John Bailey drove his SUV along John Street Wednesday afternoon and made sure to honk at a familiar face, a man from his past in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood Mr. Bailey had called home.
“I love this town,” said Mr. Bailey, now 66, who has returned for his annual pilgrimage this time of year to his old stomping grounds. Each August, Mr. Bailey, a political consultant living in Denver, puts on the Joint Effort-Princeton Safe Streets summer program that kicks off Saturday and goes through next week.
The program celebrates the history, the black families and the people who called, and still call, the neighborhood home; hundreds of former residents are expected to come back, in a year when town officials made the neighborhood a historic district.
One of the highlights of the week will come at Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church on Tuesday with the announcement of a new organization, the Witherspoon-Jackson Historical and Cultural Society. He and local historian Shirley Satterfield started the society to make sure the story of that neighborhood continues to be told for future generations.
It is a neighborhood that Mr. Bailey is acquainted with.
When he was 8 in 1957, his divorced mother took him, his four younger siblings and moved from Danville, Virginia, along with other family to Princeton. The family stayed temporarily on Leigh Avenue, until getting a house on Birch Avenue.
He first lived in town from the time he was in fourth grade to 10th-grade, when his mother remarried and the family moved to Kendall Park. He returned for a time, before moving away for good in 1975.
In recalling growing up in Princeton, he can rattle off the names of men from his past who took him under their wing. It is their investment in him that makes Mr. Bailey want to do something for the community.
“All these guys in this town put time in with me, which then made me realize that I had to put something back,” he said.
In part, he returns each year in gratitude to the “the people — they helped raise me, they treated me like a favorite son.” Yet there is also the “lure,” in his words, of Princeton.
“Princeton has a rich history, but it also has a racial history. And it also has a very positive people history,” he said. “And so all that confusion and smorgasbord and buffet of experiences and history and interaction still lures me to the place that helped me defined as well as find who I am.”
For information about the program, Mr. Bailey can be reached at (720) 629-0964 or by email at email@example.com.