Music, culture and 'unity': Johnstown NAACP marking Juneteenth with nine days of events

·7 min read

Jun. 2—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — The Johnstown branch of the NAACP will mark the anniversary of an emancipation celebration with nine days of music, ministry and a message of unity.

This year's Juneteenth celebration will include a June 11 festival featuring acts performing jazz, R&B and a broad spectrum of American roots music at Peoples Natural Gas Park, as well as eight days of activities and heritage-themed events in Johnstown's Central Park.

"It's all about unity and coming together," said Francine Cashaw, the event's coordinator.

This marks the second year the NAACP has scheduled a week's worth of events.

Cashaw said the 30-volunteer group wanted to expand on it this year to reach every corner of the Greater Johnstown community with a parade, daily children's activities and a fashion show.

Vendors will line Central Park to serve up cuisine from wide range of cultures — BBQ, Caribbean, Asian and others, as well favorites such as ice cream and other treats.

"A big part of this is about creating an opportunity to experience different cultures and seeing where we have common ground," NAACP President Al Cashaw said, noting that everyone's shared passion for food is one example.

Listen to the music

This year's events will be kicked off with the Johnstown Juneteenth Music Celebration at Peoples Natural Gas Park on June 11.

Nine different performers will take the stage during the all-day event, which begins at 1 p.m., including the Johnstown-based Smooth Sound Band, Philadelphia's Maestro Johnnie Croom and New Jersey-based Diamonds in Jupiter.

Performers represent genres spanning from jazz to funk, R&B and beyond, Francine Cashaw said.

The event, will cost $30 in advance or $50 per-couple and $35 at the door with admission free for children under 13.

Smokey, the Legendary Percussionist hails from Washington, D.C., while well-known Pittsburgh saxophonist Calvin Stemley will lead his Pittsburgh-based band, Stemtech.

The opening act, Aaron "The Entertainer" Jefferson is a Michael Jackson impersonator — with the single glove and dance moves included — from South Carolina who performed last year in Johnstown "and he was so good that some of the guys working had to step in as security to prevent people from getting too close," Alan Cashaw said.

The event will include food and merchandise vendors from across the eastern U.S. as well as an inflatable bounce house and slide for children.

Music will also be offered at Central Park every day of the event — including the Johnstown Community Gospel Choir on June 12, the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra and "Bollywood" Indian dance on June 16, and South American drumming June 18.

A full schedule of Central park activities is listed with this article.

Juneteenth events were expanded in 2021 to introduce a broader offering of the music, cuisine and culture of people of color — and "we're excited to have groups coming in who show our diversity," Francine Cashaw said.

Youth involvement

Youth activities will be offered every day of the nine-day celebration, including airbrush tattoos, hula-hooping, stilt-walking demonstrations and other offerings by Dragonfly Tattoos.

"Mini models" from the local area will be featured in a fashion show by MSB Designs and Dreams on June 19.

June 15 events will focus on local youth, including a puppet show and the screening of the Disney movie "Encanto" at 9 p.m. with free popcorn, drinks and hot dogs.

Alan Cashaw said organizers hope this month's celebration can serve as an "ice-breaker" between local youth and a community of local residents eager to be "part of their lives."

While the event may draw longtime residents, it's just as likely to draw newcomers to Johnstown — families who just moved into the area who may not know where to turn for guidance, support and friendship, he said.

"When you forge bonds in the community ... when you make connections and have someone you can turn to, you're less likely to get into problems down the road, and that includes violence," Cashaw said.

"We're the people they see at Flood City Youth Fitness Academy," Cashaw said. "We're the ones they see in church or in their neighborhoods and we want to be a part of their lives and make sure they feel welcome here."

The week is also an opportunity for dialogue within the community, he said.

The NAACP and other city organizations, including Christ Centered Community Church, plan to sit down June 13 for a forum alongside leaders from the local United Methodist and Mennonite denominations — and perhaps others — "to see what roles we can play" to make inroads on the path to end racism in the Johnstown community, Alan Cashaw said.

He saluted local church leaders for raising the idea of a forum.

"The idea is, 'Let's talk about this,' " Cashaw said. "How can we find common ground to eliminate these racial biases that can creep into our cultures. How can we all work to make change?"

History and 'Heroes'

It's well known that African Americans played active roles on the war's battlefield as far back as the Civil War — but it's not nearly as recognized that some of them were Cambria County residents.

June 18, "Heroes" Alley, will mark the first time the community has collectively saluted African American veterans of the past through photographs and stories, while surviving veterans from as far back as the Korean War will also be recognized, Alan Cashaw said.

He said at least 70 photographs have been preserved, in addition to stories and gravestones memorializing Greater Johnstown area natives who fought for the Union — and in doing so, the freedom of all Blacks.

A parade will be held downtown with veterans marching and a brass band playing New Orleans-style musical numbers.

Afterward, presentations will be made to the veterans who attend, followed by a butterfly release to signify "peace," organizers said.

"We have a lot of exciting things planned for Juneteenth — and we're really looking forward to it," Alan Cashaw said.

The event is bring organized by the NAACP with support from Flood City Youth Fitness Academy and a grant from the statewide nonprofit Voices Underground.

Advertising and signage support was also provided by a long list of small and large Johnstown area businesses, organizations and area colleges, he said.

Indiana County NAACP will celebrate Juneteenth with an all-ages cookout from 5-8 p.m. on June 15 at Mack Park on South Sixth Street in Indiana.

Organizers said the event is designed to feed the body and the mind, with food and drink paired with an educational theme "Stronger Together: Community Unity, Meeting the Future Now."

A key goal is to promote community involvement — to foster relationships to help build a more inclusive, caring community, executive committee member Elaine Smith said in a release to media.

The event will include activities for children and attractions for people of all ages — food, drinks, T-shirts, raffles, door prizes and giveaways, organizers said.

Live music and keynote speakers are planned and a souvenir booklet will be offered to attendees.

The organization will announce the dedication of a memorial bench to be placed in Mack Park for a longtime fighter for social justice and member of the Indiana County NAACP, Smith wrote.

"The people of this nation and of the local community are dealing with some special challenges," she said. "Coming together for this special occasion during these trying times will help facilitate contact and communication and renew the energy and focus needed to prepare for a future that's amenable to all."

To register for the Indiana event event, go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/indiana-county-naacp-annual-juneteenth-celebration-2022-tickets-340285592367 or go to eventbrite.com and search "Indiana County NAACP Juneteenth Celebration."