Lt. Gov. Tahesha Way Calls on Everyone To Embrace Legacy of Juneteenth


New Jersey Lt. Gov. Tahesha Way addresses crowd celebrating Juneteenth at Stockton University Atlantic City.


ATLANTIC CITYNew Jersey Lt. Gov. Tahesha Way said on Monday that Juneteenth offers an opportunity for the United States to look at its past, present, and future with a “renewed dedication” to living up to the country’s ideals.

Way, the second Black women lieutenant governor’s position following in the footsteps of the late Sheila Oliver, made the comments at Stockton University’s Juneteenth celebration at its Atlantic City campus.

Thank you to Inspira Health for our Juneteenth coverage.

Juneteenth recognizes the date of June 19, 1865, when the Black slaves in Galveston, Texas were informed that slavery in the United States had ended, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

“How do we make sense out of how long it took for those who were last enslaved to be made aware of their freedom,” said Way to her audience of community members, students and faculty. “And how do we make sense of the 159 years it took our beloved nation to commemorate that pivotal moment in our nation’s history?

“If we are to truly, authentically honor Juneteenth and the unique history of African Americans in our country, we must do more than just celebrate this holiday. … At heart, we all must deliver justice. Justice must come in many different forms.”

Way, who also serves as New Jersey’s Secretary of State, said those forms include new economic opportunities to overcome the generations of disenfranchisement, fully funding public schools, improving homeownership opportunities and employment for Blacks, and investing in Black and Brown entrepreneurs.

She said if the legacy of Juneteenth is to grow, it must be a shared responsibility.

“It won’t just happen on its own,” Way said. “Delivering restorative justice requires a shared responsibility from all of us to work together toward these goals.”

Way, a Democrat, shared that demonstration of unity by saluting Republican Assemblywoman Claire Swift, who sat in the front row of her speech. Swift brought her children to the Juneteenth ceremony, told Front Runner New Jersey.

“I’m here with my sons and I wanted them to be part of this great day here in Atlantic City,” Swift said. “Diversity, equity and inclusion is what we were founded on here in Atlantic County and the great State of New Jersey and I’m so happy to be here.”

Stockton President Joe Bertolino said the divisive rhetoric surrounding race and inclusion in education and other arenas have made it more challenging to carry out the themes surrounding Juneteenth.

“Today is also a day to reflect on the work yet to be done,” Bertolino said in his opening statement. “In our polarized political landscape, diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice are all under attack. To combat this, let us honor those who came before us by carrying on the work and creating an environment that is fair, equitable and welcoming to all.”

Bertolino pointed out that the university’s Africana Studies program reached its 40th anniversary this year and that its Fannie Lou Hamer Human and Civil Rights Symposium has reached 20 years.

“Stockton is committed to doing the work — the work of engaging civil discourse, community engagement and social justice,” Bertolino told the audience. “Now is the time to stand firm to our commitment to building a community of opportunity and ensuring that everyone in our community is treated with dignity, respect, kindness, compassion and civility.”

Also speaking at the event was Bertolino’s chief of staff and Executive Vice President Terecita Sass, who was born on the 100th anniversary of Juneteenth.

Haashim Smith-Johnson, the former president of the Unified Black Students Society and Louise Kennedy, president of the student organization Commuters on the Go, talked about how such celebrations helped them look forward to the work that continues.

Visitors were greeted by a mini exhibit on Black History in Atlantic City that was curated by Ralph Hunter, the founder of the African-American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey along with a variety of vendors, a staple at most Juneteenth celebrations.

“Events such as our annual Juneteenth celebration only push Stockton in the right direction,” said Smith-Johnson, who attended the celebration. “While this event is a celebration, let’s still recognize that there is still work to do in and for our community.

“The year will be a challenging test in all aspects, and we must pay as much attention as possible.”

Kennedy added: ” The pain suffered by those within the African diaspora, both past, present and future, will not be disregarded, and in honor of Juneteenth, we can rejoice in the fruits of the labor of such resilience.”

NOTE: Smith-Johnson and Kennedy’s comments provided by Stockton University News and Media Relations.

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