Festival Celebrates Township's Diversity

Posted: April 19, 1999

VOORHEES — Mixing up a small mud puddle on a Styrofoam plate, Anjni Raol, a senior at Eastern High School, drew a small crowd of curious shoppers.

``Can I get it?'' squealed 7-year-old Kelcy Lucas as she watched Raol create temporary tattoos with henna paint. ``Can I?''

Kelcy's father succumbed, and let her and sister Meghan, 11, get tattooed. Raol used toothpicks to slowly paint lotus pedals, curling lines and dots on the girls' hands, inspiring responses of ``Ooh, that feels weird'' and ``Yuck, does this stuff itch?''

Raol was one of a dozen students - all members of Eastern's Asian American Club - who staffed a booth at the Echelon Mall during Saturday's Centennial International Festival. From 10 a.m. until 9 p.m., Voorhees residents shared ethnic foods, fashions, dance and histories with shoppers at the mall, on Somerdale Road.

Event chairwoman Geri Egizi Borbe said a few thousand people attended, many of whom stood in awe of dancers wearing colorful fabrics from as far away as Africa, Korea and Ireland.

The point of the festival was to demonstrate Voorhees' diversity during the township's 100th birthday celebration.

``It's been mobbed all day,'' said Stephanie Fisher, one of the event's organizers and a representative of the African American Culture Society, which presented a video about the Underground Railroad at its booth.

Fisher said the booth showed Voorhees' rich history in the antislavery movement. Part of the Underground Railroad, a network of people who helped escaped slaves reach freedom in the North, was active along what is now Route 73.

``People gravitate to places where they're accepted and welcome,'' Fisher said, explaining why Voorhees is so diverse and why the centennial celebration was able to include cultures from all over the world.

Roughly 8 percent of Voorhees' population are black, 12 percent are Asian, and 5 percent are from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.

Borbe said at least 46 languages were represented Saturday. ``That gives you a real sense of the diversity here.''

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