‘A sacred moment in history’: Juneteenth celebration slated for Watson Park; other commemorations also planned

photo by: Journal-World

Tamara Cash adjusts a period dress on display at Lawrence's 2015 Juneteenth commemoration in South Park.

Trinity Carpenter was 16 before she’d attended a Juneteenth celebration — a fact she laments.

“Juneteenth is honestly really special to me because I didn’t have it for 16 years of my life,” Carpenter says. “I didn’t know there was a celebration for it.”

For the last six weeks, Carpenter has been calling businesses, going door to door, stocking up on supplies and printing and handing out flyers to ensure that no one is deprived of celebrating Juneteenth in person this year.

Just this week, Congress voted to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, and President Joe Biden signed the legislation into law on Thursday, saying it was not enough to commemorate the holiday, but it must also be a day of reflection and action.

Also called Emancipation Day, Juneteenth celebrates June 19, 1865 — the day that Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and told slaves of their emancipation.

For the last five years, many in Lawrence have attended a Juneteenth celebration hosted by the Nelson-Atkins Museum. This year, however, that celebration will take place virtually. Wanting to fill the gap with an in-person event, Carpenter, lead organizer of Black Summer, started working furiously to make one happen. Normally, planning an event of this type would take months, but Carpenter said she was extra motivated to pull it together.

“To have a virtual event this year was really sad,” Carpenter says. “I’ve spent more time on the phone doing canvassing and sponsorship than I ever have.”

Friday event

Black Summer is not the only organization hosting a Juneteenth event. Black Literature & Arts Collective of Kansas Lawrence (B.L.A.C.K.) will celebrate Juneteenth and the release of Tai Amri Spann-Ryan’s book of poetry from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Centennial Park east shelter, 2124 W. Ninth St. Spann-Ryan’s memoir, “Beautiful Ashe: Memoirs of a Sweet Black Boy & Other Poems,” features poems about his experience growing up, as well as poems about what it’s like to be Black in Lawrence.

Spann-Ryan, who says he loves Black history and holidays, thought Juneteenth weekend would be a great date for the debut of his book.

“For me, Juneteenth has become a way of celebrating, when actually my ancestors weren’t able to celebrate … I want us to enjoy the celebration and think about all the hard work that liberation has taken and will continue to take,” Spann-Ryan says. “At our event, there will be a big emphasis on the color red, a lot of red foods, red velvet cake, watermelon; that color really symbolizes the blood that connects us to our ancestors.”

B.L.A.C.K’s book launch will also feature music and poetry presented by local Black artists Barry Washboard Barnes, Cia Coles and Lucero.

Saturday events

The Black Summer Juneteenth Event will take place from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday at Watson Park, 727 Kentucky St.

The event will launch with children’s games and will have a bounce house on site. At 1 p.m., a justice panel will discuss some of the obstacles Black people face in the criminal justice system. The panel will feature three speakers, among them Jerome Edwards, who spent 24 years in prison for a murder conviction he has spent years trying to overturn.

Another speaker on the justice panel is Sam Allison-Natale, an attorney and board member for Kansas Holistic Defenders.

“I think for me, the past is still deeply relevant in what we’re seeing every day, and having a commemoration of Black achievement is incredibly important,” Allison-Natale says. “Juneteenth was led by enslaved people for their own liberation. In the same way, the changes that are happening within our criminal system are also being led by incarcerated people and their families. That fight continues.”

The event will also feature a barbecued rib contest, three-on-three basketball, a cupcake contest, a book fair, an art show and free food for attendees.

“Free food — it’s really important to me,” Carpenter says. “I’m really big about feeding the community, especially the Black community. Juneteenth was about nourishing the community.”

Carpenter credits the event’s donors, local businesses and agencies like the Raven Book Store and Lawrence Parks and Recreation, for the event’s ability to provide free food.

“That I went 16 years in life without knowing that there was even a celebration is really significant to me,” Carpenter says. “Now, to be far enough in life to actually give back to the community, it is an act of love. It’s not often the Black community gets centered and gets to be celebrated and is also rewarded. Juneteenth is a sacred moment in history that should be celebrated every year.”

Other celebrations:

•The B.L.A.C.K Juneteenth and book launch event will also be streamed on Zoom at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84725027920

•Lawrence’s Juneteenth Organization’s virtual event will premiere at 1 p.m. Saturday on the organization’s website and on its Facebook page.

•Nelson-Atkins’ virtual commemoration will feature the exhibition “Testimony: African American Artists Collective,” children’s book author Tiffany Taylor, and Rozzelle Court Restaurant’s Chef Marcus’ secret BBQ sauce recipe.


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