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Kean University

Kean Celebrates Inaugural Juneteenth Jamboree with Freedom Walk, Festivities

Kean President Repollet leads the Juneteenth freedom walk

Kean University celebrated African American history and culture with a stirring and joyful Juneteenth Jamboree, held at the Union campus on Wednesday, June 19.

Hosted by the Center for Africana Studies, the University’s inaugural Juneteenth event began with a Freedom Walk and included moving speeches and prayer; a performance of Lift Every Voice, the Black National Anthem; and a standing-room-only crowd sharing the day that marks the end of slavery in the United States.

“This is a day we celebrate history and the fact that Black history is American history,” said Kean President Lamont O. Repollet, Ed.D., who led the morning Freedom Walk and took part in the day of festivities. “Knowing one’s history allows us to have self-respect, build self-confidence and gain a sense of pride. It was an incredible celebration.”

Kean Senior Vice President for Entrepreneurial Education Initiatives and Acting Dean of the College of Education Sancha Gray, Ed.D., also offered remarks. 

Group photo at Juneteenth Jamboree with proclamation

“This is American history; it’s our collective history,” Gray said, addressing the crowd of more than 150 people, many dressed in Juneteenth T-shirts or colorful, traditional African garb. “This is a joyous occasion. It’s not a somber occasion; this is liberation.”

The Center for Africana Studies was created this year at Kean as a resource for scholarly research, community engagement and educational programming, particularly in support of New Jersey’s K-12 Amistad curriculum. The Juneteenth Jamboree was its first celebration of the holiday.

David Jefferson Jr., Ed.D., acting director of the Center, gave the welcoming address and offered a brief history of Juneteenth. The holiday marks the official end of slavery on June 19, 1865, when the Emancipation Proclamation was read to enslaved blacks in Galveston, Texas.

“This is a day we call a liberation celebration,” Jefferson said. “It not only reflects but acknowledges the journey.”

The crowd at Kean Hall grew throughout the event, until at least 150 people filled the room. Attendees gave rousing applause to speakers, and delivered numerous standing ovations to Repollet and others.

Among the speakers was New Jersey Assemblyman and Deputy Majority Leader Reginald W. Atkins, who shared a proclamation calling the Jamboree a “monumental event that promises to be both enriching and inspiring to all participants.”

“Kean University, through this inaugural Juneteenth celebration, reaffirms its commitment to fostering an inclusive environment that honors the legacy of African American history and promotes cultural understanding and unity,” the proclamation read. 

The Rev. Dr. David Jefferson Sr., Esq., pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark, son of a sharecropper and the father of Kean’s Jefferson, brought down the house with his call for praise of Repollet and other Kean leadership. 

“You have helped put Kean on the map,” he said. “The best thing that can free you to be all you can be is an education. I still believe my learning is my passport.”

Following the formal program, attendees enjoyed food and music. Artists provided face-painting for children, and representatives of the Urban League in Elizabeth shared information about assistance programs they offer. 

Among those in the crowd was Gwendolyn Hodde, of Newark, who brought her granddaughter visiting from Florida, Charmain Hodde, 8.

“I think this event is awesome,” Gwendolyn Hodde said. “I love everything about it – the speeches, the atmosphere.”

Simeria Dewalt of Elizabeth also said she enjoyed the day, beginning with the Freedom Walk. 

“It feels good. It feels free,” Dewalt said. “I’m just all for it today.”