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Tali Greener/
From left, Theresse Weigand-Watkinson, 11, Stephanie Jarvis, 11, and Makala Burage, 11, all of Norwich, perform a dance routine during Junteenth celebrations at Howard Brown Park in Norwich Saturday, June 18, 2011. The girls are all members of Dance Express, a dance studio in Norwich.


Tali Greener/
Jezzamyn Grace, 17, right, and Theresse Weigand-Watkinson, 11, left, perform a dance routine during Junteenth celebrations at Howard Brown Park in Norwich Saturday, June 18, 2011. The girls are members of Dance Express, a dance studio in Norwich.


Light atmosphere belies Juneteenth’s message

Celebration remembers long struggle toward equality

Posted Jun 19, 2010 @ 11:21 PM
Last update Jun 20, 2010 @ 12:13 AM

As she enjoyed a purple Sno-cone and dispensed hydration tips to overheated visitors at her tent, Veronica Cook was exactly where she wanted to be on a pleasant Saturday afternoon.

"We're celebrating talent here today, and we’ve got a little bit of everything,” said Cook, who lives in Norwich.

For the 22nd consecutive year, the Norwich Branch of the NAACP hosted a commemoration of Juneteenth at the  Howard T. Brown Memorial Park with music, art vendors, food, street dancers and friendly conversation.

Also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration marking the end of slavery in the United States.

It derives its name from the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, to announce that slavery had been repealed  — more than 21⁄2 years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation outlawing the practice.

Since then, Juneteenth has evolved into a wider celebration of black heritage and culture, though organizers at Saturday’s event prefer it be tied to a broader base. Connecticut is one of 36 states to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday.

Regional celebrations

Juneteenth was introduced to the region by Jackie Owens, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s local chapter. Owens imported it from her native state of Wisconsin, and Norwich became the first city in the state to host Juneteenth activities.

For some at Saturday’s event, the light-hearted fare was a somber reminder of the struggle to gain equal footing in society. Participants said the daylong event is a chance to educate people about what Juneteenth means, beyond the cursory look many public schools provide.
“You’re definitely not going to get this in school,” Cook said.

Her friend, Sarette Williams, agreed.

“It’s just another day to remember our ancestors and pass that on to our kids,” Williams said.
While the observance is rooted in hardship, the event has become a summertime mainstay, with people dancing on the wharf, napping on blankets and gathering around informational booths set up around the park.

“You look out here and see different cultures. It’s not just a black day. It’s a historic day,” said Vouise Fonville, a  social worker who lives in Montville. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I enjoy the history behind it.”


Ryanne O'Connor, 17, front,of Gales Ferry, performs with her Norwich dance troupe, Dance Express, during Family Day at Mohegan Park in Norwich Sunday, September 20, 2009.

Family Day in Norwich blends fun, information
Children learn about ambulances, high-tech police
Norwich Bulletin
Posted Sep 20, 2009

Norwich, Conn. — Paramedic Jennifer Wheeler sat in the back of an American Ambulance with four children and asked if they had any questions.

“My mom was in an ambulance once,” volunteered Dylan Dionne, 6, of Norwich. “Having my sister.”

Sunday was Family Day at Mohegan Park, and hundreds of parents and their children milled through the park, navigating their way through the crowd with balloon hats, swords and at least one balloon octopus. The event offered free entertainment, food and demonstrations by groups such as American Ambulance, who explained how that gigantic bed fits into the back of the ambulance.

The seventh annual event was sponsored by Children First Norwich, the City of Norwich, Norwich Youth & Family Services, Dime Bank and Norwich Public Utilities.

Lawson and Lawrence Langlois, 8 and 9, of Norwich, checked out the inside of the city police department’s cyber office on wheels.

The truck had a camera in the back that looked out over the crowd, then displayed the image on a television screen inside.

“It’s really cool,” the boys said.

Makala Burage, 9, Morgan Intravia, 8, and Theresse Weigand-Watkinson, 9, performed a hip-hop number with Dance Express, then stopped at the “decorate your own cookie” booth and ate cookies.

“It must take a long time to do this,” Theresse said, of setting up the event. “I think it’s awesome, just being able to hang out here every year.”

Shirley Dionne said she has brought her twins, Dylan and Virginia, both 6, for the last couple of years.

That was her in the ambulance, by the way. Her twins were born prematurely, so they took her from Lawrence & Memorial Hospital to Yale, she said. Dylan wouldn’t remember, but he’s heard the stories.

The kids enjoyed the day at Mohegan Park, she said.

“They’ve been in just about every vehicle,” she said. “(Virginia) got signed up for Girl Scouts and they played with the drums. They’ve just had a really good time.”


Makala Burage, 9, front, and Amber Bennard, 7, back left, both of Norwich, perform with their Norwich dance troupe, Dance Express, during World Youth Celebration at the Salvation Army in downtown Norwich Friday, May 1, 2009.

Rain Can’t Put Damper on Norwich Festival
World Youth Celebration Brings Energy to Salvation Army

Norwich Bulletin
Posted May 01, 2009 @ 11:52 PM


Norwich, Conn. —
Norwich’s annual World Youth Celebration was held indoors for the first time Friday, but singing, dancing and other arts were as spirited as ever.

“These kids are great,” said Debbie Kievits, the event’s organizer and coordinator of Bully-Busters. “Just give them a chance and a place to perform and they will.”

Because of rain, this year’s festival, the fourth annual, was held downstairs in the Salvation Army building on Main Street.

Just yards away the YMCA of Southeastern Connecticut sat in darkness. Some of the performers were affected by Thursday’s closing of the 123-year-old YMCA.

“They were practicing at the Y and the American Legion and now both are closed,” Sandy Smith of Norwich said of a Cape Verdean dance group called the Estrellas. Her daughters, Shayona, 15, and Niasja, 13, dance with the group.

“They’re running out of places to dance,” Smith said.

Aaron Hughes, who gave a Tai Chi demonstration with student Zach Barrows, said he’d been teaching at the Y. The relaxation of Tai Chi helps overcome disappointments, he said.

“For thousands of years, Tai Chi has taught self-control,” he said. “The purity of the philosophy comes to you through the movements.”

The pair brandished swords in the latter part of their exercise. In contrast to Western-style fencing where combatants move away at intervals, Tai Chi swordsmanship is distinguished by its perpetual closeness.

“You can feel the energy of your opponent through the sword,” said Barrows, a senior at Norwich Free Academy and founder of its martial arts club.

One could almost feel energy in the Salvation Army walls during the evening’s copious song and dance routines. Adrian Gardner, 18, of Norwich, who is known by his stage name “Soulo,” got at least two dozen youngsters moving to his original lyrics that blended hip hop, rhythm and blues and rap.

“I love looking into people’s eyes when I sing to them,” said Gardner, who’s been writing songs since he was 14. “That’s the best part.”

Poetry and speech-making were also part of the program. Amaryllis Rodriguez addressed the perils of teen pregnancy in her Miss Rose of New England community service speech. Another beauty queen, Miss New London County Ashley Memdrino, tap-danced to the well-known pop song “Bleeding Love.”

Reflecting on the event’s opening routines by Dance Express as well as her own that converted early quiet into smiling festiveness, Memdrino said “Dance always brings out people’s spirits.”


Amber Bennard, 7, left, and Theresse Weigand-Watkinson, 9, right, both of Norwich, perform with their Norwich dance troupe, Dance Express, during Juneteenth Day at the Howard T. Brown Park in downtown Norwich Saturday, June 13, 2009.