PLAINFIELD, NJ — Along with people across the nation who observed Juneteenth, Plainfield residents marked the 155th Anniversary of when word that they were free reached slaves in Galveston, TX. A bipartisan bill, introduced Thursday by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of the Lone Star State, could help make Juneteenth a Federal holiday.
Young folks in the Queen City, galvanized by the recent Black Lives Matter protests demanding reform, gathered Friday between Church and Front streets. An impressive lineup of speakers, who called for racial justice, economic independence, and overall unity, were on hand.
Shedisha Orphee-Kerr, the main event coordinator, had attended the marches and wanted to keep the momentum going from the protests. One of the main objectives is to establish a community youth center. She hopes to build upon the event and have an even larger Juneteenth celebration and parade in years to come.
Background DJ music, drumming, an African dance performance, and spoken word by Myra, entertained the crowd before the lineup of speakers.
Noble Julz Olayinka Hamilton, one of the organizers of the event, started with a prayer and ceremonial pouring of water to honor ancestors. “This is to activate you. We must unite if we are going to fight. It’s a new day and it’s our problem.” She urged the youth to reconstruct the system, stating that, “We are not ancestors of slaves; we are ancestors of mathematicians, architects, doctors, engineers.”
Norman Deen Mohammed, a member of Plainfield’s Anti-Violence Coalition and one of the organizers of the June 6 Black Lives Matter protest, urged youth to be familiar with local history, including Plainfield’s Drake House, where Isaac Drake had four slaves who were freed in 1759 and 1769.
(In 2017, the Union County Freeholders history trading cards featured Caesar, a slave of Isaac Drake, who was freed in 1769. During the Revolutionary War, he was a teamster who drove supply wagons to troops stationed at the Blue Hills Fort and Camp in Plainfield in what is now Union County’s Green Brook Park.)
City Council President and At-Large candidate Steve Hockaday said he was looking forward to "an economic Juneteenth.”
He added, “We need to build and take care of our own communities. We need to restart the work of rebuilding. We need to create our own economies and our own brands to gain economic liberation.”
Dr. Akil Kokayi Khalfani, Director of the Africana Institute and Associate Professor of Sociology at Essex County College and author of The Hidden Debate: The Truth Revealed about the Battle over Affirmative Action in South Africa and the United States, delivered a moving speech stating that “none of us are free until all of us are free.” We need a new way of thinking and a new way of doing,” said Dr. Khalfani. “Young people need to step up to the plate and become leaders. I won’t be here forever and it's time to pass the baton.”
Council At-Large candidate Robert Graham recalled his own experience of being shot at age 22, and relayed how it impacted his life. He urged young people to vote and run for office, saying, “politics is not a game, bullying is not a game. Don’t wait until you are 30 to vote.”
Tormel Pittman, a local grassroots advocate who was instrumental in organizing several marches, told the crowd, “You have changed the dynamic of the country by the past few weeks. You have the ability to speak for yourself.”
Kalani Mackson, a local Plainfield visionary filmmaker, took to the mic, saying, “I am disappointed by our country and the state of our minds. Why are we asking for so little? We should be asking for more, we need to be involved. Now is the time. We are electrified, and we are awake, so let’s ask for more.”
The rally wrapped up with a short open mic session, allowing for some attendees to voice their feelings and express their frustrations with the current racial environment.
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