History marches in the MAAHF parade
Montclair African American Heritage Foundation Parade and Festivities
Friday, June 1, Memories Meet and Greet
Montclair High School, George Innes Cafeteria
Saturday, June 2, 10:30 a.m., parade, starts Glenfield Middle School
Festival noon-6 p.m., Nishuane Park
By GWEN OREL
If you want to see something done right, do it yourself. Or maybe if you want to see it done at all.
Al Pelham and Bonni Taylor, co committee chairs for the Montclair African American Heritage Foundation parade and festival, have long Montclair roots: Pelham is Montclair High School class of 1968, while Taylor is class of ’69.
But they weren’t always involved with the 29-year old festival.
Pelham says he joined about five years ago, when he noticed the parade didn’t happen. And he was told, get involved.
So Pelham, the executive director of the Montclair Neighborhood Development Center, joined the parade team. He’s also president of the NAACP, and co-director of the MAAHF.
When Taylor first got involved with the festival committee she was living in Maryland, and would commute to the parade.
Many people do come back for the parade and festival, Taylor said. That’s why the MAAHF holds a “Memories Meet and Greet” on Friday, the night before the big event.
The parade’s origins came from noticing that the township’s annual Fourth of July parade did not touch the fourth ward, which was predominantly African American.
“It’s just a day. It’s not a holiday,” Pelham said. “It’s a normal Saturday, and a great day to get your kids out, and see a parade and come up to Nishuane and see African culture, stilt walkers, African garb. It’s a day of celebrating our culture and having a day for ourself.”
The program has grown over the years, Taylor said. The grand marshals are individuals or organizations that are under the wire, people who’ve done great things but “lots of folks don’t know,” she said.This year’s marshals are both organizations: Grass Roots and Head Start.
Montclair Grass Roots (montclairgrassroots.leagueapps.com) is a non-profit organization, founded by Wally Choice Jr. and his wife Celine and a venerable board of directors, that runs a summer camp for children in the Wally Choice Community Building/Glenfield Park House, 45 Maple Ave.
Head Start, or Montclair Childhood Development Corporation (mcdcnj.org) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the healthy cognitive, physical and social-emotional development of infants, toddlers and preschoolers, according to its website.
“This year is so special because both organizations are in their 50th year,” Taylor said. “These are long-standing organizations with real history.”
“We consider it quite an honor to be chosen with Montclair Childhood Development Center, because we have been partners for 50 years together,” said Celine Choice. The day camp, which includes swimming, trips to Turtle Back Zoo, arts and crafts, roller skating, bowling and more, began because in the summer children needed something to do while their parents are at work, to keep them safe and occupied, Choice said. The hours and the length of the program have changed, but the need for children to have something to do in the summer has not.
“The satisfaction of having former campers come back to us and say how much they enjoyed the program, what it meant to them and what it provided for them in the summer, is what keeps me going,” she said.
Tanya Poteat, executive director of Head Start, said in an email that she is humbled to share the Grand Marshall honor with Grass Roots.
“Both Grass Roots and Montclair Child Development Center, Inc were created out of love for people in the community,” Poteat said. “Each agency, at that time and still today, meets an important need for children and families.” And being chosen is a “great kick off” to the organization’s 50th, she said.
Pelham said that about 50 groups are registered for the paraded. He expects around 1,000 people to participate in the festival.
And, Taylor said, there are people who come from out of state to march and watch.
She’s especially proud that the activities in the kids’ zone, the bouncy castle and the petting zoo, are all free. “The reality of a lot of these children is that they’re coming out with grandparents and great grandparents who may be on fixed incomes. If I’m a grandmother and I’ve got three grandchildren out with me on the pony ride and then they want to get on it again, and I’ve got to feed the, and give them ice cream, then we’re going to look at vendors... I can just imagine these grandparents being really in a hard place. I felt that what we can do is just eliminate costs.
“Adults come to see the artists perform, and there’s no charge for that. So let’s make it easier,” Taylor said.
Entertainment will include gospel singer Dawn Tallman, R&B band Anonymous, and Vessels of Praise of St. Paul Baptist Church, Montclair. Eddie Nicholas will be the master of ceremonies.
Both Pelham and Taylor look forward to the moment they can relax, and see other people relaxing.
“My favorite thing is seeing people come out and see a parade themselves. That’s a big thing for me,” Taylor said.
Pelham loves the moment “when we blow the whistle at 10:30 and say ‘the parade’s a go’ and it takes off.”