From the intersections of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Wooley Street to Adeline and Alcatraz, Berkeley and Oakland residents took to the streets for the 35th annual Berkeley Juneteenth Festival on Saturday.
Roads were blocked off to make room for a variety of food, clothing and jewelry vendors and two main stages for a full day of live performances and various activities for festival goers to come together as a community and celebrate the holiday. As noted in a proclamation by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Juneteenth marks the 157th anniversary of the last American enslaved people in Galveston, Texas being informed of their freedom two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
“I urge all Californians to reflect on the ongoing cause of freedom for Black Americans,” Newsom said in the proclamation. “As we honor Juneteenth, let us all redouble our commitment to use our power to stamp out racism in our communities and institutions and help secure freedom for all.”
Nuzzled in the heart of the festival grounds, chess tables bearing a variety of shapes and colors brought together strangers for friendly games and camaraderie. Rakeem Naylor, an Oakland resident at the tables, said he had been at the festival for almost two hours, adding that the vibes of the event were positive and unifying.
While it was Naylor’s first time at the annual festival, he praised the message the event promoted and highlighted a quote he had heard; “It’s not what you say with your mouth, it’s your actions that speak loud.”
“Anybody can say what they want but their actions speak louder than words, you can tell someone you love them and then beat them up, you could fix someone some dinner and put poison in it,” Naylor said at the festival. “It’s the love that you show, if you say that you love me, show that you love me.”
According to the organizer’s website, the event also is intended to be a space for uplifting “up and coming” acts, giving young performers the opportunity to expand their audience and share their talents.
The main stages showcased several Black and African American talents performing a variety of mediums from jazz, R&B and reggae to theater, dance and spoken word poetry.
A statement from the organizers’ website noted that while the festival celebrates the emancipation of African American slaves in America, it is also intended to remind people of the horrific experiences endured by African Americans. The statement also highlights the “unique culture” that Black and African American people have made and noted a recommitment to fighting for equal freedom under the law for Black Americans.
“There is action, yes, a lot of action right now,” Naylor said. “All I wish for is a better world and for unity for all races.”