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Celebrating Alexander Hamilton in New Jersey

Rand Scholet knew Alexander Hamilton was cool before you did. The former business consultant formed the Alexander Hamilton Awareness (AHA) Society in 2011 after researching the Founding Fathers and deciding that Hamilton’s contributions to the country didn’t get enough respect. Ever since a modest little musical about the “ten-dollar founding father” opened on Broadway, Scholet’s group has been getting credit for being ahead of the curve. Hamilton won a whopping 11 awards at the 70th Annual Tony Awards this year, only adding to its popularity.
The musical “had a major impact on our effectiveness and our reach,” says Scholet, whose group has been serving as a clearinghouse of accurate information about Hamilton, both for the general public and for historic sites. “We saw that there was a need for the variety of what we call ‘all places Hamilton,’ that many of the sites where Hamilton worked, either he wasn’t understood there, or there was just nothing for them to share.” The AHA Society also hosts events such as the annual CelebrateHAMILTON series featuring talks, tours and other activities honoring his legacy–this year’s celebration is scheduled for July 6 through 12 at various sites in New Jersey and New York.
One highlight of this year’s event is the “Young Immigrant Hamilton Tour,” offered on July 7 and 8 at sites where Hamilton lived and studied after arriving in the colonies from the Caribbean, including Boxwood Hall in Elizabeth, Liberty Hall in Union and the Snyder Academy in Elizabeth. A special guest at the Snyder event will be Linden native Jon Rua, understudy for Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton on Broadway. Elizabeth in particular has embraced its status as Hamilton’s first stop in America, Scholet says, taking out ads in the Hamilton Playbill.
Scholet happens to be a fan of the musical, having seen it five times, from its earliest semi-staged version to its current incarnation. When he and Nicole Scholet de Villavicencio, vice president of the AHA Society (as well as Rand’s daughter), went to see the show off-Broadway, “we each had our little notebooks” to check its accuracy. Writer and star Miranda had been in contact with the society during the musical’s evolution to get their feedback, Scholet says. “At the end…Lin came out and he said ‘What do you think?’ and I said, ‘It is absolutely remarkable how it really reflects the true spirit, respectfully and accurately, of Hamilton, the people that he worked with and dealt with and partnered with and battled with,’ and of course it’s just so catchy.”
The AHA Society frequently hears from fans of the show. “Because we’re the hub of the Alexander Hamilton network, we get a sense from people across the nation about why it impacts them, and the big thing is, it’s finding a sweet spot with men and women…people of color, from left to right on the political spectrum. It’s remarkable how all these different demographics are finding worth and joy in it…It is revolutionary,” says Scholet.
Another key event this year will be a July 10Picnic with Washington and Hamilton” at the Great Falls in Paterson, commemorating the July 10, 1778 picnic stop that George Washington and his military entourage, including Hamilton, made after the Battle of Monmouth. Hamilton remembered the site years later when he co-founded the Paterson-based “Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures,” the country’s first planned industrial center, which is celebrating its 225th anniversary this year.
There will also be a gathering at that fateful site in Weehawken on July 11, the 212th anniversary of the Hamilton-Burr duel. Thomas Fleming, a historian who wrote the book “Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Future of America,” will offer a talk on the subject as well.
Apart from events like CelebrateHAMILTON and working with historic sites, the Massachusetts-based AHA Society has attempted to raise awareness in other ways–including the #SaveHamilton movement, which successfully kept the first Secretary of the Treasury on the $10 bill. “We were the organizational leaders for #SaveHamilton,” Scholet says. “We partnered with @WomenOn20s, and we were very supportive of each other… We helped each other. They were respectful of Hamilton remaining on the $10, we were respectful of women being on the $20.” He notes that the Broadway musical drew a lot of people’s attention to the issue, and credits the U.S. Treasury for listening to what people wanted before making their decision.
Between #SaveHamilton and the popularity of Hamilton, the AHA Society has recently gotten a bump in interest. Membership has gone up 50 percent in each of the last two membership drives and their Facebook followers have doubled in the last year and a half. “We just need more staff, it’s a lot of heavy demand…It really is challenging to manage it all. We definitely need a lot more funding, but we’re always grateful for progress in that direction,” says Scholet.
Scholet is a great admirer of Hamilton, who he says believed that slaves and Native Americans deserved equal respect to whites. “He did pro bono work for poor women, freed slaves in New York City…He saw the worth of each individual.” And Hamilton’s economic system strengthened the country and allowed for a thriving middle class, he adds. “He called for the U.S. Constitution. People don’t know that. He was the driving force that got that meeting in Philadelphia…He deserved the highest level of status in our nation.”
“People say, ‘Well, the Hamilton musical, what’s left for you to do?’ I say, ‘Well, 100,000, 200,000 are probably going to see the musical, there’s like 330 million left.’…So much of what Hamilton accomplished is still yet to be presented, and how it transformed America. There’s a lot of that substance in the musical, but from our standpoint, it also created this symbol that is attracting people to want to learn.”
For more information on the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society and CelebrateHAMILTON, visit their website.  

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The Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society
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