By Maddy Vitale
Jayda Graves went to the library and took out a book to take to the “Second to Seventh Ocean City Family Reunion” cookout Saturday at the Ocean City Sports & Civic Center in honor of Juneteenth.
But it wasn’t any book she wanted to read to other children at the event.
This book had special significance for the event she and her family were going to attend. It was about the history of Juneteenth.
On June 19, 1865 enslaved Africans in Texas learned of their freedom, more than 2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. It is a day that has been celebrated since then, according to the Ocean City Juneteenth Organization website.
Jayda wanted to make sure her friends understood what it was all about.
“I want to teach kids about it and I want to learn more about it as well,” Jayda, of Somers Point, said.
She definitely has the right teachers when it comes to learning about Juneteenth and its importance to the black community. Her aunt is Brittany Battle, who along with Josh Baker and Takiya Wilson head Ocean City’s Juneteenth Organization.
While last year’s Ocean City Juneteenth event focused on the elders in the African American community, this year’s celebration was all about the kids and there was a lot of fun to be had.
“This year we wanted to have a fun, family time with the kids,” Battle said. “We think kids are the future. It is about the children.”
Kids played basketball, volleyball and other games, but the real hit was the bouncy house. There was also a DJ, treat machines, face painting, raffles, vendors, and informational booths at the center located at 840 E. 6th Street.
Ailalee Legette, 9, of Somers Point, and her sisters, Ah’Lanah Kelly, 4, Ah’layah Kelly, 8, enjoyed playing with the hula hoops. Then they ventured into the bouncy house.
Families sat together and ate hotdogs and hamburgers, munched on popcorn, sipped cool drinks, listened to music and played games. But the most important part of it all was that they did it together, organizers emphasized.
The event began at noon and by 2 p.m., Battle looked around the room and noticed the venue had really filled up.
“This is wonderful,” she said.
Battle noted that the city has been extremely supportive of the organization and the reunions. When the forecast forced a change of location for the reunion, originally to be held at Grimes Field, Battle said officials were so helpful and let them use the Sports & Civic Center.
She also said that the local business community, along with nonprofit organizations, were generous in donations to help make the celebration a success.
Ocean City Councilmen Antwan McClellan and Bob Barr attended the event.
“The fact that Josh, Brittany and Takiya take time out of their busy schedules to do this to make sure we don’t forget the importance of what Juneteenth means in history, is fantastic,” McClellan said.
Barr called the celebration fabulous.
“This is about families gathering together. People have known each other for decades,” Barr said. “It is about getting together and having a great time.”
Michael Rowell, like many of the attendees, is a lifelong Ocean City resident.
“Everybody in Ocean City sticks together,” Rowell said. “I was born and raised here. It is a great environment for the kids and a great community.”
Josiah Baker, 4, of Ocean City, enjoyed the bounce house and then spent some quality time with his dad Josh Baker, who, like Battle and Wilson, has dedicated a lot of time to the Ocean City Juneteenth Organization.
Vendors, longtime friends and Ocean City residents, Kendell Davis, 26, and Ebony Jones, 27, own Key Creations, a garment business.
Saturday’s celebration really highlighted the strength of the community in Ocean City, they said.
“This event is important to us, and all of the kids in the neighborhoods in Ocean City,” Davis, 26, said. “And our business shows them they can do for themselves and cycle dollars back into their community.”
Even as the “Second to Seventh Ocean City Family Reunion,” was in full swing, Baker, Battle and Wilson, were already discussing plans for next year’s reunion.
“We will focus on the veterans. We are already working with the VFW,” Baker said. “We want to do something really nice for the veterans next year.”
For more information about Juneteenth visit www.ocnjjuneteenth.jimdo.com