Women Come Together Online to Create Juneteenth Festival

By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

GLASSBORO – Gloucester County and Glassboro will have a Juneteenth celebration, all because of one Facebook post.

That’s the way Myeesha Jones described the origins of the inaugural Juneteenth Festival and Candlelight Vigil being planned for Sewell Park at 1 p.m. in Glassboro on Friday, June 19. Space is being provided for African-American vendors as well in this picnic/business expo.

“I made a Facebook post that said, ‘Someone needs to have the ultimate Juneteenth block party,'” Jones told Front Runner New Jersey this week. “Many of my Facebook friends agreed and a few of them told me, ‘You throw one.’ My initial response was like, ‘I wish I could but I don’t have that type of money.’

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“Then I had a few girls reach out that were just as passionate about celebrating black culture and creating a shift in the way we view ourselves as I was. We decided that we could and would work together to pull off this event in only two weeks. And so far, the response has been overwhelming. We are receiving donations from the public and local businesses. Some offered free services, while others offered us big discounts. We aren’t finished yet, but we are so close and it’s all because our community is pulling together. I am beaming with pride,” Jones continued.

Getting on Board

One of the first people to jump on board was Ashlee C. Sanders, owner of the business BRANDED by Ashlee and the founder of Black on Black Excellence – Black Business Expo.

“I’m super passionate about creating opportunities for our culture and sharing my God given gifts and talents with the world,” said the 31-year-old mother of five. “I was actually in the process of brainstorming ideas for a Juneteenth experience for our community when I saw Myeesha’s post about throwing the ultimate Juneteenth celebration.

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“I jumped onboard without second thought. It was the perfect opportunity and out of it I’ve gained some long-term business partners and friends. I’m excited about what we’ve got going on and I’m sure it’ll be appreciated and a huge hit for our culture and our community! We need change, so we’re bringing exactly that to our community, and we’re doing it all for the culture,” Sanders added.

Latasha Waters, one of the founding members of Black and Brilliant Events Team, and Sherry Busby joined in the effort as well.

“I am a wife and mother of two and my husband and I are owners of our online business, The Queen’s Storehouse,” Waters said. “I have been in the social work field for four years, holding a BSW. My professional experiences include community engagement and program management and development.  

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“My passion for engaging communities and the love for my people, has led me to being a part of the Juneteenth event. I have always had a desire to create a new Black Wall Street. What the four of us are birthing for Glassboro is not only needed, but long overdue,” she continued. 

Busby, 33, another member of the Black and Brilliant team, said the event is a chance to provide the dual purpose of bringing the community together and displaying black-owned businesses. She and her husband operate the private and commercial renovations company Marathon Masonry and she is the sole proprietor of BuzzWorthy Vending, which offers vending machine opportunities to local businesses. 

“As a young black mother of two, it has been my passion to do everything within my power to uplift and provide guidance to the youth within our community,” said Busby, a Glassboro native who has a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Rutgers-Camden.  “With all of the devastating events that continue to occur within our black community, I knew that I needed to do something right away to change the negative narrative that is all too often spread about us. “I simply wanted to offer a positive change. When I saw Myeesha Jones was interested in creating the Juneteenth celebration, I knew that this would be a great opportunity and jumped at the chance,” Busby added.

Jones, a wife and mother of three, has been in education for six years, recently graduating virtually from Drexel University, with a Master of Science in Educational Administration degree.

“I love anything that uplifts our community, and believe wholeheartedly in giving kindly, and serving others,” she said. 

Changing the Narrative

While Facebook helped them come together, there was plenty of reasons to make an event like this come to life, the organizers said. Juneteenth is the annual celebration that marks when Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Texas to free some of the last of the black slaves on June 19, 1865.

Juneteenth Glassboro organizers left to right, Sherry Busby, Ashlee Sanders, Myeesha Jones and Latasha Waters. Photo by Walter Garrison IV

The holiday, long celebrated by African-Americans in Texas, has now become an official holiday in many states, yet not officially recognized nationally. That fact seems more poignant today with the Memorial Day death of George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police and the nationwide riots it sparked.

READ: Why Juneteenth Should Be A National Holiday

“The current climate of the United States, and even the world, has everybody holding their breath, gasping,” Jones said. “We are demanding justice, rightfully so, but while we are exhausting all our energy during this fight, I wanted to remind us to take a moment to breathe, and enjoy life.

“While we have a history that could be considered dreadful, we also have life and resiliency to celebrate. Juneteenth is our outlet for that. I feel a necessary revolution coming. One where we will be heard, and our culture will be celebrated and represented positively. We have been conditioned to celebrate holidays that never served us, nor did they include us,” she added.

Jones said she sees the festival as “change to change the narrative.”

“I always prayed that I could be a voice somehow, but I’ve never been the popular type, because I love being behind the scenes and I don’t like a lot of attention,” she said. “I feel like this opportunity was God answering my prayers, so I couldn’t not take action. I had to do something.”

Jones said the Juneteenth festival will be a family event, with a deejay, a Moon Bounce House, face painting, live performances, free food and bottled water, a food truck for those that want to purchase meals.

“We are truly hoping to have fireworks but have not received enough donations to do so at this time,” Jones said. “This is our first event, but we hope this will become annual.”

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Jones said she felt it was important to use the event to showcase African-American businesses. She said she knows many have suffered greatly as the COVID-19 pandemic goes on. Gov. Phil Murphy only this week has loosened homebound restrictions.

“The girls and I agreed to allow vendors to sign up using donations, instead of a typical vendor fee,” Jones said. “So whether you could donate $1 or $100, you are able to come out and showcase your products and services. We will have over 40 black business vendors.”

Holding such an event in the middle of an international pandemic still comes with restrictions. Jones said they will have rules.

“We asked everyone to wear masks,” she said. “There will also be hand sanitizer available at various tables and stations. We have two bathrooms available where attendees can wash hands as well. Moon bounces, the game truck, and other activities’ capacities will be cut in half. Any lines that form for various activities will have tape to mark six feet distancing.

“There is no limit on political and religious gatherings as stated by Governor Murphy so we have the full support of Glassboro city officials, especially Police Chief Officer Palillo who guided us through the entire process and pushed to get our event approved in a short amount of time,” she added.

A native of Glassboro, as well as the other organizers, Jones said the black population there often “goes unseen and unheard.” She said the Juneteenth celebration is likely a first for Glassboro.

“I especially want our children to know,” Jones said. “Black history is not taught in schools. Juneteenth is not taught in schools. We owe it to our children to educate them on things where schools lack, especially as it pertains to our history.”

Jones said she’s even happier that the organizers want to stay together after the Juneteenth event.

“Latasha Waters, one of our members, created the name, The Black & Brilliant Events Team. Our other members are Sherry Busby and Ashlee Sanders. Each of us played a crucial role, and could not have done it without one another,” Jones said.

“We also have a host of other people who have helped us and continue to help us with planning and networking. We plan on sticking together, and making this an annual event. We will also be brainstorming in the future on creating other events to celebrate black culture and promote black economics. Stay tuned.”

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