Omani & Tabby Day Celebrates Birthdays, Special Lives, & More

By Jennifer L. Warren

NEWBURGH – It happened about three years ago, but for so many at Delano-Hitch Park Saturday, it feels like it could have been yesterday.

On that dreaded date the lives of Omani Free and Tabby Cruz were cut way too short, falling to senseless gun violence at a neighborhood Halloween party. Two families-along with many others-were left devastated, but the consensus was rather than dwell on the negative, to celebrate the numerous positives that these two beautiful young women possessed.

Ironically, the girls, who barely knew one another, shared something very special: Birthdays that were just one day apart- Omani on August 14 and Tabby on August 15.

The coincidence led to the creation of a community memorial, “Omani and Tabby Day,” an afternoon and early evening filled with entertainment, games, food, music and laughter, celebrating the birthdays and lives of the two young women who left their marks on many people and things in their much too short time here. Saturday, at the popular City of Newburgh Park, Delano-Hitch, a large crowd came out for the third year to do just that- pay tribute and share memories, vowing to never forget these amazing lives.

“We were extremely close; she was the type of person who always showed up at the right time, recalled Iris Florentino, Tabby’s Aunt, who wears a tattoo, ‘One day at a time,’ on her wrist in memory of her niece who often uttered that phrase. “She loved animals, and had five stray cats at one time, and was even in college studying to be a veterinarian; she loved elephants, the color purple, and the football team the Steelers.

On Saturday, at Delano-Hitch Park, a large crowd turned out to celebrate the birthdays of Tabby Cruz and Omani Free, both of whom passed away three years ago.
On Saturday, at Delano-Hitch Park, a large crowd turned out to celebrate the birthdays of Tabby Cruz and Omani Free, both of whom passed away three years ago.

Tabby’s younger cousin, Maria Florentino, looked up to her as a role model, and still carries her lessons with her every day.

“She was very sweet and loving, and always looked out for people,” said Maria. “She taught me to think about other people’s feelings and not just my own.”

That unselfish spirit could be spotted all over Delano-Hitch Saturday, as large numbers of volunteers turned out to help cook food, set up a fun water dunking booth, provide music entertainment, and simply just support one another through a time that continues to be difficult for so many on multiple levels. However, the collective sharing of memories the event offers helped with the ongoing healing process.

Odasia Evans, a 16 year old, who attends Newburgh Free Academy’s Main Campus, lost her aunt, Omani Free on that day nearly three years ago. The pain of the sudden loss is still difficult, but the imprint she left will never die.

“My aunt was a kind person who loved everyone, music, and dancing,” said Evans. “She taught me to never give up, and do what I have to do in life, not give in to peer pressure; I still carry all of that with me.”

She added, “Both of the families got to know one another, and we decided to come together to do this each year, so we can celebrate their lives and make sure they are never forgotten.”

For Omani’s mother, Rhonda Valentine-Free, the annual day is close to her heart as well.

“This is a day of celebration for the two girls that we lost,” said Valentine-Free.” We put a lot of work into this to make it happen each year, and I’m just so very grateful that the community comes out to help support us.”

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