Youngstown Juneteenth kicks off season of change

Correspondent photo / Sean Barron Autumn Ellis, a self-taught artist, stands next to a mural she painted of Ava DuVernay, perhaps best known as the director of the dramatic film “Selma.” Ellis’ artwork was on display at Saturday’s 2021 Juneteenth Celebration at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre.

YOUNGSTOWN — Olivia Barnes views last week’s declaration of Juneteenth as a federal holiday as a major step forward regarding racial reconciliation, and as a foundation upon which to build.

“I’m happy to see it recognized; I feel that we’re making progress,” the Youngstown woman observed.

Barnes made her thoughts known while attending Saturday’s 2021 Juneteenth Celebration at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre.

The event, which celebrated the 156th anniversary of the end of slavery in the U.S., was shortened because of the threat of severe weather. Hosting the celebration were JAC Management, Wean Park, Loud 102.3 FM and the city of Youngstown.

The four-hour celebration also came days after President Joe Biden signed legislation last week making Juneteenth the first new federal holiday since 1983, when Martin Luther King Jr. Day received such a designation.

Juneteenth commemorates the events of June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers under Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and he read aloud an order announcing that enslaved blacks were free. Even though President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, slavery continued largely unabated in Texas; in addition, Granger’s order came two months after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in April 1865 at Appomattox Court House in Virginia at the end of the Civil War.

Barnes, who came with her 7-year-old son, Capone Knox, said that many people have celebrated Juneteenth years before it became a federal holiday. She also feels the nation is making progress regarding racial reconciliation, but hopes festering problems such as police brutality will be addressed. Barnes added that she wants to see more related local family-friendly events and educational opportunities.

During the celebration, Barnes also consulted with Autumn Ellis of Youngstown, a self-taught artist who had on hand several acrylic paintings of black men and women.

“I want my work to represent my culture, mainly black people,” Ellis, who learned to draw as a child, said. “I’m trying to represent them in the art world.”

Perhaps Ellis’ most prominent work at the event was her large painting of Ava DuVernay, a filmmaker and producer perhaps best known for directing movies such as “Selma” and “Middle of Nowhere,” and who made her debut with the 2008 documentary “This is the Life,” about the history of the hip-hop movement.

Next to Ellis’ painting was a similar-sized one local artist Yaseen Traylor created that depicted singer and guitarist Jimi Hendrix.

The Juneteenth gathering also had plenty of merchandise for sale that included a variety of T-shirts, scented candles and soaps, hats, beach bags, coffee and beer mugs.

As celebratory as Juneteenth being recognized as a national holiday may be, work must continue to combat systemic racism, police reform and unequal educational opportunities that disproportionately affect mainly people of color, Charles Colvin, event coordinator, said.

Barriers preventing many blacks from attaining equal opportunities remain entrenched, he added.

“This is a call to action” to look after one another in many neighborhoods and elsewhere, support those trying to make positive changes in the community and work with adults and young people to curb violence in the city, noted Guy Burney, executive director of the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence effort.

In addition, one $500 check each was given to City Kids Care Inc. and FAAM Coin, Youngstown’s first cryptocurrency business, for their contributions to the community.



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