By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
OCEAN CITY – Joshua Baker took part in an honor that was long overdue last month when his mother, Charlene Taylor Hemphill, was honored during the Ocean City Juneteenth Organization‘s annual celebration, but he hopes the group will continue to keep the story of blacks there alive.
Baker was just 8-years-old when his mother died tragically on Dec. 22, 1983 due to domestic violence in Ocean City. He left behind five boys.
“Everything we do here is deep,” said Baker, adding that the Ocean City Juneteenth Organization also gave $500 to the Coalition Against Rape and Abuse in Hemphill’s name. “It’s more than just giving out awards. It’s trying to make sure someone is being blessed by it, the way they blessed us.”
The Ocean City Juneteenth Organization consist of Baker, Brittany Battle and Takiya Wilson, who in June put on their third annual program. In February 2018, the group also created an exhibit at the Ocean City Historical Society documenting history of blacks in Ocean City.
“We’re a proud people and we have a history here and we’ve contributed in a number of different ways,” Baker said. “Regardless of our numbers, it doesn’t affect what we’ve done here and how we effected and changed this community.”
Baker, who has now lived longer than his mother, is a 1995 graduate of Ocean City High School, where he was an All-South Jersey football player and ran track.
“My family’s still in the area,” said Baker, who now lives in Elmwood Park but makes in back to Ocean City regularly. “It’s our responsibility to come back and stay connected. I think of all the people who supported us and poured into us. They’ve always extended a hand to us.
“They’ve always taken care of us so we could have some place to go and some place to eat. We want to honor and recognize them at the Juneteenth program. Now we have to fill that void. We have to do the things that they did for us. We have to be there and show those coming behind the truly legacy of being an African-American growing up in this community is about. You have an identity and a presence here. That’s why we came back. We’re out here doing things and we are successful,” Baker continued.
Hemphill’s biography published in the Juneteenth program showed the how her influence ran deep among Ocean City’s African-Americans.
“She was known in the community as a mother to all,” the biography said. “Her home was a refuge for many of the children in the neighborhood who were struggling with personal issues. She had an open door policy, always extending to make sure every child had a plate to eat and somewhere to lay their head.
“She was a pillar in the spiritual community as well, attending church regularly and always seeking to find love and harmony in the universe. … Ms. Hemphill’s dedication to see that her children became the best they could be was her life. … Even with her loss, she brought the community together to help guide her five boys to manhood,” the biography continued.
Baker said the community has been responsive to what he and the Juneteenth organization have been trying to accomplish.
“The city and community would work with you, but we had to look for them,” Baker said. “We had to stand up for a lot of things and I think they respected us for it. They supported us in these programs. They opened the doors to the high school. They gave us access to so many different things. It’s larger than just the African-American community. It’s our Ocean City community collectively.”