By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
WOODBURY — For Laura Williams, Juneteenth is a part of American history and African American history, and she hoped that participation in the Gloucester County NAACP’s Juneteenth celebration at Stewart Lake Park on Saturday, June 17, will help everyone learn more about it.
Williams, an award-winning counselor at Deptford Middle School, joined hundreds of others in celebrating Juneteenth with the NAACP’s annual festival, which moved from Deptford to Woodbury for the first time this year.
The Gloucester County NAACP celebration, led by President Loretta Winters, is one of the “must stop by” events during South Jersey’s Juneteenth weekend and it did not disappoint with its numerous vendors, music, food, annual softball game and activities for the kids.
The Universal African Dance and Drum ensemble performed inspirational numbers while the Deja Groove Band took over the stage with a free concert in the evening.
Williams represented the Deptford Education Association. In December, Williams was recognized by the New Jersey Education Association as the State School Counselor of the Year because of her commitment to students.
On Saturday, her son Ozias Williams, a student at Deptford High School, sat next to her with Deptford Education Association Vice President Shannon Pizzuta.
While some states, like Florida, have attempted to erase any discussion of race in schools, Williams said Juneteenth is an example of why the opposite should be happening.
“I think they’re missing out on the idea that we have a responsibility to teach everything, and we have a responsibility to teach the truth of American history,” Williams said. “That’s just what it is. You can’t erase it, you can’t take it away.”
Williams said when you look at African American history, it’s a matter of simply looking at the information as a researcher to find out what is missing and what is needed.
“When you look at data, you can find out where the gaps are and then make intentional efforts to seek out people who are missing,” Williams said. “You can take that concept from the classroom all the way up to the federal government. You can use data to make intentional efforts to seek out people who don’t have the same opportunities.”
While the holiday of Juneteenth was kept alive by individual families and small communities over generations before it became a state holiday in Texas in 1980, some of the participants and vendors on Saturday said they never heard of Juneteenth until three years ago when New Jersey first talked about making it a state holiday.
Now, many vendors said it has become their mission to help spread the word about the positive meaning of the holiday.
Tasheba Moore and Audrey Sample, who traveled from Pennsylvania to take part in the Woodbury celebration, said they met while their children played on the same youth basketball team. They ended up getting to know each other while working the concession stand during those games. At the end of the season, they joined together to decorate the end-of-year banquet.
“From the very first day, we learned we liked to do the same things,” Moore said. “We were spending most of our time together, so we said we might as well join forces and start our own business and it’s been awesome. A lot of the things we have here are made by hand and are one of a kind.”
Moore and Sample showed off their unique tumblers, pins, keychains, ID badges, t-shirts and numerous other personalized gifts.
Community advocate and Gloucester County NAACP member Rachel Green managed the Acenda Integrated Health vendor booth, next to Darlema Bey, with the National Alliance of Mental Illness, NAMI, of New Jersey.
They were joined by Yolanda Melville, the new senior counsel and director of community outreach in the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office. Before working for the Attorney General’s Office, she served as a partner in the Atlantic City law firm of Cooper Levenson and vice president of the Atlantic City branch of the NAACP.
Dawn Shalaam, Kathleen Dorris and Fran Harwell, manned another booth with Legal Shield insurance, which protects customers with on-the-spot legal services. Harwell, a member of the Woodbury City Council, said she was pleased to see the Gloucester County NAACP move its Juneteenth celebration to her town and hoped it will be the beginning of a long relationship.
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