By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
NY Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson alluded to these potent words, spoken by pioneer abolitionist icon, Harriet Tubman at Saturday afternoon’s “Harriet Tubman Journey to Freedom Celebration,” held at the Newburgh Free Library’s Courtyard. Directly to Jacobson’s left was the impressive, newly installed nine foot bronze and steel statue of Tubman and her daughter fleeing from captivity as slaves toward freedom. The detailed piece itself is a telling symbolic reminder of those very necessary attributes needed to incite change, something Tubman accomplished on multiple levels throughout her inspiring life.
Saturday, a large crowd turned out to watch a host of musicians, artists and other creative performers officially pay tribute to the Tubman piece – on display through the remainder of the year- as well as the legend’s life. Surrounded by other works of art, including a “Freedom Quilt” (being worked on during the event), and Newburgh Community Photo Project, attendees were treated to an inspiring visual platform as they enjoyed the socially-distanced and uplifting aura of the colorful outdoor venue.
“We are so excited to have this creative public space as a great resource and connector for the public,” said Anusha Mehar, one of the organizing members of the Harriet Tubman Journey to Freedom Organization Committee. “These outdoor spaces are one of the best resources we have to cherish culture.”
That culture was on full display as intermittent performers entertained visitors throughout the afternoon. Whether it was a riveting poetry reading by local poet “Gold” (Bettina Wilkerson), a moving dance routine by Mvore Entertainment, or a potent singing rendition by Ralph and Jazzy M., a positive, united and hopeful spirit resonated throughout the Courtyard as Harriet’s “presence” overlooked the scene. Sprinkled throughout these venues were appearances by local dignitaries, offering remarks on the historic, groundbreaking Newburgh occasion.
“When I think of Harriet Tubman, I think of grit and tenacity, a person who risked her life for others, bringing them to freedom; she was a real person,” emphasized Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney. “We are stronger than division and hatred, and Tubman represents a real hero that we can look up to right now in this country.”
Also on hand at the festivities was New York State Senator, James Skoufis, who expanded upon the breadth of reach Tubman had, beyond an abolitionist. Elaborating upon what made her a “phenomenal woman,” Skoufis relayed her Underground Railroad and suffragette involvement as well as incredulous 13 attempts to go back and free her family after courageously securing her own liberation. Urging the audience to ask themselves what Harriet Tubman would do during these unprecedented times, filled with uncertainty as well as a host of challenges, Skoufis surveyed the nearby sculpture so many others were admiring, proceeding to conclude his remarks.
“Hopefully, this statue inspires people who pass it to know Harriet even more,” said Skoufis. “It really could not have come at a better time in our lives, serving as reminders of so much amidst public justice and other issues.”