Midtown Make a Difference Day and Juneteenth celebration in Kingston

At last year’s Midtown Make a Difference Day, Zachariah Herbert of Kingston painted a butterfly house at the Kingston Midtown Rising booth. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

This year’s 12th annual Midtown Make a Difference Day and the fifth annual Juneteenth commemoration will both happen this Saturday, June 17, amounting to a full day of celebrating Kingston’s diversity and heritage.

At Midtown Make a Difference Day, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Franklin Street from Broadway ti Prospect Street, community-based organizations will provide information, brochures and interactive activities to connect residents to services available in Ulster County. Exhibitors will offer information on a variety of topics including health, education, employment, faith, legal issues, recreation and much more.

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The day will feature hula-hoop and double Dutch contests, face painting, fitness workshops and other presentations. Ashley Knox of “Go Beyond Greatness” fame will be emceeing the event. Franklin Street will be closed from Broadway to Prospect Street (adjacent to the Kingston Library). There will be no on-street parking allowed during the event.

This year’s theme is the “Ripple Effect”, explained Megan Weiss-Rowe, the city’s director of community engagement, which she said came as a result of the passing earlier this year of Midtown community leader Sandra Hopgood. The Midtown Make a Difference Day is being held in her memory this year. “I think of all of the children and teens she worked with at the Hodge Center and how they’ve grown into adults since that time,” said Weiss-Rowe. “Every child she worked with now has the opportunity to help someone else. While most of the children I serve now didn’t know Ms. Hopgood, they are still impacted by her efforts.”

Weiss-Rowe said she herself learned from Hopgood, and shared in her vision of a community that cares for one another. “It’s a simple but incredibly powerful gift we can give to each other,” said Weiss. “It’s so easy to get lost in the daily commotion and forget the impact we can have. Working at the Hodge Center for as long as I have, I’ve seen firsthand that children inherently want to do good. They want to help. They have a deep need to feel a sense of purpose. We need to support that desire to make an impact. So the thought behind this year’s Midtown Make a Difference Day was to encourage every attendee to take a moment and think about one positive thing they can do to help someone else — a friend, a neighbor, the community as a whole, or the world. Then, think about how those we help now have the opportunity to pay it forward.”

Weiss-Rowe said there will be community service projects that day for children to help with, along with a vision board in which attendees can commit to helping others, in order to illustrate the theme for attendees. The menu for the day will include grilled chicken over salad, breadsticks, hamburgers and fruit. For more information, call Weiss-Rowe at (845) 334-3964 or mweiss@kingston-ny.gov.

After MMADD, attendees can head over to the Juneteenth celebration to participate in Kingston’s version of the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery. Festivities begin promptly at 5 p.m. at New Progressive Baptist Church on Hone Street. Senior Pastor G. Modele Clarke will speak on slavery, freedom and Juneteenth, focusing on the lessons imparted by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break the Silence” speech, which is now 50 years old. There will also be a special live performance of scenes from the hit musical/drama Sam Cooke Where You Been Baby?

Special awards presentations to Drew Andrews of Center 4 Creative Education for his work in the community, said Odell Winfield, New Progressive’s Community Outreach minister. “[Andrews] is a staple in the community for years with Percussion Orchestra Of Kingston [POOK] and [dance program] Energy, and he has a young men’s club at the Hodge Center. He also does the Diversity Parade,” said Winfield. The other special award is going to 105-year-old Rosendale resident Journey Truth, for a lifetime of activism and wisdom. “Many of us sat at her feet while she discussed early African American history,” said Winfield. “She has been a real concrete person who worked at the library, she has been a real concrete person in the community and at 105 years old, it is time to honor that.” He added that Truth has been a counsel for many in the community, and was instrumental in helping with the library as well.

Juneteenth, a blend of June and 19th, was born on June 19, 1865, when slaves in Texas, the last state of the Confederacy to be occupied by Union forces at the end of the Civil War, were emancipated.

During the early 1900s, Juneteenth celebrations declined and the Emancipation Proclamation became recognized by the broader society as the date slavery ended. But the holiday reappeared during the Civil Rights era. In 1968, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, at the Poor People’s Campaign’s March on Washington, announced that Juneteenth was a day for all people to celebrate. In response, activists worked to bring its celebration to their hometowns. Twelve years later, in 1980, Juneteenth became a state holiday in Texas and in 2004 a state holiday in New York. In 2013, the City of Kingston began its official recognition of Juneteenth.

For Winfield, the fact that this year’s celebration’s guests are all local, rather than folks from out-of-town, is what makes this Juneteenth feel so very special.

The discussion, awards and entertainment will be followed by a home-cooked meal. The event is free. For more information, contact Winfield at 914-388-3092.

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