PATERSON, NJ - Dozens of local officials, community leaders, and residents gathered in front of City Hall on Friday, February 1 to mark the start of Black History Month and celebrate the raising of the African American Flag. Clad in winter coats, gloves, and scarves to battle subfreezing temperatures, attendees witnessed the red, black, and green flag raised as a symbol of eternal struggle.
The formal function continued in city council chambers, marked by the processional of honor guards from both the Paterson Fire and the Paterson Police Department.
After announcing the event’s theme, Black Migrations: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, Paterson’s City Clerk Sonia L. Gordon introduced City Councilwoman and Reverend Dr. Lilisa Mimms for the invocation.
Saying that the event was a “great place to be” City Council President Maritza Davila added that “since the founding of our nation African Americans have worked tirelessly to build a legacy worthy of praise, honor, and distinction.”
“This is the 1st of February, the first day of Black History Month but every day is Black History Day,” Davila concluded before introducing her colleague, Councilman Michael Jackson, who served as the Master of Ceremony for the event.
With his powerful oration eliciting many amens and hallelujahs from the crowd, and numerous standing ovations from the overflow crowd, Rev. Dr. Weldon McWilliams, IV, pastor of Christ Temple Baptist Church, didn’t disappoint in his role as keynote speaker.
Making specific reference to the role of women in the civil rights movement McWilliams referenced America’s inhumane history and proclaimed that “our ancestors’ condition as slaves did not define them, our ancestors defied limitations."
“We are declaring that our lives matter. Your life is worth fighting for. I’m proud to be black. I won’t turn around,” he declared triumphantly challenges other to join him in a continued fight for progress.
The event also paid special tribute to 10 Paterson city employees for their honorable community and public service, each presented with beautifully framed plaques to commemorate the day.
Among these was Fritzner Origene, a long time member of the city’s Department of Public Works who encouraged those in attendance to study the history of his native country, Haiti.
Assistant Tax Collector Jennean Jordan-Gadsen was given the Shirley Chisholm award while Sabrina Robinson Curry, a secretary for the City Council offered her praise to God and expressed gratitude for her opportunity to serve as a pastor.
One of the longest-serving city employees is Crystal Kline who was recognized for her 29 years helping local children at the city’s public libraries.
Bilal Hakeem, also an employee of the Department of Works, and one of the champions of the efforts to reclaim Barbour Park for the community, stressed that African Americans and all humanity should stand together.
Helen Louise Kennedy was recognized for her service to the Paterson under six mayors since 2000 and Keva George, introduced as “a vital part of the Department of Public Works for years,” stated simply “I love my job.”
Gwendolyn Bynum-Schultz has been employed at the DPW for 13 years, while Tamika Wiggins, who works for the city’s Department of Recreation has served residents, and seven mayors, since she was just 21.
Paterson’s public safety officials were also well represented at the ceremony with Herman Irving, a veteran of the Paterson Fire Department since 2006, and Paterson Police Sergeant Kevin O’Neil who was also recognized for his past military service.
Special performances during the program included Paterson’s Poet Laureate Talena Lachelle Queen who both sang and quoted her moving composition, Crossing the River, and skilled drummer Victor Moore who provided an upbeat performance.
“The African American struggle is our struggle,” Councilman Al Abdelaziz declared summarizing the long road to long road to freedom for the people whose migration to America began in 1619 as indentured servants to the original colonies. “We need to recognize the real people who have paved the real path for us.”
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