A Day of Fellowship and Fun in the Sun at Juneteenth Celebration

Stockton University hosted an all-day celebration in honor of Juneteenth on Monday, June 17, on the Atlantic City campus.

Atlantic City, N.J. – All eyes and ears were fixed on New Jersey Lt. Gov. Tahesha Way during Stockton University's annual Juneteenth celebration on Monday, June 17. 

As the sun shone on the audience of students, staff and faculty gathered in the Residential Quad of Kesselman Hall in Atlantic City, Way proudly declared, "It's a beautiful Juneteenth to be with Stockton University." 

Beautiful, indeed. The wind off the ocean provided perfect moments of relief as everyone sat at tables decorated with red, green and yellow tablecloths, numerous pins and rubber bracelets. 

In her remarks, Way reaffirmed her and Gov. Phil Murphy’s commitment to commemorating and honoring the memory of Juneteenth. According to Way, Murphy felt that the historic legislation signed into law in 2020 was a milestone that should’ve happened long before their administration.

New Jersey observes Juneteenth on the third Friday in June, while nationally, it is recognized as June 19. 

“In order to honor Juneteenth, we must do more and deliver justice through providing economic opportunities, fully funding public schools, increasing homeownership and employment opportunities and providing mentorship and investment for Black entrepreneurs and businesses. Restorative justice requires all of us,” Way said.

NJ Lt. Gov. Tahesha Way
NJ Lt. Gov. Tahesha Way gave remarks during the speaking portion of the celebration. 

Way also encouraged a moment of levity when she suddenly surprised her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sister, Stockton's Executive Vice President Terricita Sass, with a rendition of "Happy Birthday,” as the latter shares her birthday with the holiday. A chorus of “skees” was heard throughout the performance as audience members laughed, cheered, and joined in on the singing.

Between mirthful moments were sentiments of paving the path forward and looking toward creating a positive legacy for the future championed by Haashim Smith-Johnson ’19, former president of the Unified Black Students Society, and Louise Kennedy, president of the student organization Commuters on the Go.  

“Events such as our annual Juneteenth celebration only push Stockton in the right direction. While this event is a celebration, let's still recognize that there is still work to do in and for our community. The year will be a challenging test in all aspects, and we must pay as much attention as possible,” said Smith-Johnson, who’s now a Stockton Admissions recruiter. “Please continue to acknowledge the journey our culture has experienced and continue to strengthen our community to know where we are going. I know it may sound cliche, but we are stronger together and it has shown through the test of time.”

“Though Juneteenth commemorates a day we are all unable to physically remember, today, we can take care to fathom the awe-inspiring moments when the chains of so many Black people in America were let loose, bringing them opportunities – however slim – for them to grow into the scientists, inventors, parents, activists and more that they were always meant to be. The pain suffered by those within the African diaspora, both past, present and future, will not be disregarded, and in honor of Juneteenth, we can rejoice in the fruits of the labor of such resilience,” said Kennedy, who’s a Health Sciences major.

President Joe Bertolino shaking hands with NJ Lt. Gov. Tahesha Way and Dianne Stalling

Attendees in the Res Quad on the Atlantic City campus


Students part of the organization "Commuters on the Go" and Louie Kennedy (center in red)

Honey Hair Care

A part of the mini-exhibit by Ralph Hunter

An attendee getting food from Jovin Fernandez, director of the Multicultural Center

Stockton President Joe Bertolino referenced the current climate surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and reiterated the university’s commitment to continuing to make the campus a welcoming environment for all.

“To combat this (attack on social justice), let us honor those who came before us by carrying on the work of creating an environment that is fair, equitable and welcoming to all,” Bertolino said. “I am proud that Stockton continues to engage in this work, whether through our Africana Studies program – which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary – our race and racism education courses, our annual Fannie Lou Hamer Human and Civil Rights Symposium – which just celebrated its 20th anniversary, and the list goes on and on.

“Stockton is committed to doing the work of engaging civil discourse, community engagement and social justice. Now is the time to stand firm in our commitment to building a community of opportunity and ensuring that everyone in our community is treated with dignity, respect, kindness, compassion and civility,” Bertolino said.

In addition to supporting local businesses, such as Ghanian-owned clothing boutique Afriprintz and Honey Hair Care and enjoying soul food within the residential hall, attendees had the opportunity to peruse a mini exhibition on the history of Black Atlantic City residents curated by Ralph Hunter, the founder of the African-American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey.

Hunter, who visits over 100 college and university campuses a year, shared many little-known facts about Black life in Atlantic City and New Jersey, including that the state’s roots in enslavement were deeper than what is commonly known.

According to Hunter, the last enslaved African-American woman in New Jersey, known as Lucy, was held in bondage in Mays Landing until 1871, six years after the liberation of multiple people in Texas that Juneteenth now commemorates. Lucy’s personal belongings, including her trunk and various tools, are now on display in the museum. 

Ralph Hunter of the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey
Ralph Hunter, the founder of the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey, curated a mini-exhibit that was on display throughout the event. 

Amidst the black-and-white photos of various Miss Black America pageants, Black-owned businesses and children playing in the sand at Missouri Avenue Beach (known popularly as Chicken Bone Beach), Hunter sat in a chair, ready to share stories that spanned decades.

“We're here to tell the story about how redlining and, eventually, integration played a major role, not only in businesses but in schools and even beaches,” Hunter said. “This is just one of several exhibits that we have at the museum.”

Lydia Adjetey, an international student from Ghana majoring in Communication Studies, said the event marks her third celebration at Stockton – and she’s already looking forward to her fourth.

“The food is amazing, the people are great and the speeches were amazing,” Adjetey said. “I just love how we all come together as a community every year, you know, same time and same place, so I’m always here! I look forward to coming to the next one and inviting some friends next year.”

For Jovin Fernandez, director of the Multicultural Center, this celebration was her first at Stockton. She was excited to contribute to the celebration and that the center plays a role in educational and historical events like the June 17 event.

“I was overjoyed to see the number of staff, faculty, administrators and community members who came out to support us. That support is a testament to the community that we have at Stockton,” Fernandez said. “I see events like this as a celebration that acknowledges how far we've come, but also a call to action to continue the work of ensuring equality and justice simultaneously.” 

Stockton, Community Commemorate Juneteenth

June 21, 2022

The Stockton community marked Juneteenth with a cookout and celebration on Friday, June 17.
The Stockton community marked Juneteenth with a cookout and celebration on Friday, June 17.

Galloway, N.J.- The Stockton community marked Juneteenth with a cookout and celebration in front of the future Multicultural Center on Friday, June 17.

Christopher Catching, vice president for Student Affairs, welcomed students and community members to the event and commended Stockton for its progressiveness, noting the new center will open in Fall 2022.

“It’s my hope that our next Juneteenth program will be slightly different,” Catching said. “It will be housed within and around the center, and I expect you all to attend."

The event was organized by Unified Black Student Society (UBSS), African Student Organization (ASO), Caribbean Student Association (CSA), Stockton’s NAACP chapter, Student Senate, and the office of Student Development. The celebration is the third held at Stockton in recent years, inspired by celebrations that originated in Texas, a state that still had enslaved African Americans two years after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

Anthony “AJ” Brooks, president of UBSS,  said he felt  it was important to honor the day that the remaining enslaved people were finally liberated in 1865.

“Juneteenth is a holiday that is under-recognized throughout the nation and the world,” Brooks said. “Many do not know the significance of what happened to those slaves and our event brought together students and people from the community to pay respects to those who came before us. We thanked them for their sacrifices that led us to this point as well as discussed what we can do to keep moving forward as a race.”

– Story by Loukaia Taylor

– Photos by Lizzie Nealis