Ocean City Celebrates Juneteenth

By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

OCEAN CITY – Dignitaries from across Cape May County and beyond along with supporters and residents filled the Ocean City High School cafeteria Saturday (June 15) for the third annual Juneteenth Celebration – Reflections: Honor Legacy and Family.

The event was put on by the Ocean City Juneteenth Organization and honored eight people for their contributions to the local African-American community. The organization, which does other events around the year, is made up of young Ocean City natives Joshua Baker, Brittany Battle and Takiya Wilson.

“The Juneteenth organization is coming together to bring together different legacies from the black community in Ocean City,” Baker said. “Every other year, we take time to honor different people in the community; some who have transitioned and some who are still present for their dedication and commitment to the community.”

READ: Why Juneteenth Should Be a National Holiday

The organization leaders were joined by Ocean City city councilman Antwan McClellan, Mayor Jay Gillian and councilman Bob Barr. Cape May County Freeholder E. Marie Hayes and Sheriff Bob Nolan also made presentations to award winners, along with several state assemblymen.

Mary and Tommy Miles Jr. were given the Business Leadership Award. Tommy Miles owned Tommy Miles Window Cleaning and Painting while working for the City of Ocean City until his retirement. Mary Miles worked in the casino industry and retired from Spencer’s Gifts.

Rev. John T. Winters, the retired pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church was given the Spiritual Leadership Award. He served at Shiloh from 1990 to 2012 before retiring and moving to Philadelphia.

Richard Tolson, a local union organizer and youth sports coach, received the Community Ally Award. Tolson is currently the director of the Bricklayers Union for the State of New Jersey and had coached the Ocean City Hawks youth sports organization. He also currently serves as vice president of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.

Four awards were also given posthumously. Bernice McClellan, who died in 2012, was given the Family Values Award. Mary Jane Granger, who owned a cleaning service, farm market and day care centers in Ocean City before passing in 2003, was given the Philanthropic Leadership Award.

Daniel Henry, a sales associate for a men’s shop at Ocean City while working for the Ocean City school district before passing in 2006, was given the Scholarship Award. He was active at St. James AME Church in Mays Landing where he was a member of its board of trustees.

Charlene Taylor Hemphill, Baker’s mother, was given the Memorial Award. She was active in the community and church before dying as a victim of domestic violence in 1983.

“Juneteenth is a celebration of black excellence,” said McClellan, who will be trying to make history in a run for state assemblyman. “People who we are honoring today gave back to the community and continue to give back through their lineage, time and effort. Juneteenth is a way to celebrate the black community and we the people who came before us. We walk to let them know we appreciate what they did for us, laying the foundation.”

The attendees viewed a video presentation featuring some of the longtime African-American residents in Ocean City and their histories. Third-grader Jayda Lynn Graves, of Dawes Avenue Elementary in Somers Point, wowed the audience with her reading of the history of Juneteenth, which she received a hearty ovation for.

“For Ocean City, this event brings this community back together, which I love,” Gillian said during the program. “I’ve seen a lot of faces I graduated with so for me it’s always like a reunion. It’s one of our nicest events of the year. It’s important for us that all of our communities are represented. This room is full. That’s what it’s all about.”

The organization also recognized its 2019 Daniel Lee Henry scholarship award recipients. The honorees were:

*Charlene Baker, a dance major at Stockton University

*Di’Avian Blackmon, a liberal arts major at Rowan University

*Tori Rolls, Ocean City High School star athlete who will major in sports medicine at Montclair State University

*Alencia Yeoman, a psychology major at Atlantic Cape Community College

*Antonio Yeoman, a criminal justice major at Eastern University.

Bubby Fann and BF Sounds provided the music for the event as vendors shared their products with the crowd. Baker said he hopes the event will continue to grow in the future.

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