‘A stark reality’: Upcoming Juneteenth celebrations to reflect current moment

Juneteenth events
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On Friday, two planned events will allow Berkeley residents to celebrate Juneteenth, an annual commemoration of the emancipation of Black slaves in 1865.

The celebrations include a Juneteenth rally organized by Black Youth for the People’s Liberation, or BY4PL, and an annual Berkeley Juneteenth Festival. While the rally will take place in Oakland’s DeFremery Park, the festival’s in-person gathering has been canceled.

In past years, the festival has attracted between 1,000 and 5,000 people. Due to the risk of COVID-19’s spread, however, the festival’s organizing committee decided to replace the traditional gathering with a nonlive, online event over the course of multiple days.

Delores Nochi Cooper, a member of the festival’s organizing committee, said educational articles and other relevant materials will be posted on the festival’s Facebook page from June 13 to June 19. 

“We wanted to do something more lasting this year, so we decided on doing the online commentary rather than a Zoom event,” Cooper said.

According to Cooper, recent civil unrest and protest movements contributed to the committee’s decision to feature the work of Black artists, musicians and writers in this year’s online Juneteenth celebration.

Cooper also said the current unrest has highlighted both America’s racial progress and the desire for further change.

“We wanted to use this event as a way to illustrate the stark reality that we, as a people, are experiencing right now and how far we still have to go,” Cooper said.

Cooper added that organizers would like to return to an in-person celebration on Juneteenth next year if large gatherings do not pose a public health threat.

BY4PL, a group described by its organizers as a growing movement of young people, will use the historical significance of Juneteenth to respond to current racial disparities. The group plans to hold an Oakland protest at 4 p.m. Friday to bring attention to police brutality and racial inequalities.

“Our overarching theme is protecting all Black lives — that includes Black LGBTQ+ lives, Black differently abled lives and Black homeless lives,” said Lauryn Campbell, an organizer for BY4PL.

Campbell added that a complete list of demands would be released in the coming days in anticipation of the rally.

In a flyer for the Juneteenth protest publicized on social media, BY4PL used slogans such as, “Are we free?” “Am I next?” and “Off our necks!” to underscore injustices that the Juneteenth protest will seek to address.

“We decided to hold an event on Juneteenth to celebrate Blackness, recognize the work of the leaders that have come before us and acknowledge how much work there is left for us to truly be free,” Campbell said.

Contact Mattias Hoz at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @hozmattias.