By Adianna Alston | For AC JosepH Media
GLASSBORO — The fourth annual Glassboro Juneteenth Festival has surpassed expectations yet again as it continues to expand and impress in its celebration of freedom and culture.
Latasha Waters and her nonprofit The Queen’s Initiative were responsible for organizing and hosting this year’s event.
“Every year we get a lot more support and a lot more traction. People are starting to become familiar with what we have here,” Waters told Front Runner New Jersey.
Waters also spoke to the importance of celebrating Juneteenth.
“Celebrating Juneteenth means pride and culture. Over so many years and so many different places we’ve been suppressed about being who we are and I think Juneteenth really gives people that avenue to be who we are, to connect more with our culture, and just come together as a people to understand we are bigger than ourselves,” she stated.
From live entertainment, guest speakers, various food options, raffle prizes, a game truck and more, the festival offered a wide range of attractions and activities for all attendees to enjoy.
Plenty of vendors were present as well, including Ulise Monroe, owner of Adinkraluv.
Monroe’s journey as an entrepreneur began at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic as she started making masks out of African fabric to give out to those who needed them. After giving out nearly 100 masks, those close to Monroe began to question why she did not sell them.
Not wanting to profit off an essential item during such a critical time, Monroe instead came up with the creative idea to sell matching earrings to go with the masks she gifted. From starting with masks and earrings, Monroe’s business has grown tremendously to include a wide array of products.
“I sell tumblers with my artwork on them, mugs, passport holders, t-shirts, resin artwork — I make everything,” she said. “My thing is bringing things that don’t represent us, and make them represent us. Everything I put my hands to with a purpose.”
There was no shortage of talented vendors as Front Runner New Jersey had the pleasure of speaking with Michelle Boardly, another remarkable artist and newly established business owner, who also showcased a collection of Afro-centric art.
Despite crafting things for over 30 years, Boardly just started her business, Heart to Hand, only a week ago after being encouraged by her daughters and close friends to sell her artwork.
“I had always been making things but never sold anything. I came out not knowing what to expect, I just know I kept praying. Every piece I made I would say a prayer.”
Humbled and honored by the support she received from the community, Broadly spoke to the spirit of Juneteenth that she witnessed firsthand.
“It’s all about family and it’s all about unity. We look out for each other — we are each other’s keepers. We really do have each other’s backs.”
Another notable vendor in attendance was Takiesha Reneé, owner of Anxious Art. Reneé’s unique and captivating handmade moss art stood out amongst the diverse range of artwork on display. Reneé’s business uses real moss that is preserved so customers don’t have to worry about tending to it with water and sunlight.
As someone who suffers from anxiety and overcame depression, Reneé uses her artwork as a platform to spread love and advocate for mental health awareness.
“Nature brings me peace, so I wanted to find a way that I could bring nature indoors so that people could experience the peaceful outdoors, indoors. I actually do donations to some places just to let people know that anxiety can be very crippling but this is my outlet. I feel like it’s just so important that we support each other in the Black community.”
Mental health awareness resonated as a prevalent theme throughout the day’s festivities. Travis Graham-Jones, both a vendor and speaker at the event, played a pivotal role in the advocacy for mental well-being.
Graham-Jones is the author of “Rich Suicide,” a memoir detailing his personal journey of battling depression and overcoming a suicide attempt. His book delves into the depths of his struggles as well as his spiritual journey overcoming those struggles.
In addition to being an author, Graham-Jones is a motivational speaker, using his own experiences as a foundation for spreading awareness and promoting positive mental health practices.
“I feel a commitment to share my story, to push mental health and make sure that I’m always sharing my story to inspire people to live mindfully and healthily.”
“I hope people take away that there is always hope in the midst of darkness, it can seem extremely dark and low but my message is that there is always light at the end of the tunnel,” he shared.
This year’s festival’s emphasis on unity, creativity, and community made it a truly memorable and impactful event. Organizers and attendees alike are already looking forward to next year’s celebration.
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