By Donald Gilpin
“Reflections on Princeton’s Black Community” is the theme of this year’s Joint Effort Safe Streets program, which on August 4 will kick off 10 days of celebrations, salutes, community discussions, and sports activities centered in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood.
Princeton Councilman Leighton Newlin emphasized the significance of this annual event and praised its founder and chief organizer John Bailey. “The Safe Streets campaign is always a welcome event,” Newlin said. “Not only does it bring sports activities for the youths, it also offers opportunities for Princeton-at-large and the Witherspoon-Jackson communities to rededicate and recommit themselves to critical efforts regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Highlights of this year’s Joint Effort will include Witherspoon Jackson Community Day, Betsey Stockton and Laura Wooten Day, Howard Waxwood Day, Albert Hinds Day, Jim Floyd and Romus Broadway Day, Joint Effort Community Alumni Day, Paul Bustill Robeson Day, and Pete Young Sr. Day — all with widespread engagement of Princeton and Mercer County political. education, and other community leaders
Citing the powerful influence of “the ancestors” on the proceedings and on the life of the community, Bailey described Joint Effort as “a necessary investment of time, energy, money, and engagement of community because there is still so much to be done, so far to go.” He continued, “Democracy is elusive, freedom is elusive, truth and sometimes trust are elusive, and here’s a transparent way to engage folks in a positive manner.”
Bailey noted that the work of organizing and directing Joint Effort is for him “a labor of love.” He added, “I am not smart enough to do this by myself. I’ve been moved and coordinated and managed and manipulated by the ancestors to make sure that this happens.”
The celebrations will begin with a reception at 5 p.m. August 4 at Studio Hillier on Witherspoon Street and will include welcoming remarks, as well as the presentation of the Jim Floyd Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award to Barbara Hillier (posthumously) and to Mamie Oldham, and the Mildred Trotman Community Service Award to Princeton Public Schools Superintendent Carol Kelley.
“The theme of our conversations this year is reflections on Princeton’s Black community and growing up in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborood,” Bailey said. “And as long as I’ve been in the neighborhood Miss Mamie has always played a significant role. As one of my grandmother’s closest friends, Miss Mamie was one of the ladies on the block who looked out not only for her own kids but everybody else’s kids, and she would get on your case and tell your mom why she got on your case.”
Reflecting on the contributions to the community of Barbara Hillier, who passed away last November, Bailey noted, “Barbara Hillier was a professional woman who came into the community and rolled up her sleeves and did things that were important. She endeared herself to the citizens of the community and we loved her as though she had grown up here and was one of our own.”
Bob Hillier, a Town Topics shareholder who with his wife Barbara co-founded Studio Hillier in 2011 and has supported Joint Effort for many years, pointed out that Barbara, while working on her master’s degree in architecture, put together a booklet that laid out a master plan for the entire Witherspoon-Jackson area. “And that plan will be realized over the next three years,” Hillier said. “It’s an ideal solution for Witherspoon-Jackson. What she was envisioning is going to be able to happen with very few zoning variances.”
The plan will increase diversity, Hillier said, by providing affordable housing for “the missing middle,” residents who are earning about $50,000 or less.
Mamie Oldham was born in Cape Charles, Virginia in 1931 and moved to Princeton with her family in 1937. She attended the segregated Witherspoon School for Colored Children for elementary school and went on to graduate from Princeton High School.
Her family moved around in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood — Leigh Avenue, Birch Avenue, Maclean, Witherspoon, Lytle — and she now lives on Clay Street.
She worked for many years at Electro-Mechanical Research Inc. and at the New Jersey Neuro-Psychiatric Institute in Skillman, and she was a longtime volunteer at the Princeton Hospital when it was on Witherspoon Street and at the Morningstar Church of God and Christ, where her parents were among the founding members.
Oldham was married to Maurice Oldham, who died eight years ago, and they had two children, a son who died in 2007 another daughter Wendy, who now lives in Fanwood.
“She loved to travel,” said her daughter, “and she was always involved in civic affairs. She was so strict when we were growing up, but she never stopped me from doing different kinds of things. My mother did not play, but she has always been very loving and supportive.”
Following the August 4 kick-off, the first weekend of Joint Effort will feature a community discussion with ten panelists on the topic “Do Black Lives Still Matter?” on Saturday, August 5 at 10 a.m. in the First Baptist Church of Princeton.
Bailey noted that many events of the past three years show a declining commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement and “have suggested that our lives may not be as valuable as we thought they were — in this conversation we’ll be talking about that.”
On Sunday, August 6, a Gospel Festival and Black Family Recognition will take place at the First Baptist Church of Princeton with the annual salute to 12 Black families who have lived in or are connected to Princeton. This year’s honorees include the Spruill, Boyer, Saunders, Hines, Brown, Yates, Robinson, McQueen, Burrell, Johnson, Rhodes, and Turner families.
Joint Effort events will pick up again the following week with a community discussion on Tuesday, August 8 at 6 p.m. at the Arts Council of Princeton (ACP) on the subject of diversity, equity, inclusion, and the future of Princeton and Mercer County.
Later in the second week Joint Effort highlights will include the Cynthia “Chip” Fisher Memorial Art Exhibit at ACP, the presentation of Joint Effort book scholarships, a community discussion panel on “I remember when…growing up in the W-J neighborhood,” a community discussion on a range of “hot topics,” a candidate forum with a number of local leaders who will be on the ballot in November, a community block festival, and an array of basketball events on Saturday and Sunday, August 12 and 13.
Stressing the values of diversity, Newlin urged Princeton residents and others to participate in this year’s Joint Effort. “It is critically important as the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood Black population has declined in numbers that we make sure that we raise our voices, that we are heard and seen and continue to build a future for the children who live here,” he said.
Bailey highlighted the need for an infusion of arts, culture, information, politics, and business. “There’s so much information and misinformation in the world in this era of unnecessary chaos that it’s important to do this,” he said. “It’s bringing people and information together on topics that are important to the national community, the state community, and our local Mercer County and Princeton community.”
For more information visit artscouncilofprinceton.org/safestreets/.