The Montclair African American Heritage Foundation’s 33rd annual celebration will take place on June 4, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has pressed pause on a total return to normal.

In a pre-pandemic year, the foundation’s annual celebration would include a full-scale parade — with marching bands, drill teams, various organizations, and floats for the honorees and grand marshals — culminating with a festival at Nishuane Park. 

Due to the continued uncertainty of potential coronavirus infection spikes, this year a motorcade will take the place of the parade, as it did last year, Te'Niijah Bussey, co-chair of the foundation, said. The motorcade will include the grand marshals, memorials for honorees who have died and Montclair Nostalgic Automobile Society vehicles.

But the festival itself is back in full swing, with food vendors, musical performances, a kids’ zone, and art and merchandise stores. The only significant change the festival will see is a new location. The festival will be held at the TD Bank parking lot at 233 Bloomfield Ave., instead of Nishuane Park. The site is expected to be part of the upcoming redevelopment of the adjacent Lackawanna Plaza.

“Our festival is usually at Nishuane Park, but this year it is under construction so we had to make the necessary changes and are fortunate enough that the owner of the Lackawanna [Plaza] lot, David Placek, has allowed us to have the festival there,” Roger Terry, co-chair of the foundation and president of the Montclair chapter of the NAACP, said. 

The motorcade will leave from Glenfield Middle School at 10 a.m. and end at Lackawanna Plaza, where the festival will take place from 1 to 6 p.m.

Despite the location and logistical changes, the celebration is still intended as a community-building event to honor the achievements of African American residents of Montclair. 

“We want the residents of the ever-changing community of Montclair to know first of all that this is an event that has persisted for 33 years and that they can see some of the history of the residents that have lived here in Montclair, and to recognize the achievements of African Americans throughout the year,” Terry said.

This year’s honoree list includes Tom Robinson, founder of the Nostalgic Automobile Society; Marsha Walker, a founder of the Hollow Cadets drill team; and longtime Montclair NAACP president and foundation leader Albert Pelham.

“Pelham was a dynamic person and spent his whole life basically giving back and helping all factors of people in the community, the children, the seniors, the less fortunate,” Terry, who assumed the role of Montclair NAACP president after Pehlam’s death in August, said.

Albert Pelham at Temple Ner Tamid in 2020 (Neil Grabowsky/File Photo)
Albert Pelham at Temple Ner Tamid in 2020 (Neil Grabowsky/File Photo)

This year’s grand marshals are Lorena Tyson, a Montclair school teacher of 26 years, and Jeh Johnson, former secretary of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama and resident of Montclair.

The grand marshals serve as current pillars of the Montclair African American community, Terry said.

“Someone like Mr. Johnson, who is such a prestigious person and actually worked with President Barack Obama, lives right here in our community and he has given back and helped organizations in our community,” he said.

Planning for the event is a months-long process and involves various committees under the overarching Montclair African American Heritage Foundation organization. 

“Cheryl Barber is the actual chairperson for the festival committee and has been working tirelessly to lead the festival and to ensure that we pull this off successfully,” Bussey said. Barber and all members of the foundation have spent years committed to showcasing the achievements of the African American community in Montclair, she said.

The co-chairs said they hope to be able to return to the original parade and festival location that the community knows well and loves next year.

For more information on the motorcade and festival, you can follow the foundation on Instagram at @MAAHFoundation.