South Orange Black History Month: The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity

by The Village Green
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From the South Orange Village Black History Month Committee:

To celebrate 2021’s Black History Month, the Village of South Orange and the Department of Recreation and Cultural Affairs will launch the podcast Our Voices, unveil a new open-air and socially distant art exhibit, co-host virtual panels, recommend exciting and engaging diverse children’s books, and more. Visit South Orange’s Black History Month website for a list and calendar of February events.


Our Voices. The first episode of this new podcast series features Assemblywoman Mila M. Jasey and two of her siblings remembering their brother “Moose” who had a profound impact on all of their lives and became a fixture in the South Orange community. Courtesy of Assemblywoman Mila M. Jasey.

The national theme for this year’s Black History Month is “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity” as established by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. 

South Orange Village Trustee Summer Jones led a committee of volunteers to develop and contribute to an array of programs and events focusing on black families. She said: “The idea of focusing on the representation, identity, and diversity of the black family is perfect for South Orange and Maplewood. Our committee thought the theme provided a great opportunity to counter existing stereotypes about the monolithic black family.” 

Erasing South Orange Borders. A weekly three-mile run exploring black neighborhoods that contributed to and are part of South Orange’s history. Census Bureau map of South Orange, NJ.

Jones continued: “Our Black History Month Committee was especially excited to highlight some of the diversity in SOMa. We wanted participants to see their own families or to learn more about black families who are our neighbors, friends, and clients. We hope that everyone can find a way to engage with the events and expand our sense of community.”

Historic image of First Baptist Church in South Orange. For the virtual panel titled: “The History of the Black Community in South Orange.” Courtesy of South Orange Public Library.

These Black History Month events are steeped in SOMa’s community. Highlights include:

  • Our Voices. A weekly podcast featuring black families who practice Judaism, black LGBTQ+ families, and black people with disabilities and their families. The first episode features our Assemblywoman Mila M. Jasey with two of her siblings to pay tribute to their belated brother “Moose” who had down syndrome and loved living in South Orange. Released on Mondays.
  • Erasing South Orange Borders Run/Walk. A weekly three-mile run led by Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad that crosses our borders to explore black neighborhoods that contributed to and are part of South Orange’s history and development. Saturdays and Sundays.
  • The History of the Black Community in South Orange. This virtual panel will focus on the rich history of the black community in South Orange. Panelists include Rev. Dr. Forrest M. Pritchett, Seton Hall University, Rev. Dr. Terry Richardson, First Baptist Church in South Orange, Dr. Adunni Slackman Anderson, and Rev. Estelle Verner David. Dr. Kelly Harris, of Seton Hall University, will moderate. This event is sponsored by South Orange Village, First Baptist Church of South Orange, and Seton Hall University. February 10, 2021 at 7:00 p.m.
  • “Strength in Creativity” Outdoor Art ExhibitThis month-long outdoor exhibit celebrates black South Orange artists. Artists of note include Dwight Carter, who has captured images of many of our black icons like Maya Angelou, Alex Haley,  and the Dance Theater of Harlem and abstract artist  B. Curtis Grayson, III who is a Visual Art teacher at Columbia High School. Meadowland Park, February 8 – February 28th.
  • Original COVID-19 Vaccine video shorts with medical experts and designed to speak to the needs and concerns especially of black and brown members of the SOMa community.  
  • See our special children’s section for fun and educational content including read-aloud books from Columbia High School students in the Parnassian Society and other community members, South Orange Public Library events, and book ideas.
  • Look What We Found! Curated book lists featuring black fictional characters and current and historical black heroes based on a new theme each week. Prepared by Ms. Janine Guida-Poutre, Library Media Specialist for Seth Boyden and Dr. Ahadi Bugg-Levine. Released on Wednesdays.
  • And so much more!

Local Black Artist, Cire B, and 10 year South Orange resident, Art submission. Courtesy of Cire B Studios.

South Orange Village worked with local organizations to centralize and develop new events and activities to help residents more fully participate in Black History Month. The Village would like to acknowledge contributions from South Orange Village Center Alliance, South Orange Public Library, South Orange Performing Arts Center, Seton Hall University, JESPY House, South Mountain YMCA, Parnassian at Columbia High School, and Community Coalition on Race.

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