By Alberto Gilman
The City of Newburgh celebrated the 2nd Annual Juneteenth Celebration in Downing Park on Sunday, savoring local food, music and supporting local business.
This celebratory event was organized by Cream Puffs of 138 South Street and was sponsored by the city. Cream Puffs is owned and operated by Newburgh native Daniel Gayle, who also performs under the name 1st Team Cream.
“This event means so much to me,” Gayle said.
During the course of the day, artists and performers for the weekend celebration included poet Tiera Lynne, Ku Swaii, GM, Lauran Marie, R. Tafari, Gio Genesis, the Newburgh Armory Dancers, Gale the Magician, DJ TeeWhy and the Jazz World Ensemble Raifiki “Jazz Band”. Children also had the opportunity to run around and play in inflatable houses set up on the park grounds and all the fathers gathered were recognized as it was Father’s Day as well.
Other community organizations and groups such as the Newburgh-Highland Falls NAACP, The Police Community Relations and Review Board and Planned Parenthood distributed information to those who passed by their booth.
According to The National Museum of African American History and Culture [NMAAHC] website, the history and celebration of Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States on June 19, 1865. Almost two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln, which became law on January 1, 1863, Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas and announced the end of the Civil War and that the slaves had been officially freed. Thus the day became known as Juneteenth.
One of the many symbols associated with this celebration of Juneteenth is the Juneteenth flag. The Juneteenth flag, according to the NMAAHC website, dawns the colors red, white and blue that resemble the American flag, to represent that the former slaves were American citizens. The lone white star in the middle of the flag represents the state of Texas and surrounding the star is a burst that represents the spread of freedom. Another flag that represents freedom is the African Liberation Flag. This flag bears the colors red, black and green. The red stripe at the top of the flag represented the struggle and sacrifice of Black people. The black stripe in the middle represents all Black people and the green stripe on the bottom is meant to represent the land of Africa and its natural wealth and beauty.
Wearing a Juneteenth flag shirt and selling single or bouquets of flowers, Jamaal Gayle, owner of Jamaal Al’Azhar Bouquets and lifelong City of Newburgh resident was happy to be out on Sunday and being a part of the celebration.
“The importance of today is American History. It’s Black History yet overall, its American history,” Jamaal said. “At the end of the day, I like to say, America’s always had the potential to be great because of the people. Newburgh is great because of the people in Newburgh are great.”
Councilman Anthony Grice thanked Cream Puffs, and Mayor Torrance Harvey and Councilman Omari Shakur for their work to make this event possible.
“I am so happy to be here,” Grice said. “It’s [the Juneteenth celebration] just one of the highlights of the positive things that we do here in the City of Newburgh.”
Lauran Marie Starr,(a/k/a Lauran Marie) a Newburgh native and childhood friend of Gayle, was excited to be performing this weekend in front of her son. Starr shared that years ago, she had sung in Downing Park as a child and was featured in the local paper. For her it’s a full-circle moment.
Reflecting on the past two years, Starr shared that the last few years tested her strength and faith but it was during COVID that she was able to find and focus on herself and was able to create her own studio space to work on her music. Starr, who describes her style and sound of music as soulful, shared she will be singing one of her songs called “Strong Friends” that addresses loss and struggle and she hopes that people can relate to it. For Starr, she is grateful to be performing in front of her home crowd. “I’m excited to be home,” Starr said.
Richard Bowen, (R.Tafari) an R&B artist and native of the Bronx, said he was also excited to be a part of the celebration on Sunday. As an artist and songwriter, he tries to express his feelings through his music so that people can better understand where he is coming from. In the last few years, Bowen recognized many difficulties in the world during the pandemic either with relationships or violence, but to see where the county has come from since then is hopefully the next step in a positive direction.
“We need to worry about our backyard and our backyard is dirty. I know our backyard is dirty so I’m trying to help clean it up,” Daniel said. “I’m trying to change the narrative of Newburgh.”