Cape May NAACP Adds to History With Local Juneteenth Observance

Edtior’s Note: This is the fourth in a “Juneteenth Stories” series of stories Front Runner New Jersey is doing recognizing Juneteenth and how South Jerseyans are planning to celebrate it.

By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

WHITESBORO – When the Cape May County NAACP held its Juneteenth last year, it was believed to be the first such celebration ever in the county.

On Saturday, the chapter will hold their second Juneteenth observance as the state of New Jersey celebrates Juneteenth as well.

Juneteenth Stories

“With the help and support of executive board members, members at large, local business owners and community members through the county, the event which was organized in less than two weeks,” Quanette Vasser-McNeal, who was vice president at the time of last year’s festival, told Front Runner New Jersey.

“With the overwhelming outpouring of support and positive feedback received, it was without a doubt, that the CMC NAACP’s executive committee decided that this should and would be an annual event,” she continued.

This year’s event will be full of family fun activities, food, spoken word and poetry, and speakers. The day will end with a basketball tournament, said Vasser-McNeal, who stepped down recently as president as she runs for a seat on the Middle Township Committee.

Celebration and Education

“We will have a large number of vendors, many are local African American small business who are just starting out,” she said. “This event will give them an opportunity promote their businesses. We will have several good vendors, a live DJ and speakers who will educate on the history of this great holiday.”

Melisha Anderson, a CMC executive board member, said she hopes the NAACP’s Juneteenth event helps put the holiday into proper perspective as American history.

“While the Emancipation Proclamation was a vital aspect to ending slavery in that traditional form, like many laws today it was denied to one to many people,” Anderson said. “Juneteenth is more than a backyard BBQ. It’s more than a visage of a time long ago.

Cape May County NAACP Treasurer Sherly Cisrow and Assistant Treasurer Tracy Cardwell holding up the branch’s new sign. Photo by Clayton Palmer

“It’s observation remains relevant during the celebrations of all of the other national holidays that taut America’s commitment to freedom. With our speakers explaining the history, we hope that they understand the significance and recognize it’s importance, and that they too share the knowledge,” Anderson added. 

The Cape May County NAACP will not be along in its Juneteenth celebration with the state joining in for the first time.

‘A More Complete History’

“The declaration of Juneteenth as a state holiday serves as reminder that its history represents the good and the bad of this country — a more complete history,” Vasser-McNeal said. “It should serve as a symbolic reminder of liberation.

“The fact that some states don’t or won’t observe, and that it isn’t a federally recognized holiday, still demonstrates that our country remains in consistent opposition and resistant to an equality that is not deeply rooted in systemic racism. However, the new or renewed interest in Juneteenth is encouraging and we are here for it,” she continued.

The Cape May County NAACP has its own rich history. Current Vice President Tracy Cardwell whose mother Sharon Gunn has been an active member since 1982, explained that the CMC chapter was chartered in 1952 in the city of Cape May. Soon after, the chapter moved to Cape May Court House because that was the county seat and the chapter would be centrally located.

“Whitesboro became an intricate part of the chapter because of the larger number of African Americans residing there, as a result Whitesboro became the home of the chapter in the late 1980s,” Vasser-McNeal said.

“In honor of that history the current executive members decided that hosting the celebration in Whitesboro would keep the legacy of founding members and honor the rich African American history of Whitesboro, one of the oldest African American towns in the State of New Jersey,” she said.

Vasser-McNeal said the CMC NAACP is always looking for new members as the chapter capitalizes on its busy year, implementing and providing a number of positive initiatives that have had a profound impact on the lives of community members.

Year of Successful Events

“The Off the Wall initiative was a huge success, allowing for the removal of hundreds of names from the ‘no trespass’ lists at local housing authorities in the county,” Vasser-McNeal said. “In an effort to keep community members warm, with the help community members  and local business owners , we were able to hand out 300 hoodies.”

Vasser-McNeal went on to talk about other successful CMC NAACP events.

“‘Warming the homeless’ was another successful initiative thanks to help of local donors, we were able to pre-pack and donate back packs to the Branches in Rio Grande,” she said. “The bags were packed with hats, gloves, blankets, toiletries , gloves, socks and feminine hygiene products.

Quanette Vasser-McNeal. Photo courtesy of Quanette Vasser-McNeal

Vasser-McNeal led the NAACP in collaborating with the Cape Atlantic vicinage to help individuals expunge their records. Several  members learned of and attended an expungement seminar hosted by the courts, including Quanette Vasser-McNeal, who after the call, took the initiative to contact court staff and propose a team effort to immediately begin a program where the two could assist those who wished to apply for an expungement.

“The courts were receptive and shortly after the call the CMC NAACP began taking names,” Vasser-McNeal said. “To date nearly 100 names were submitted for review with more than half being eligible. In April the chapter held an in person event along with eight court staff members, at the Old Whitesboro school.

“This is an ongoing if initiative. The next in person event is scheduled to take place e this month (only open to those who have been pre-screened). This, like some of the others is a life changing initiative. Several individuals who applied  had previously been turns down for employment due to records dating back some 15-plus years ago.

“We are pleased to announce that the courts were able to provide a simple letter of explanation and they were hired. Anyone wishing to see if they are eligible simply need to provide their name and date of birth to cmcnaacp@gmail.com. We are always looking for new members and donations are always needed and appreciated. We can be reached at cmcnaacp@gmail.com.”

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