Photo courtesy of bergensquareday.com.

You know Journal Square. You might recognize McGinley Square. But have you heard of Bergen Square?

Bergen Square is made of four blocks between Vroom and Newkirk Streets in Jersey City, and has been dubbed as the first urban square established by Lenni Lenape Native American people. Its culture and history was celebrated for the fourth consecutive year on Saturday, Sept. 16.

The relatively new fall tradition honors the historic Jersey City neighborhood with music, food and many local vendors. The event has been recognized as a great way for community members and local businesses to become acquainted with each other and further expand the local economy while also furthering their relationships with one another.

One organization trying to reach out to the community in creative ways is Smush Gallery, a local art gallery and performance space. In an attempt for community outreach, they have community members write letters to strangers and receive letters from strangers. 

Katelyn Halper, one of the court district directors at the gallery, explained the method.  

“We just thought it would be a really nice way to kind of create a community exchange. That’s like no pressure, no stakes, but really warm and getting people talking to echo others, even if they do not know it,” Halper told Slice of Culture.

Smush Gallery believes it is important to be a part of the community, especially after the pandemic.  

“After COVID, a lot of artists felt like they did not have a space that felt welcoming. So we are very big on welcoming people into the community and making them feel wanted…One way we do that is through our seasonal potlucks, “Aurelio Luciana, an event producer at Smush Gallery added.   

Smush Gallery at Bergen Square Day 2022. (Courtesy of bergensquareday.com)    

Smush Gallery is not the only organization invested in community building.     

Tabatha Madera, of Golden Door Charter School, was soliciting families about the alternative option of free public school education at a charter school. This is Golden Door’s first year at Bergen Square Day and they are using the opportunity to spread their message.  

“… It’s important to know there are options out there..there is not a one size fits all for public school education,” Madera said.

And just as Bergen Square has grown since 1660, in the heart of the city’s diversity, all of the event’s local small business owners had their own personal story.

Karen Washington, of Red Booth, decided to start her own jewelry shop online on her 60th birthday because she likes jewelry, but wanted to do something different. 

Sheila James, of Shield of Faith Worldwide Deliverance Ministries decided, to create a homemade pillow company. She originally made pillows for her cousin’s breast cancer awareness event. Since then, she has been selling pillows as a side job and believes her pillows are a form of art. 

After meeting some vendors, I finally spoke to the organizer for this event, James Dievler, the chairman of the history committee of the Journal Square Community Association. 

He wanted to reimagine Bergen Square, which he believes to be the “historic” heart of Jersey City.  

(Courtesy of bergensquareday.com)

“We have been holding this event for four years to raise consciousness about Bergen Square as a place of community, interaction and cultural exchange, and the Bergen Square Day Festival is designed to do that,” he told Slice of Culture. 

According to Dievler, Bergen Square is the oldest continuously inhabited place in the state of New Jersey. Dievler also explained that the square will be redesigned and made into a public space called Bergen Square Plaza.

“We hope that Bergen Square is a place for interaction to hang out and meet people,” he added.

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