June 24, 2020

Princeton Family YMCA Hosts Town’s Juneteenth Celebration 

A DAY OF SOLIDARITY: Among those on hand for Princeton’s first public observance of Juneteenth were, from left, Kyara Torres-Olivares, Valeria Torres-Olivares, Dr. Ruha Benjamin, Imani Mulrain, Aba Smith, Hilcia Acevedo, and Mutemwa Masheke. (Photo by Code Equal/Oscar T. Reyna)

Six young organizers produced the first public observance and celebration of Juneteenth in Princeton on Thursday, June 18. 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.

The Princeton Family YMCA field played host to a diverse crowd of attendees wearing masks and practicing social distancing — even when doing the Electric Slide. The program began with a land acknowledgment of the Lenni Lenape people, followed by a mass kneeling for 8 minutes 46 seconds to recognize black lives lost to centuries of racist 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.

“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; Rev. Lukata Mjumbe, Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church; Chaundra and Sheena Cameron; Delano Whitfield; Gillian and Reanna Bartels-Quansah; John Thompson; Imani Mulrain; 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 19th 155 years ago, enslaved people discovered that they had been emancipated,” said Mjumbe. “155 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.”

“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,” said Benjamin. “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. “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.