It was a historic Juneteenth in Bayonne, as local activist group Black in Bayonne led the first-ever Juneteenth parade in the city.
Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger landed with Union soldiers in Galveston, Texas, spreading word that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, meaning that the slaves in the Confederacy remained enslaved until Union troops arrived to enforce the Proclamation.
Last year, Black in Bayonne celebrated Juneteenth with a celebration and the first-ever Pan-African flag raising at City Hall. Black in Bayonne was formed by Rashad Callaway, Shaniqua Borders, Clarice High and Camille High after a peaceful demonstration in Stephen Gregg Park known as “Power in the Park” in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd. This year, the events were combined into one, focused on Black excellence.
The group marched through the park last year, but this year they marched through the city; the 2021 event was thus dubbed “Power in the City.” Having this parade was a goal of Black in Bayonne’s since 2020.
While last year was about making history, this year was about keeping up tradition.
Marching down Avenue C
Residents and members of the public gathered before the parade at the corner of Avenue C and 19th Street, also known as Edith Ferrell Way. Black in Bayonne chose this as the starting point to honor the late Ferrell and the late Rev. H. Gene Sykes, for whom Avenue C and 20th Street was renamed.
Black in Bayonne cofounders Clarice High and Shaniqua Borders gave out gelato by DRIP Gelato and Cafe, a local popup gelateria. The gelato store, run by Clarice and Shaniqua, will open a permanent site in late July. Meanwhile, residents could make their own signs to hold during the march, and mingle underneath canopies set up by the Bayonne Education Association to stay out of the heat.
At 3:30, Camille and Clarice assembled the crowd with megaphones and stepped onto Avenue C. As the sisters led the crowd down the street, they repeated a call-and- response chant: “Say it loud, say it proud, I’m Black and I’m proud.”
Cars driving down Avenue C honked and handfuls of residents along the parade route expressed their solidarity.
The parade emded at City Hall, where Camille gave a short speech, first leading residents in chants, including “Power to the people.”
“You are the soul of the city,” Camille said. “When you don’t have noise, you make your own noise as our ancestors did before … On June 8, 2020, Rashad Callaway, Shaniqua Borders, Clarice High, and myself made a conscious decision to be the change we were eager to see in our city. A year later, we stand before you motivated and equipped to do the work necessary in creating a Bayonne where Black people thrive, not just survive … Last year was about making history. This year is about creating traditions for our children, our children’s children, and our children’s children’s children will forever be a part of.”
The Soul Steppers, a trio of step dancers performed. Two youths, introduced as Jeremiah and Xavier, read about the importance of Juneteenth and how it is celebrated in the United States. Following that, an original poem was read highlighting the struggles that people of color face.
The work continues
Camille took the mic again to thank the crowd and reiterated calls for change.
“Black in Bayonne is a community effort,” Camille said. “In order for true change to come to Bayonne, each of us must hold the powers that be accountable for their actions. We must exercise our right to vote.”
Black in Bayonne has been pushing everyone, especially people of color, to vote since “Power in the Park.” It ramped up those efforts ahead of the June primary and continue to in the leadup to the November general election.
“You need to vote,” Camille said. “Stop being on Facebook complaining and do the work. Black in Bayonne is not just the four young people right here, it is everyone who is here. Do your part. Speak up and against all social injustice of any kind.”
A moment of silence was observed for the late Ferrell and Sykes. High said: “Any time we are in these spaces, we always want to reference those who came before us, they deserve honor.”
The flag flies high
The Pan-African flag was raised in front of City Hall while Doc Watson played “Lift Every Voice and Sing” on the saxophone as a member of the audience sang. Mayor Davis, the entire city council, other city officials and Black in Bayonne stood proudly next to the flag.
“Way to go Bayonne!,” Mayor James Davis said in a statement following the event. “We had a very nice turnout for our walk and flag-raising at City Hall this afternoon to commemorate the ending of slavery in the USA.”
For the second year in a row, Black in Bayonne made history and continues its efforts to infuse people of color into the cultural fabric of the city.
“Black in Bayonne is a community effort,” Camille said. “It does not stop here, it continues on.”
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