This weekend, a series of events in downtown Bloomfield will celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the emancipation of four million enslaved Black people following the U.S. Civil War.
Here’s the schedule of events (The article continues below.):
- June 18, 6 p.m., Roundtable: The Past, Present, and Future of Juneteenth
Join the Bloomfield Commission on Civil Rights to discuss the history and future Black emancipation in our community. Register to attend in person. Catch the live stream on Facebook here.
- June 19, 10 a.m. Ceremony and march from Bloomfield High School
Join township and school officials to mark Juneteenth and march with the Essex-Union Marching Band in a solidarity walk to Bloomfield College.
- June 19, 12 p.m., GiveBack Hair Show’s festival on Washington St.
Learn about Black history and celebrate Bloomfield’s Black community at a festival spanning two blocks of Bloomfield Center, including a pop-up museum, bounce house, free kids’ haircut raffles, live art, food, and more.
It will be the town’s first Juneteenth celebration and marks a significant – if symbolic – milestone for the area’s Black residents. Two of them are Medina Wingo and Diamond Wyche, Bloomfield High School graduates and organizers of the festival happening Saturday that’s the cornerstone of the weekend’s events.
“My first friend [in kindergarten] was a Caucasian girl,” Wingo said. “And her friend told her, ‘You can’t be friends with her. She’s Black.'”
“I went through stuff like that growing up as a kid [and] here I am almost 30, and I still remember it,” Wingo said. “So to now have an event like this, where we can celebrate African American culture in a place where we were not celebrated before, is pretty monumental.”
“This is going to be a one-of-a-kind event for Bloomfield,” Wyche said, highlighting the pop-up museum that will take over a vacant Washington St. storefront, a kids’ play area with free haircut raffles, live art and sculpting, and educational classes.
“This is more than just a market. More than just a vending opportunity,” said Wyche. “This will be a full experience: education, family, love and just to show that there’s more to [the Black community] than these things that are in the media. We’re really showing our heart in this event.”
Wingo and Wyche’s idea for a Juneteenth block party was sparked by a New Year’s vision board party and hashed out at Blue Steel Pizza Co. on Glenwood Ave. before getting a boost from friends, family, and one particular next-door neighbor – 3rd Ward council member Sara Cruz – to grow to a festival spanning two blocks in the center of downtown Bloomfield.
“It’s just great to see a blossoming community like Bloomfield take part in [celebrating Juneteenth] for the first time,” said Kasey Dudley. Dudley was recently among the first two Black women elected to the Bloomfield Board of Education and sits on the town’s Civil Rights Commission, both of which are co-sponsors of the weekend’s events.
Dudley was planning a Juneteenth commemoration when she learned of Wingo and Wyche’s efforts and saw the chance to collaborate. “It just made sense for us to come together,” she said.
Dudley tapped her formal networks and local roots for the collaboration, tying in Bloomfield College, liaising with the Board of Education, and recruiting local Black leaders for a round table discussion at the high school to kick-off the weekend’s events.
Titled Juneteenth: Past, Present, and Future, the roundtable will outline the origins of the celebration by emancipated Blacks in Galveston, Texas, tie it to the ongoing struggle for Black liberation, and highlight ways our Black community can build wealth.
“We hear ‘Juneteenth.’ We hear it buzz on the news or in the media, right? But there are some people that don’t know what Juneteenth is and why it’s being celebrated,” Dudley said.
Roundtable participants include poet, community organizer, and activist Amina Baraka, Derrick Griggs, CEO of Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City, and Akil Khalfani, associate professor of sociology and director of the Africana Institute at Essex County College.
The following day, a ceremony at Bloomfield High School will include the reading of a Juneteenth proclamation by David Odekunle, a Black BHS graduating senior recently recognized for his academic success.
Following the ceremony, the Bloomfield College Essex-Union Marching Band will lead a solidarity march to Bloomfield College before attendees continue to the festival on Washington St.
The Juneteenth celebration will become an annual event, according to Dudley. And it won’t be the only event she plans to support in her role on the school board’s community engagement committee. “This will be the first of many [events] where we are looking to bring culture and community together,” she said.
For Wingo and Wyche, this celebration of Black culture in Bloomfield is helping shift the narrative about the community.
“One man told us, ‘Wow, Bloomfield is changing. They’re letting two Black females do this type of event and they’re not giving you any pushback?'” said Wyche. “I’m like, we didn’t say we didn’t get pushback. But we’re not getting what you’re thinking of.”
“It’s great to know and learn and be educated about one another,” said Dudley. “And I think Bloomfield has definitely taken a step forward into making that happen. And to making this more of a community of family amongst all races, creeds, colors, cultures, and backgrounds.”
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