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A Juneteenth celebration

Event marks end of US slavery; victims of violence remembered

Guy Burney, director of the Youngstown Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) reminds people to vote as Youngstown City Council president DeMaine Kitchen, left, and resident Joseph Napier, left, look on during a Juneteenth celebration Saturday at the Youngstown Amphitheater.

YOUNGSTOWN — The Juneteenth celebration Saturday at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre was just that — a celebration.

The free event included a disc jockey who encouraged dancing, musical performances, vendors, basketball and free food. It also took on somber notes at moments in speeches from locals and pastors, and when the names of those who lost their lives to police brutality and COVID-19 were read aloud and candles were lit in their honor.

Mostly, though, the event was much-needed fun during a tumultuous time.

“This is just to bring everyone together to show love through all of these tough times,” said Courtney Teague of Youngstown, who along with other family members was wearing a Juneteenth shirt that read, “Free-ish since 1865.”

Members of Youngstown City Council stood on the stage and signed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis in the city. The legislation, which states that racism “causes persistent discrimination in housing, education, employment” was approved unanimously Friday.

“We believe that it’s more than just words, it’s about action. And we’re committed to doing whatever is necessary to affect change right here in the city of Youngstown,” council President DeMaine Kitchen said.

A copy of the resolution was given to Joseph Napier Jr., a resident who Councilwoman Samantha Turner said has kept the spirit of Juneteenth alive in Youngstown. Napier, who said he was inspired by his pastor to celebrate Juneteenth, has led discussions and events centered around the day. He said the day is to “keep in mind what our ancestors went through.”

This year was first in recent memory where the holiday had a large, formal celebration in the city.

Juneteenth is a commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States, according to Juneteenth.com. On June 19, 1865 — two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, legally freeing slaves — Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas, and delivered news that the enslaved were free.

Juneteenth has not been as widely celebrated as it might have been. Recent protests around the world sparked by the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of a former Minneapolis police officer, has shined a bright light on the Black Lives Matter movement and reinvigorated the holiday amid calls for increased awareness of black history.

“With the social climate of everything going on in America right now, this is to come out here and learn about our history,” Jason Harrison with Loud 102.3 said. He called the day “African American Independence Day” but said Juneteenth is for everyone who wants to celebrate.

Harrison said the Youngstown event wasn’t looking to make money from the community. Rather, it was meant to show support and provide a positive outlet.

“We want to have a good time with the community,” Harrison said.

The city fire department was on site, providing relief from the heat with a sprinkler raining down from a truck. Youngstown police also were a supportive presence. Mayor Jamael Tito Brown was slated to take part in the event, but was not able to attend as he is self-isolating after he came in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19.

Juneteenth was hosted by the city of Youngstown and the Black Business Directory. The Youngstown Community Initiative to Reduce Violence also was present, with director Guy Burney reminding everyone to vote to affect change. Voter registration was available throughout the day.

In order to take precautions against the spread of COVID-19, temperatures were taken at the door and wearing of face masks was encouraged, with free masks available.

A Warren Juneteenth celebration is planned Saturday at Quinby Park.

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