Central NJ’s only Black History Museum to hold Juneteenth celebration

The Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM), central New Jersey’s only Black history museum, will hold its first Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 18, from 11am to 3pm. This family-friendly event, “Freedom Forward,” will feature live music from The Jonathan Ware Quartet, food from Trenton BBQ restaurant “The Big Easy,” artist talks, theatrical performances, activities for kids, and inspiring community speakers and leaders celebrating African American resilience and freedom. It will take place at the National Historic Register-listed Mt. Zion AME Church in Skillman and the adjacent True Farmstead, a historic African American-owned property recently purchased by SSAAM and the Sourland Conservancy. This celebration marks the first time visitors will be welcomed back to the museum’s home in-person since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Among the day’s highlights will be artistic workshops at the True Farmstead. Noted Princeton artists, activists, and educators Judith Brodsky and Rhinold Ponder will present “Black Artists: Elevating the Community,” a talk about five Black artists who lived in and around the Sourlands 50 years ago. These artists believed that art was for everyone and could elevate the quality of life for individuals in the community.

Immediately following the presentation, Emmy-winning artist and educator Dr. Ronah Harris will give community members a chance to create art of their own: guiding visitors through the craft of quilt-making as an artistic and storytelling tradition in the African American community. Visitors will have the opportunity to make quilt squares representing their own culture, the future, and social justice. The squares will be incorporated into SSAAM’s first community quilt, representing the beautiful mosaic of people in the Sourlands region.

Actors from the Allegra School of Music and Arts will present To Be Free, an original Juneteenth performance written by dramatist Ryan Kilpatrick. The inspirational play offers a candid view of this new American holiday and the historical events surrounding its origin story, as well as our collective responsibility for shaping a more just and equitable shared future.

Educational offerings at the event will include a talk by Rutgers University undergraduate Isabella Ruiter, who recently traveled to Benin for a study abroad program. Ruiter will discuss her travels as well as the history of Africans’ trans-Atlantic contributions to African American culture in the United States.

Local organizations will also host tables and booths at the event, such as SSAAM’s partner organization, the Sourland Conservancy, which will present an interactive exhibit titled “Nature in the Sourlands.” The exhibit will feature maps of the Sourland Mountain region and a display of local natural objects for children to interact with, including deer bones, bird nests, a small tree and planting tube, nuts and rock samples, and native seed packets to give away.

“Freedom Forward” is co-sponsored by the Princeton University Art Museum. SSAAM is grateful to Princeton University for their generous support, as well as to all of the private donors making this event possible.

To sponsor “Freedom Forward,” register a vendor table, or purchase tickets, please visit ssaamuseum.org/Juneteenth2022. Adult general admission is $25 by online pre-sale only and $30 at the door; tickets for children 12 and under are $10.

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