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Juneteenth events across Vermont to acknowledge and ‘celebrate Black liberation’

Ashley DeLeon (VTDigger)

Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Silent vigils and anti-racism protests marked most of June 2020. This June, Vermont has Juneteenth celebrations scheduled for Saturday in Burlington, Bethel, Bennington, Brownington, Charlotte, Essex, Ferrisburgh, Hinesburg, Montpelier, White River Junction and Winooski.

June 19 also marks Vermont’s first weekend free of pandemic-related restrictions, following Gov. Phil Scott’s announcement Monday that the state reached the 80% vaccination benchmark.

Known as African American Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States and is the longest-running African American holiday, one that organizers in Vermont hope to use to teach, discuss and celebrate this year.

The holiday recognizes June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to let the last enslaved African Americans know that they were free, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

“Juneteenth’s growing popularity signifies a level of recognition and dignity in America that is long overdue,” according to Burlington’s Juneteenth website. “When we are sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society.”

Last year, Gov. Scott signed a proclamation making June 19 Juneteenth Recognition Day in Vermont. This week, Congress passed a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, The Associated Press reported. If signed by President Joe Biden, it would become the 12th federal holiday.

This is Burlington’s first annual Juneteenth celebration, and it is spread across four sites — City Hall Park, Flynn Elementary, Roosevelt Park and Champlain Elementary — running from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, according to the event website.

The day offers opportunities to learn about Black farming in Vermont, the farm-to-table experience, panel discussions about building equitable food systems in the state, an affinity space for people who identify as Black and a panel discussion about contextualizing Juneteenth.

The Black Museum 101, a “nontraditional museum space,” will be available for people to learn about African American history. The True Black History Museum “is an extraordinary collection of rare and authentic artifacts, dating from the late 1700s to the 21st century,” according to the event website.

In Winooski, Juneteenth celebrations will take place in Rotary Park from 5 to 8 p.m.

“The event will feature speakers, poetry, dance, music performances and opportunities to visit different vendors and activity areas throughout the park,” the event’s Facebook page said. People are encouraged to visit downtown businesses, “as many are featuring Juneteenth cocktails and other specials to mark the occasion.”

Essex will host its Juneteenth celebration from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Brownell Library pavilion at 5 Corners. “The event will highlight excerpts and work of African American inventors, musicians, poets, orators and authors,” and will be “an interactive event in which the public will be invited to take part,” according to the Essex website.

Owiso Makuku, interim community development director in Essex, said a series of index cards describing different inventions and African American contributions to life in the United States will be strung around a barn on the library pavilion. People are invited to take one and read it in between the main event speakers.

The Essex event is volunteer-run and designed to be family-friendly. Activities for children will include a machine to create commemorative buttons, and black, red, yellow and green threads to weave into friendship bracelets.

“We’ll also be making construction paper kente cloth with the kids, and it should be really fun,” Makuku said.

In Charlotte, the Families on the Farm Juneteenth Celebration is at the Authentica Art Gallery on Clemmons Family Farm from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. It will include an aerial performance by collaborating artist Pamela Donohoo, activity tables to educate kids about planting, and “delicious tastings of cooked black-eyed peas and collard greens by Clemmons Family Farm's collaborating culinary artist Robin Caudell,” according to the event page.

People are asked not to photograph or record the aerial performance, but Clemmons Family Farm will distribute photos to the audience after the event.

In White River Junction, the town of Hartford and the Hartford Committee on Racial Equity and Inclusion will host a Juneteenth celebration at Lyman Point Park (next to Town Hall) from 3:30 to 6 p.m.

The celebration will feature guest speakers and performances by local theater companies JAG Productions and Northern Stage. Members of the Juneteenth 2021 planning committee will be at the free public event to provide information and answer questions, according to the event’s Facebook page.

At the Bethel Bandshell & Common, the Juneteenth celebration is open to all ages, with guest speakers, DJ Joseph Smith, live performances and food from Jenna’s Side Street Grill. People are encouraged to “bring snacks, water, blankets and supplies for fun.” Social distancing and masks are up to personal discretion.

“Juneteenth; Living Liberation” in Montpelier will have a celebratory evening on the Statehouse lawn from 5 to 8 p.m.

“We’re kicking it off with an African drumming and dance class from Shidaa” from 4 to 5 p.m., said Noel Riby-Williams, one of the event organizers.

“Our celebration and reflections will be focused on the word ‘liberation’ as we share Black history in Vermont and make space to discuss the continued impacts of systemic racism in our state,” the event site stated. Food will be “available for pre-order from Black businesses and home cooks.” Speakers and performers from across the state are also scheduled to join in.

A doctor will host a live discussion about vaccines, and informational sessions and BIPOC clinics will be available. People will be asked to mask and socially distance.

“This will be a family-friendly, Covid-safe event that celebrates and highlights liberation of Black people, and it’s a celebration for us because that’s what it represents. It’s also a moment and a pause that some of us are still not free; there are still forms of systemic racism that keeps us imprisoned,” said Saudia LaMont, another event organizer.

“This is a time for us to pause, celebrate and acknowledge how much further we have to go,” LaMont said.

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