Somerset County,” said Miller.
Throughout the afternoon celebration, there were also performances by the Central Jersey Community Chorale, the Royal Priesthood of the North Stelton AME Liturgical Dance Ministries and both the North Plainfield High School (NPHS) Choir and Step Team as well as pianist Quinn DeGeneste, soloist Erika Staley-Williams, and 10-year old orator Rhyan Brown, who, according to Miller, ‘reminded us why we observe February as Black History Month.’
“I also wish to extend special thanks to all the entertainers, including the North Plainfield High School Choir and the Step Team for their fantastic performances,” said Mayor Giordano.
Additionally, the North Plainfield community was represented, with members of numerous borough organizations on hand, including but not limited to the North Plainfield Citizens for Community Rights (NPCCR), the Optimist Club, the North Plainfield-chartered Beta Alpha Rho Zeta chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, and the Girl Scouts as well as Joel Biggers, newly installed pastor of Watchung Avenue Presbyterian Church.
“Politically, New Jersey has made a very strong contribution by sending Cory Booker to Washington, D.C. where he serves as one of only two African Americans in the U.S. Senate. Also, let’s not forget, that it was here in New Jersey, that President Barack Obama introduced his design for the Affordable Care Act [and] that our keynote speaker Donald Payne Jr. is the second African American in New Jersey history to hold a congressional seat succeeding his father Congressman,” said Miller, adding that New Jersey also gave the world some of the greatest African American entertainers and musical artists of the 20th Century, including Whitney Houston, Wayne Shorter, Cozy Cole and Count Basie, ‘just to name a few.’
“With less than two weeks left in the month I encourage everyone to take a look at the contributions that were made by African Americans from New Jersey,” said Miller, sharing the following words of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American on the U.S. Supreme Court: "In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute."
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