Community choirs and campus performers belted out inspirational songs and music during the annual Holiday Under the Stars last week.
Those taking center stage included the JSU Mass Choir; MADDRAMA Performance Troupe; Anderson United Methodist Church Praise Team; New Horizon International Church Children’s Choir; and Black’s Chapel M.B. Church Mass Choir.
As has become tradition, the Sonic Boom of the South and Mr. and Mrs. Claus made spirited entrances on the Gibbs-Green Memorial Plaza. The Boom dazzled the crowd with heart-thumping performances that warmed the hearts of fans from the campus community and the metropolitan area.
Long trip from North Pole
Mr. and Mrs. Claus (JSU President William B. Bynum Jr. and first lady Deborah E. Bynum) greeted the crowd. The evening’s hosts were Spencer L. McClenty and David Howard, both from Institutional Advancement.
Welcoming the hundreds who gathered, Bynum, as Santa, said, “Even though it’s been a long trip from the North Pole, I’m so enjoying myself.” He urged all those in attendance – whether naughty or nice – to enjoy the annual celebration which has become a popular tradition that helps kick off the holiday season.
“Thank you for coming out to join us for Jackson State University’s Holiday Under the Stars. I love y’all,” Santa said.
Deborah Bynum said her wish for the community is “peace, love and happiness.” Also, her desire is that “everyone will come together and celebrate the true meaning of the season – the birth of Jesus Christ.”
Her plan, like for every Christmas celebration, is to prepare the Bynums’ annual brunch with the family on Dec. 25 in Atlanta.
“During this season, it’s such a wonderful time to bring people together. For us, we get to reflect and give thanks. We have so much to be thankful for. I love this season. I’m especially overjoyed that we’ve been embraced by the community and students. This is a job my husband and I don’t take lightly, and each and every day we give thanks to God for being here at Jackson State University,” she said.
As in previous years, JSU presented Angel Tree gifts to a number of students who attend Jackson Public Schools’ Blackburn Laboratory Middle School. Gifts were distributed in the Student Center.
Many departments and other areas on campus participated by donating gifts that ranged from clothing, book bags, gift cards and a number of other presents wrapped in shiny boxes and holiday bags.
Renee Catchings, a major annual giving specialist, led the effort for the Division of Institutional Advancement. She thanked the team for its participation. “Once again, Holiday Under the Stars was a success. We have put a smile on the face and joy in the heart of our 2019 Angel Tree recipient.”
Meanwhile, others, too, reflected on what the holiday means to them:
Miss JSU Naysa Lynch is from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. She’s a senior business marketing major. “For me, Holiday Under the Stars means observing my favorite time of the year. It’s like homecoming. It’s like an evening filled with togetherness, celebration, great music and holiday spirit.”
Lynch said she wants everyone to be merry and unified. “I know the holiday season can really be somber for some people because a lot of people have lost loved ones during the holidays. Personally, I lost my brother around this time in 2011. So, for me, it’s sad. But, it’s also a very exciting time because it’s also my birthday season. So, it’s a bittersweet period for me.”
She wants to inspire others through their pain, too. “For those who have lost someone special, I want to encourage everyone to look at the bright side and enjoy the moment you now have with the people you love right now.”
Lynch said she and her brother shared the same birthday on Jan. 9, even though they were 10 years apart. She’ll be 22, and he would have been 12. “So, this time of the year, there’s a lot of weight on my heart. Missing him crosses my mind every winter season. Every year I try to celebrate him – lighting a candle on a cupcake or sending up a balloon in his memory.” She tells those still mourning that “I know it’s tough, but you have so much life, so celebrate. Be merry. Be safe. God bless.”
Ann Woodward said she’s from the community and wanted to be here to support her church’s children choir from New Horizon. “There’s so much to be thankful for. I love Thanksgiving and Christmas – all good reasons for Jesus,” she said. “My wish is for peace on earth.”
Jaylen Taylor of Canton is majoring in integrated marketing. He’s a JSU cheerleader and involved in several other campus organizations.
“This is my first time attending Holiday Under the Stars. I’m mesmerized. Everyone’s friendly; there’s hot chocolate; you get to make your own ornaments, and we have our own Mr. and Mrs. Claus.”
He said his holiday wish is to “get accepted into the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, but I really want to finish school first.”
His holiday message to peers is to “remain positive and self-determined about life. Have fun and be great. Make sure you’re happy.”
Jaquan Walker of St. Louis, Missouri, is in his first year of his master’s in social work. “This event is a great way to get the community to be a part of the holiday celebration.” He said he desires to spend time with family, but if I can’t go home, I will spend time with friends here and have a great time.”
Umesh Remata, who works in JSU’s IT department, said this event is a “wonderful family get-together. This is a great tradition for me to meet the family of all my colleagues. Also, I always enjoy the decorations, hot chocolate and cookies.”
Brinda Harris is a JSU alum and originally from Holmes County. She’s a longtime Jackson resident. “It’s so beautiful out here. Last year this time I had heart surgery, but by the grace of the Lord I’m here today.”
Dwayne Jenkins, a senior from St. Louis, Missouri is a journalism and media studies major. He said Holiday Under the Stars kicks off the holiday season after a long semester. And, with classes coming to an end this semester, this is a good time to get ready to go into the break and experience the holidays.
“With Holiday Under the Stars, it’s kind of like you get to go to your family before your family. You get to experience the celebration with your Jackson State family. All your peers gather along with others throughout the city. You get to hear the good music and treats.”
Furthermore, Jenkins said, “It gets your spirit in the right place leading into the holidays. My holiday wish is to have joy since I lost my grandmother this year and to be filled with love because that’s what she would have wanted.”
His message to his peers and others is “appreciate and cherish the ones that you have because you never know how long you will have them. If you still have them this holiday season, this is also a time to tell them that you love them.”
Mister JSU Grant Broadway of Little Rock, Arkansas, is a senior studying biology. He describes Holiday Under the Stars as a time to display a giving spirit. “This is a great moment every year. We have a lot of vendors here. We buy a lot of gifts for children. It’s a great time to mingle and be thankful for what you have, and to give.”
Broadway plans to link up with family in Little Rock and visit Texas over the holidays. “I want to express my giving spirit outside of Jackson State and inspire other people to do the same. I also want to encourage people to reflect on and think of others because many people are not as fortunate as others.