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Vendors sell clothing and more in the African American Heritage festival, 2016. Courtesy Bonni Taylor.

Montclair African -American Heritage Parade and Festival
Memories Dance: Friday, June 2, 8 p.m.,
cafeteria, Montclair High School George Inness Annex, 141 Park St.

Parade: Saturday, June 3, 10:30 a.m., steps off Maple and Bloomfield avenues. Reviewing stand in Nishuane Park

Festival: 1-7 p.m., Nishuane Park

For more information, visit maahf.org

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

When the 28th annual African-American Heritage Parade steps off from Glenfield School at Maple and Bloomfield avenues next Saturday, June 3, at 10:30 a.m., Al Pelham will be relaxed.

Pelham is co-chair of the Montclair African-American Heritage Foundation, which presents the parade.

“The day of is just hectic,” said Pelham. Things always go awry, no matter how well it’s planned: a band coming from New York might get stuck in traffic, for instance, and the line of march needs to change. But these days, things like that don’t faze Pelham.

“It’s old school to me, I’ve done it so many times. I’m looking forward to good weather, getting my easy chair underneath the tent, watching the ceremonies, in a kind of flow.”

In addition to the parade and festival, the Montclair African-American Heritage Foundation provides scholarships and promotes cultural events. Bonni Taylor is Pelham’s co-chair of MAAHF.

Carter Jackson, Mayor Robert Jackson’s son, is this year’s parade chair.

When the parade first began, Pelham said, one concern was that the Township’s Fourth of July Parade didn’t touch the Fourth Ward.

“We said, ‘You know what, we’re going to have our own parade.’ We wanted to focus on the success of African-Americans, our culture, the

Al Pelham marches in the 2016 African American Heritage Parade. Courtesy Bonni Taylor.

whole thing.

“It’s good to see all parts of Montclair come to the parade, come for the festival, and have a good time.”

The parade comes to an end at Nishuane Park, where the festival takes place. There will be stilt walkers, clowns, balloonists, a petting zoo and family-friendly activities, including a workshop that teaches children to make musical instruments out of water bottles.

There will be an African drum performance as well as live entertainment featuring a Clubhouse Mix from New Generation Records, Steve Lovell, Harvey Morris, Avenue G Band, and more.

With the entertainment and food vendors, the festival becomes “a family reunion type thing. People like to come hang out in the park,” Pelham said.

The parade and festival culminate two days of events that kick off with the Memories Dance on Friday, June 2. The “Meet & Greet” Cabaret begins at 8 p.m. and goes until midnight, and includes a DJ and entertainment. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own snacks and nonalcoholic beverages.

The parade begins on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. It’s important to Pelham that the parade pass the Montclair Senior Housing on Orange Road, so that residents can see the marchers as they go by.

Autumn Turner performs in “Blind Auditions” on “The Voice.”
Courtesy Tyler Golden/NBC

Montclair resident Autumn Turner, fresh from her appearance on NBC’s “The Voice,” will sing on a float that wends its way along the parade route, which goes down Elm Street and Orange Road toward the park.

“Once everybody heard my story on the show and realized where I was coming from, it was more than a music thing,” Turner said. “I wanted to help the music community and be a role model for younger people, and anybody that can connect with me.
“I have such a heart for the community.”

So when she was asked to be in a float during the parade, she said yes right away.

Turner has never sung on a float before but is looking forward to it: “I’m very excited. It will be a wonderful experience for me. I think I’m on the float with veterans from Montclair. It will be great to speak to the elderly that went through so much more than I can imagine or fathom.” Turner said that any elderly person, of any gender or ethnicity, can teach a lot.

She knew she would sing “Last Dance,” which she performed on television, but was still going through her repertoire when she spoke to the paper last week. “I want to pick songs that have a little bit to do with encouragement. I want the songs to be important, have meaning behind them.”

And Turner knew she would be performing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often called the African-American national anthem, to open up the concert.

“Seeing people having fun, enjoying themselves in a safe environment,” is the best thing for Pelham. “It’s important for us to continue with our heritage, being inclusive of everybody else.”

The Fourth of July Parade still does not touch the Fourth Ward, but that’s all right: ““It’s no different than Puerto Rican Day in New York, or a Polish American parade,” Pelham said. “Different groups celebrate their culture and put work in it. We as a community all support one another.”

Premiere Dance Theatre marches in the African American Heritage Parade, 2016. Courtesy Bonni Taylor.