Tag Archives: Trenton Times

A glorious festival in Cadwalader Park

A glorious festival in Cadwalader Park

Trenton’s grand Cadwalader Park was the setting for the recent African American Pride Festival (“Trenton residents show off their African-American pride with an all-day festival in Cadwalader Park,” Aug. 21). From the stage flowed different genres of music, speeches and performance. A spirit of pride, history, community and celebration existed among the large crowd. Old acquaintances reunited. New acquaintances began. There were activities for children and families. Many organizations were represented.

It was rewarding to see the talent of so many Trenton artists and community members and visitors. I grew up in Trenton; Cadwalader Park is part of my history. Long ago, my family spent many idyllic Saturday afternoons at the park. I remember Balloon Man, the pavilion, the whirly-round, the bears, the monkey house. I remember rolling down the park’s grassy hills in the warm months and sledding down those same hills during the winter months. I remember feeding ends of bread to the ducks, admiring the lovely deer in the compound and climbing on the canon.

Thanks to all who made the Trenton African American Pride Festival a reality. It was a significant event, and Cadwalader Park was a gracious host.

— Sylvia Brown-Roberts, Trenton The writer is an author and a retired Trenton public school teacher.

Trenton residents show off their African-American pride with all-day festival in Cadwalader Park

Trenton residents show off their African-American pride with all-day festival in Cadwalader Park

Published: Sunday, August 21, 2011,  8:14 AM
Matt Fair/The Times By Matt Fair/The TimesThe Times, Trenton
TRENTON — For 75 years, lifelong city resident Edith Savage-Jennings has been working as a civil rights activist, having gotten her start helping to integrate the movie theaters downtown in the 1930s when she was just 12 years old.

While she went on to help desegregate schools and register black voters in Mississippi in the 1960s and to call the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, personal friends, she said she saw something in Trenton’s Cadwalader Park yesterday that she’d never seen before.

“Aren’t you proud to be black today?” she asked, speaking into a microphone to a crowd gathered down the hill from the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie Mansion. “This is truly a great day for Trenton,” she said.

The occasion was the city’s first African-American Pride Festival, an event that drew throngs of residents for a day of food, music and dance. It was an effort to bring a renewed measure of unity and pride to the black community, organizers said.

Now 87, Savage-Jennings got her start as a civil rights activist in 1936 as a member of the youth division of the city’s NAACP chapter when she and a dozen friends took up seats in the whites-only section of a downtown movie theater. When the theater’s management asked them to move upstairs to a section reserve for blacks, they refused. It was a strong enough statement to end segregated seating at the theater.

“After that, they never bothered us again,” Savage-Jennings said.

It’s that kind of unity and pride, that ability to work together, that she wants to see revived in the city’s black community in 2011, she said. “You only get what you give,” she said. “If you do everything you can to help your city, we can make Trenton what it used to be.”

The event was organized by groups and activists including the Trenton Downtown Association, New Life Christian Center, Fork in the Road LLC, and Minding Our Business.

The effort attracted a slew of residents to lend a hand setting up. According to festival spokeswoman Yolanda Robinson, nearly 100 volunteers came out to help ensure that the event went smoothly.

“I think it really inspired people,” she said of the outpouring. “It gave them a sense of pride, something to call their own.”

There were musical performances from gospel singer Christawn and choirs from the city’s Union Baptist and Deliverance churches, African drumming from Egun Omode and Wise Intelligence, and a reading from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech by Trenton Central High School teacher and author Jack Washington.

Mayor Tony Mack walked through the crowd greeting supporters and well-wishers.

“This is one of my proudest moments as mayor of the city of Trenton,” he said. “For years, the African-American community has talked about putting on an event but it never really came to fruition. So today marks a milestone for the city of Trenton and I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

Mack said the city worked with the organizers to make sure the park facilities would be ready to handle such a large crowd.

“We tried to be good neighbors to a group that had a vision for our city,” Mack said. “That’s what it’s going to take to turn the city around, different groups working together.”

A number of local businesses set up tables throughout the park, including Michael Brooks, owner of a printing shop on Riverside Avenue. Brooks, along with several members of his family, were selling custom, screen-printed T-shirts.

Brooks, a lifelong Trenton resident and former basketball star at Trenton Central High School in 1980, said he was glad to see the black community bonding together in a way he hadn’t seen in years.

“From my point of view, we need to revitalize the black community and show we can work together,” he said. “We’re not just fighting and shooting and killing each other.”

Brooks said the black community has too often — and unfairly — been stereotyped by negative stories of gun violence, gangs, poverty and drugs.

“But as you can see it’s not like that,” he said. “We’re all here together.”

Savage-Jennings said the type of togetherness she saw at the gathering yesterday was the type she wants to see carried forward for new generations of black Trentonians. The festival, she added, reminded her of times long past, when churches in the community would host family picnics in parks throughout the city.

“This reminds me of them. The old days, as we call it,” she said. “We need to continue this, for the children’s sake. It’s way long overdue.”

Organizers said they want the African-American Pride Festival to be an annual event, and they hope to make it a week-long event next year instead of just one day.

Contact Matt Fair at mfair@njtimes.com or at (609) 989-5717.

Former Trenton Police Director calls on citizens to assert their African American pride


Former Trenton Police Director calls on citizens to assert their African American pride

Published: Saturday, August 06, 2011,  7:07 AM
Matt Fair/The Times By Matt Fair/The TimesThe Times, Trenton
Andrew Miller/For The TimesFormer Trenton Police Chief Ernie Williams, 77, a lifelong Trenton resident, speaks with a reporter in his Trenton home on Thursday, July 21, 2011. Williams is one of the organizers of Trenton’s first African American Heritage Festival.

TRENTON — Ernie Williams, the city’s former police chief, saw the barriers of racial segregation begin to shake, then crumble, in his own living room as a boy growing up on Parker Avenue in the city’s hardscrabble Wilbur section.

Despite living in an integrated neighborhood, when a new middle school opened near him in the early 1940s, black students like Williams’ brother Leon were told they would have no place there and would be forced to trek across town to the all-black Lincoln school.

To Berline Williams, the boys’ mother, this was unacceptable.

She and another city mother, Gladys Hedgepeth, filed a lawsuit against the district in a case that went all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1944 before being cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that banned segregated schools nationwide.

It’s a heritage of which Williams is immensely proud and one that, after living nearly 80 years in Trenton, he believes is slowly being lost to a rising tide of violence, poverty and ignorance.

“We had a lot of pride,” he said. “This was a great town, and I’d like to see the younger kids come up now and have something to be proud of. These kids are walking up and down the street and all they’re doing is shooting each other. You need some pride in your race.”

So when Williams heard that civic leaders and organizations were collaborating to organize the city’s first African-American Pride Festival, he was quick to sign up.

The event, which is scheduled to run from noon to 6 p.m. Aug. 20 in Cadwalader Park, will feature performances by Trenton natives including Kim Covington and Narubi Selah. Gospel singer Christawn, from Cherry Hill, will also take the stage. A second stage will provide entertainment for kids with performances from Trenton’s Children’s Chorus.

The festival will be spread throughout the park, with African drumming, spoken word acts, sports and games, and health screenings.

For his part, Williams, with nearly 40 years of law-enforcement experience under his belt, has been working to put together a security plan for the festival.

“We’re looking to empower the community, to give them something to be happy about,” said Yolanda Robinson, the event’s spokeswoman and the head of Living A Powerful Life, a Trenton-based community service organization.

The festival has brought together a sprawling network of individuals and organizations all working to instill and inspire a new sense of pride in the city’s black community.

Other organizations involved include the Trenton Downtown Association, the city of Trenton, Fork In The Road LLC, the Trenton Marriott, Destination Trenton, and Minding Our Business.

Both Mayor Tony Mack and at-large Councilwoman Phyllis Holly-Ward have thrown their support behind the event.

“The festival is to bring pride back into the community and to focus on the importance of family, culture, and just to bring back the zest in our community and for people to really honor themselves,” Robinson said.

Organizers hope to make the festival an annual event and expand it to encompass an entire week next year.

The focus on community is an especially important one for Williams. Growing up on Parker Avenue, family was an integral part of the neighborhood, he said.

“Everybody was poor, but they didn’t know they were poor. I mean dirt poor,” he said. “If my mother needed something she’d go next door and ask and she’d get it, or when Mrs. Snyder needed something or Ms. Johnson needed something, they’d come ask. It was like a community affair.”

“We didn’t have policemen in our neighborhood,” he added. “The neighbors were policed by what we called block mothers, your mother, my mother, this lady’s mother. They were tougher than cops. They took care of everything.”

For Williams, the Aug. 20 event will be more than just a day’s diversion. It’s a first step toward a renaissance in Trenton’s black community. As he put it, without knowing your history and without pride in your history, there’s nowhere to go but down.

“What else do we have? I pick up the papers and there’s two dead,” he said, referring to two homicides in the city earlier this summer. “The kids are running wild and they’re dropping out of school. There’s no education and no recreation. They have nowhere to turn.”

“Violence is a learned behavior. Kids do not jump out of the womb shooting guns,” he added.

“There’s a lot of influential people in town and they have to turn their heads and say, ‘Wait a minute, maybe there’s something we can do.’ And if there is something we can do, I want to be involved in it.”

Contact Matt Fair at mfair@njtimes.com or at (609) 989-5717.