Glassboro’s Juneteenth Festival Celebrates African-American Businesses, Culture

By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

GLASSBORO – The power of African-American social media – and four determined Glassboro natives – were on full display Friday as more than 1,300 filled Owens Field for the inaugural Juneteenth Festival and Candlelight Vigil put on by the Black and Brilliant Event Team.

The idea, which started out as a Facebook post less than three weeks ago, turned into a true community celebration, featuring more than 50 black-owned businesses, speakers, entertainers, food, family events and vigil for those who have died to social injustice.

“It was just amazing,” Latasha Waters, one of the organizers, told Front Runner New Jersey on Facebook. “[We had] so many people and just amazing performances and speakers. We had great helping hands. We really over-achieved our expectations.”

Making the Impossible Possible

Waters, Sherry Busby, Ashlee C. Sanders and Myeesha Jones pulled off in less than a month what takes some full-staffed organizations a year to do. The Juneteenth celebration event filled a perfect spot with the State of New Jersey loosening coronavirus restriction rules along with the energy surrounding the call for justice in light recent events.

READ: Women Come Together Online to Create Juneteenth Festival

“The most amazing aspect of our event was definitely having the support and backing that we received,” Busby said. “Being able to witness families, friends, business owners, newcomers and lifelong residents of Glassboro come together for this was truly touching and an eye opener for others outside of the community.”

“We are overwhelmed with positive reviews from families and businesses,” Jones said. “Every age group, from toddlers to the elders, had an amazing time which was the dopest part of the event. New, small businesses thanked us for the type of exposure they hadn’t previously had before.

“Experienced business owners raved at how professionally put together the event was and in such a short time. Everyone said the event exceeded their expectations,” she added.

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Sanders called the gathering that filled Owens Field “absolutely breathtaking.”

“What we were able to create in just three weeks was an atmosphere and space for our culture to come together in unity, in love, and in peace,” Sanders said. “If you took anything away with you [Friday] I hope it was the feeling of empowerment! I hope you realize and recognize the power that lies within you. I hope that you understand that you can do absolutely anything, that collaboration is an amazing thing and that #TogetherWeCan.”

Supporting Black Owned Businesses

Several of the organizers are sensitive to the needs of the vendors being business owners themselves. Waters and her husband the online business, The Queen’s Storehouse. Busby 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. 

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Sanders, owns BRANDED by Ashlee and is the founder of Black on Black Excellence – Black Business Expo.

Many vendors found great success. The owner of  Giggles And Wiggles Play Café said she sold out of children coloring books even after arriving late. Jones said many other vendors said they sold out of products as well.

Busby said the best part of the planning was working with her new team who came together over social media.

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“With less than a month to put this all together we were able to mesh so well,” Busby said. “Though we all  didn’t always share the same methods for maintaining, organizing, and running a successful event, all of our practices were needed to make this event unique and magical. I would say that the most difficult aspect of organizing the event was doing it during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This was our first event ever and having to organize under many limitations and restrictions was harder but as you see not impossible. We ensured that all of our attendees were safe and following the orders mandated by Gov. Phil Murphy while still providing a fun filled and educational day,” Busby added.

No Drama Here

Sanders said she hopes the effort will help shatter myths that have at times haunted events organized by African-Americans in the past.

“[Friday] we broke the stigma that black people can’t come together without drama,” Sanders said. “There was absolutely no drama whatsoever just unbelievably refreshing vibes, fun and support for all of the black owned businesses there. To see the kids and young adults enjoying themselves the way they were was amazing. They were just so free to be them and I’m happy we could provide that space for them.”

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Jones said while some expressed “shock” that there was no police presence, she added there was no need for it.

“Our people came together in all their blackness and brilliance,” Jones said. “We proved to the Glassboro Police Department and anyone else watching that Black people do not need to be over-policed, harassed, followed, and questioned. We are a glorious people. We are children of God. We are loving, we are supportive, we are kind, we are talented, and we are magical. Our vision came to life and we have all of US to thank,” she said.

Spirit of Community

There were a wide variety of events from the main stage. Busby led the festival in the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” while Charles Curtis provided a spoken word performance. Waters recited poetry, Simone Owens performed music and Kevin Knox gave a motivational speech. Terri Brown led a West African dance along and young Hip-Hop artist Max P also performed. Rev. Levi Combs III, a South Jersey activist and pastor of First Refuge Progressive Baptist Church in Camden, was the keynote speaker.

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“My favorite part of the event was definitely the performers,” Busby said. “Watching each one of them put not only their hearts but also souls into each of their acts was simply amazing. I would say for next year I would love to have them all back again. One thing that I would change for next year, would be to allow myself time to enjoy the event on a personal level.”

Yes, the Black and Brilliant Events team is already thinking about next year, which makes one wonder what they will come up with if they pulled off last Friday’s event in three weeks.

Smelling the Roses

“Myself, Myeesha, Latasha, and Ashlee put so much hard work and dedication behind the scenes and that we did not stop once the event was in full effect,” Busby said. “I found it funny that many of our close friends continued to ask questions such as ‘Did you all eat?’ ‘Grab some water?’ ‘Did you take a breather?’

“Though we found a few moments to do these things, next year we will definitely plan to sit back and take more time to ‘smell the roses.’ I see wonderful opportunities and events in the future for our team. Black and Brilliant Events will definitely continue to put on for our borough, our community, and our culture,” Busby continued.

Jones added: “We already set a precedent so I imagine it will only get better from here. The Black and Brilliant Events Team have not made plans as of yet as to what our next event will be. We do know that we are sticking together, so we will be meeting to brainstorm different ideas. Once we know, the people will know, and we will let social media work its magic.”

Sanders added: “We’ve only just begun. There’s so much more to come.”                                       

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