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1st Annual Juneteenth Celebration

On Saturday June 18, 2022, SSAAM was thrilled to welcome the community back to Mt. Zion AME Church and the historic True Farmstead for a Juneteenth celebration of freedom, our first in-person event since before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Long celebrated in the African American community, Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. The holiday was first celebrated on June 19, 1865, following the arrival of Union troops into Galveston, Texas, proclaiming freedom for enslaved people in the state two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.


SSAAM's Juneteenth event was a day of music, food, art, and joy, with performances and activities including:

Keynote by Dr. Rosetta Treece, Superintendent of the Hopewell Valley School District

Music from the Jonathan Ware Quartet, vocalist Gia Ware, and the Allegra School of Music and Arts Youth Singers

Quilt-Making workshop with Ronah Harris

"Black Artists: Elevating the Community" by Rhinold Porter

Mt. Zion Renovation Tour by Bruce Daniels

Poetry performances by Olivia Altidor, Ssanyu Lukoma, and Jonathan Ware

"Happy Dreams of Liberty: An American Family in Slavery and Freedom" by Dr. Isabela Morales

"A Trip to Benin - African Influence on American Culture" by Isabella Ruiter

"To Be Free," an original Juneteenth play written by Ryan Kilpatrick and performed by the Allegra School of Music and Arts

Food from Trenton BBQ restaurant "The Big Easy"

Message from the Executive Director

Dear SSAAM Friends and Supporters,


I've been thinking a lot about the meaning of our Juneteenth celebration and Truefarmstead Homecoming celebration this past weekend. To the African American community, Juneteenth, as a marker for the end of human bondage, is so much more than a party, a day off, an Ice cream flavor, or a retailer holiday sale. To the enslaved community, the jubilee or Juneteenth celebrations that they created as a marker for emancipation, did not represent the instant end of an inhuman, brutal, and oppressive condition that their people experienced since the first documented Enslaved African, a woman named Angela, arrived in Jamestown in 1619. They understood better than anyone that they would not awaken to a magically transformed world on June 20th, 1865. Juneteenth did represent the awakening of a sincere hope for new opportunities and new possibilities for the American ideal of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for themselves and their children. 


On Saturday I watched as hundreds of new and old friends passed through our festivities. They represented the beautiful diversity and cultural richness of our community. I witnessed them listening to Pat Payne with rapt attention as she spoke eloquently and sincerely of her beautiful childhood and her family's deep connection and reliance on the land on which we all stood. I watched people listening and appreciating the dramatic storytelling of our children, the jazz, the spirituals, and poetry. I saw them smiling and somehow managing conversations with one another while unabashedly stuffing their mouths with delicious barbecue and other traditional Juneteenth treats! I saw children giggling, and shrieking with delight while running and playing on the land with the same freedom that Pat and her brothers experienced so many years ago. I witnessed a sense of peace and belonging among all of the guests, volunteers, friends, local dignitaries, and supporters as they took in the historical significance of the space, the day, and absorbed our plans for the future site of a unique African American Museum and environmental center dedicated to a broader view of local history, restoration, and preservation.


I must say that I was especially struck by the visceral joy, pride, and comfort that I witnessed and sensed from the African Americans who attended. It was undeniable. I recognized this sense of ease and joy immediately as I know that too often there is a scarcity of spaces where we can experience a sense of welcome and belonging other than religious services and family celebrations. This feeling of acceptance, connection, and belonging is something that many take for granted but the African American community and other communities that are routinely and systematically "othered" do not. But I knew that we, as well as our community, felt welcomed on the grounds of the True Farmstead, which made me deeply glad.


I watched Pat Payne smile with her whole body and I saw 101 year old Nana Brooks dancing with her daughter. I saw Cat Hogan and her daughter watch their Nana dancing and smile. I watched people crowd into the farmhouse living room to listen to distinguished African American artists talk about distinguished African American artists who blazed trails for them over fifty years ago. I watched adults and children of different races, ethnicities, genders, and ages sit elbow to elbow (masked) at tables in a room where generations of Pat Payne's family gathered to eat meals. They learned about the African American tradition of quilt-making and honored it by crafting their own squares that will later be sewn together to create SSAAM's first community quilt. 


I can only imagine how Pat Payne, the Brooks, the Mills, the Bucks, and other True descendants that were present felt during our True Farmstead Juneteenth homecoming celebration. I thought about the legendary Camp Meetings where African American families from around the region gathered for similar festivities. I wondered what the ancestors thought about our celebration.  I can tell you that I felt happy and proud (and only slightly nervous). Honestly, I am so incredibly honored and grateful to have been a part of a wonderfully collaborative ensemble of people from SSAAM, the Sourland Conservancy, our generous event co-sponsor - The Princeton University Art Museum, The Somerset County Cultural Heritage Commission, Montgomery Township, our donors, the Princeton artist community, the musicians, poets, playwrights, the young performers from the Allegra School of Music and Arts and other community partners, volunteers and friends that worked so diligently to make this weekend a successful reality. Furthermore, I am grateful to be a part of the SSAAM organization that has a mission and spirit that is demonstratively grounded in friendship, generosity, inclusion, truth-telling, bridge-building, and JOY. 

Freedom Forward!

Donnetta Johnson

Thank You!

We are grateful to the many Board members, volunteers & staff, performers, vendors, and attendees who participated. Special thanks go out to our sponsors, whose generous support made this event possible!


Princeton University Art Museum

Freedom Ambassadors

Patricia Shanley • Sylvia Stengle

Heritage Ambassadors

Allegra School of Music and Arts • Connie Ban • Carol and Phil Carlson • Patricia Payne

Cultural Ambassadors

Steve Bales • Edwin Blew • Karen Clark • Joanna and Clem Fiori • Mills + Schnoering Architects •

Long Volvo • Christine Newman • Susan and David Parris • The Watershed Institute

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