On Monday, June 20 the Town of Montgomery Sacred Place of My Ancestors (SPOMA) celebrated Juneteenth in Wooster Grove in Walden. It was a beautiful day to enjoy the festivities at this event including face painting, games and music.
Juneteenth is a federal holiday that celebrates African American history, culture, and encourages Americans to continue making progress towards building a legacy that creates more freedoms and promotes equality.
Mercedes Ortiz of SPOMA, organizer of the day’s festivities, said the Montgomery Town Board wanted to create a committee to beautify the African Burial Ground in the town.
“This is our second celebration, we created a resolution that recognizes slavery in the Town of Montgomery,” Ortiz said. “Walden needed more of this in the community.”
The SPOMA committee hosted Monday’s festivities sponsored by Hunter Insurance Services, 845 Unity, Shop Rite, the Valley Central Parents for Social Justice and the NAACP and the Town of Montgomery.
Ray Harvey, the President of the Newburgh-Highland Falls NAACP chapter said that the event at Wooster Grove had a great turnout. He noted the NAACP encourages people to become educated about Black ancestry and culture.
“I think that’s the way we really change, through young folks,” Harvey said, “because the older we get-we get set in our ways.”
Harvey was pleased to see the number of folks from all different ethnic backgrounds join in the festivities for the day and be educated on Black culture and how people can get involved in aiding the advancement of justice for African Americans.
First grade teacher, Iris Rose believes that even in her small village of Walden, it is important for the voices of people of color to be heard. She also admired the people of different ethnicities and races coming together, which is the first step in creating social change.
In the past 20 years that Rose has lived in Walden, she has seen a sudden shift in her community. “I appreciate the fact that Walden has opened up its heart and mind and is able to have this type of celebration,” Rose said. “I’m definitely proud. I’m glad that [Juneteenth] is being recognized.”
Harvey states, “It’s so important for the NAACP to be here so people can understand the importance of Juneteenth and what it means to our community.” He stated that once people open their minds to new ideas, then they can have dialogue and start making positive change in the community and he would like to see more young folks at the event in the future.
Kyle Conway, Vice President of the local NAACP chapter said, “It is important that organizations like the NAACP, or that social justice organizations like 845 Unity, stay strong and continue to do the work, of spreading awareness of racial disparities, and continuing the fight for social justice and equal opportunities for all. “Without the work we wouldn’t have this holiday. The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of the rights of all persons and to eliminate race based discrimination. Our vision–is to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race.”
The revitalization of the African American Burial Ground in Montgomery was a highlight at the Juneteenth event. 845 Unity even donated all of their profits from any merchandise that they sold that day to the revitalization of the burial ground.
“We established a charitable fund to accept private donations to help revitalize the cemetery,” said Brian Maher, Montgomery Town Supervisor. Their first fundraising event raised over $8,000, and the Town of Montgomery has put over $35,000 into the project to fund the engineering, architecture and the nine-foot sculpture that will be at this site, “-which is going to be absolutely just breathtaking.” The Town Board, in 2020, approved a contract with sculptor Vinnie Bagwell.
Maher hopes the project will be complete in early 2023 to create a conceptual design for a public art installation at the African American Cemetery. The African American cemetery consists of at least 171 known grave markers on a .46-acre parcel of land located on the west side of State Route 416 in the Town of Montgomery. This cemetery was established in the 18th century for slaves and used by African Americans through the 19th century, with the earliest grave marker dates from 1756.
He hopes to be able to place the statue outside of the Valley Central High School until the cemetery is ready to receive it in order to enforce the education of students. Maher states that the project of revitalizing the Town of Montgomery African American Cemetery has given him some perspective, education, and has aided him in forming bonds with people in the community.