Princeton Juneteenth Block Party: A day of celebration, remembrance, activism

Kyara Torres-Olivares, left to right, Valeria Torres-Olivares, Dr. Ruha Benjamin, Imani Mulrain, Aba Smith, Hilcia Acevedo and Mutemwa Masheke at Princeton's Juneteenth celebration.PHOTO COURTESY OF CODE EQUAL/OSCAR T. REYNA
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Kyara Torres-Olivares, left to right, Valeria Torres-Olivares, Dr. Ruha Benjamin, Imani Mulrain, Aba Smith, Hilcia Acevedo and Mutemwa Masheke at Princeton's Juneteenth celebration.PHOTO COURTESY OF CODE EQUAL/OSCAR T. REYNA

Six young organizers produced the first-ever public observance and celebration of Juneteenth in Princeton.

Billed as a celebration of the cultural achievements of Black Americans and a commendation of the Black Lives Matter movement, it was a day of solidarity, celebration and action on June 18 at the Princeton Family YMCA field.

The program began with a land acknowledgment of the Lenni Lenape peoples, followed by a mass kneeling for 8 minutes 46 seconds to recognize Black lives lost to centuries of racist state and nonstate violence. A Juneteenth proclamation, requested of Mayor Liz Lempert by organizer Valeria Torres-Olivares, was read by Princeton Council members Leticia Fraga and Dwaine Williams, according to information provided by Savory PR.

“This is not a moment. This is a movement,” emphasized the organizers, Valeria Torres-Olivares (Princeton University), Kyara Torres-Olivares (Princeton High School), Imani Mulrain (Princeton University), Mutemwa Masheke (Princeton University), Hilcia Acevedo (Princeton University) and Aba Smith (Princeton High School).

Speakers and performers included DJ Darius the 1st; Gillian Scott; the Rev. Lukata Mjumbe, Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church; Chaundra and Sheena Cameron; Delano Whitfield; Gillian and Reanna Bartels-Quansah; John Thompson; Imani Mulrain; Dr. Ruha Benjamin; and David Underwood.

“Juneteenth is a reminder of a celebration that was simultaneously delayed and denied even as it was declared. On June 19, 155 years ago, enslaved people discovered that they had been emancipated,” Mjumbe said in the statement. “One hundred fifty-five years later we are still discovering that we have yet to fully realize our freedom. I valued the opportunity to participate in the Princeton Juneteenth. I see it as yet another opportunity to engage and to be engaged by those who are interested in rediscovering and rededicating themselves to a continuing struggle for freedom.”

In observance of Juneteenth culinary traditions featuring red foods, organizers served fresh strawberries, raspberry eclairs donated by The Little Chef, and red velvet cupcakes and mixed berry beignets from Cafe Au Pain. The event also featured two small businesses owned by Black women, Dolly Ocholla of Amani African Jewelry, and Nakeisha Holmes-Ammons, of Aukhmi Tefnut-Herbal Blend Tea, according to the statement.

Three sponsors had tables: Princeton Community Democratic Organization, Princeton Public Library (PPL), and the Arts Council of Princeton. The PPL contributed a tote bag of books for all ages focused on anti-racist teachings from their recommended reading summer reading for a raffle, and worked with Vivia Font of the Lewis Center for the Arts, another sponsor, to create a history of Juneteenth video program featuring historian Dawn Wisteria Bates, Rev. Lukata Mjumbe, and Tommy Parker, chair of the Princeton Civil Rights Commission. The Arts Council of Princeton provided 200 disposable face masks and the stage.

“Our gathering today is no less vital than the high energy protests of a people around the world who are sick and tired of being sick and tired. The wonderful organizers of our gathering have crafted a world on this lawn for us to feel our tiredness, lay bare our grief, and express our joy,” Benjamin said in the statement. “True freedom, true freedom requires that we march inward as much as we march outward seeding the world we want in our spirits as much as in our systems. We need both of these movements to get free.”

The event received funding from the Princeton University Lewis Center of the Arts and the Princeton University Art Museum. In addition, members of the Princeton community donated onsite and via Gofundme for a combined total of $1,379.21 that will be donated to the YMCA ACE Program and Mobile Minds New Jersey, according to the statement.

The event was sponsored by Princeton Family YMCA, Princeton Lewis Center of the Arts, Princeton University Art Museum, Code Equal, YWCA Princeton, Princeton University African American Studies Department, Not In Our Town Princeton, Princeton Community Democratic Organization, Princeton Civil Rights Commission, Carl A. Fields Center, McCarter Theater, Arts Council of Princeton, PHS MSAN, PHS PULSE, Princeton Public Library, The Red Umbrella Princeton, The ACE Program, and Latinos en Progreso.