The Abington Township community came together on Saturday for the 23rd Unity Day at Crestmont Park in Montgomery County.
The Willow Grove NAACP organizes the annual day of fellowship featuring food, fun, health screenings, resources, music and activities in partnership with the Abington police.
“It is a demonstration of people across this township all over Montgomery County coming together for unity [despite] difference of race, gender or religion,” said state Sen. Art Haywood. “All those differences, we just wipe them away in a sense for one day and hopefully for beyond. Because in the end we are all people and it’s that people connection that unifies us this day and beyond.”
The event is an outgrowth of what was happening in the surrounding community in 1997, according to Valerie Ward, Willow Grove NAACP president.
“The police department got together with the former NAACP president, Dr. Donald L. Clark, and they signed an agreement to do all that we could to bring unity in the township,” she said.
Ward said there were about 10 tables when Unity Day started. She’s been chairman since 1993 and has witnessed the event’s growth.
This year’s participants include the Abington Township Fire Department, the Abington Township School District, Abington Jefferson Hospital nurses and staff, 30 resource tables and 12 vendors.
“As you can tell it’s a diversified crowd and so we think we have accomplished our goal,” Ward said.
Residents appeared to enjoy engaging with the police and firefighters, taking advantage of receiving information from local non-profits, and speaking with their elected representatives.
For the children, there were free books and magazines provided by the Abington Public Library and Haywood’s office, candies and giveaways, school supplies, a jumbo trampoline and moon bounces.
“This is our inaugural event for the calendar year, supporting the NAACP Unity Day,” said Elijah Golden Jr., social action committee chair of the Abington-Ambler alumni chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. “We’re here to service the community and let them know that we are here to serve in any way possible in addition to our Guide Right Program, which mentor kids in this area.”
Over the years racial tensions and concerns of discrimination in Abington have decreased, local officials said.
“I’m personally proud to be a part of this event every year,” said Dr. Jana Mallis, chairperson of the annual Willow Grove NAACP banquet. “The police chief and the president really love each other. I never seen such a great alliance and it’s extremely helpful. I mean they have been able to fix a lot of issues behind the scenes, which is wonderful. We don’t even know half of what they do and it really is to bring the community together.
“The Black community in Willow Grove and Abington did not have equal rights for the longest time,” she added. “In the Abington Hospital, the babies who were born to Black mothers had to be born on the porch. They wouldn’t allow them inside the regular rooms. Obviously that’s changed, but there’s been a history that had to be overcome. We still have so much work to do. We’re not finished at all. I give credit to Valerie Ward for doing something absolutely beyond belief. The Willow Grove NAACP makes no money out of it all. We’re just happy to break even if we can. It’s all for community.”
Shameeka Browne was one of many shaking hands and sharing smiles in the crowd.
“This is my backyard,” she said. “I am here to support the community and meet people. But mostly here to also enjoy [Unity Day] and have fun with community members.”