East Orange Independence Spectacular draws large crowd

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EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange held its 125th annual Independence Day Spectacular at Paul Robeson Stadium on July 5, with acts such as singer Kenny Bobien; rapper AceDaFace, an East Orange native; and the Front & Center band.

East Orange Mayor Ted R. Green was delighted by the turnout at the event, saying that this year’s event was especially important because last year the city’s Fourth of July festivities had to be canceled due to the pandemic.

“Right now, we’re at about 1,500, but I guarantee, before the night is over, this place is going to be filled,” Green said at the event, during the Front & Center performance. “We have a dynamic display of fireworks this year; we’re doing an extra 20 minutes of fireworks because we missed last year.

“We had AceDaFace, who is another up-and-coming artist. This group we have performing now is a local band that sings R&B, salsa, jazz — they do it all. So, we wanted to make sure that we were able to provide for the whole community when it comes to music,” he continued. “I thank God that we’re able to come out, be safe and stay vigilant, but again, I feel good about it because there are a lot of people here that we haven’t seen all year, so now we’re able to get together, sit around each other and just have a good time. Next year, this will be bigger and better. People look forward to our Fourth of July celebration, and we’re happy about that.”

City administrator Solomon Steplight said organizing the event is “a community effort.”

“We get people from the community as well as our recreation, public safety and Department of Public Works together,” Steplight said July 5. “All of us chip in a little bit.”

Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake, who represents the 34th District, said she and her neighbors look forward to this event each year. 

“I feel excited because the kids love it, the fireworks are gorgeous, our mayor always does an excellent job and I’m just happy to be here. This is where I live, so this is my home,” she said July 5. “I’m always involved because the mayor and I always work together, so it’s always a team effort, and he knows, whatever he needs from the state, we’re here.”

East Orange Democratic Chairperson LeRoy Jones called the spectacular “a wonderful event.”

“It’s bringing out the community, and the community is enjoying each other, and this is what life is all about,” Jones said July 5. “This has been an annual event since I was a young boy, and it has gotten better and better, certainly under Mayor Green’s leadership. It’s embodied community, pride, principle — and that’s what established its foundation.”

Recreation and Cultural Affairs Director Jerome Pearson played an instrumental role in the event, from planning to the execution of the show, selection of artists, the fireworks display and getting the word out to the community.

“We had a difficult time with finding performances, finding a fireworks company due to COVID, but things have turned around for us pretty quickly, and it surpasses our expectations,” Pearson said July 5.

According to East Orange Councilman Vernon Pullins Jr., this event is a big deal for the community as the first big opportunity to celebrate together following the pandemic.

“I love it,” Pullins said on July 5. “As always, we appreciate the support and letting the community know what positive things we’re doing. And right now, we’re basically rebuilding the social fabric of our community, because the pandemic has kept us separated.”

Photos by EmilyAnn Jackman