Juneteenth celebration draws support from across the community

By Brea Joiner

Even though Juneteenth is the day that changed Africans in America forever, three days marks the charm.

United Minds of Joint Action (UMOJA), Rays of Sonshine and C.H.R.I.S.T Association hosted their 5th Annual Juneteenth Celebration as a three-day series to celebrate the official freedom of slaves.

UMOJA and the surrounding community joined in fellowship at the St. James Methodist Church Friday evening completing the first phase of the celebration: The Past.

“ I always say that you need to give flowers to the ones you care about while they’re able to smell them,” Marie Brown, Rays of Sonshine event coordinator says.

The fellowship service included an honor ceremony for select elders who were 80 and over.

With the help of his wife, Mr. Henry Wilson slowly made his way down the aisle–pew by pew– in his burgundy suit, cherry oak cane in his hand, and determination in his heart. The audience stood and applauded for Wilson who was the oldest amongst the elders at 104-years-old.

“Ladies and gentlemen that’s how they make it to 104,” Pastor Hartfield-Dials said.

“They don’t stop at the back. They make they way all the way up to the front.”

After singing traditional songs, Brown invited the audience to light a tea-candle for the older people who they wished to honor–even if they were no longer alive.

The evening ended in preparation to an early start the following day: The Present.

Day two kicked off with their 2nd annual Juneteenth parade that started across from Wossman High School and ended at the Charles Johnson Park.

The aroma of grilled chicken and fried fish filled the pavilion as funk-music played throughout the pavilion. Vendors grooved with the guests as they share laughter and information with one another.

From blood pressure checks at Primary Health Service Center to a smoke house maze by the Monroe Fire Department, each vendor gave back to the community to celebrate Juneteenth.

Toys for Tots Coordinator Martha Justice says that events like this truly “helps our community” and provides positive development for children.

“Most of our toys are educational toys so it would help…especially during the summer… kids to keep their mind going,” Justice said.

Justice says they distributed over 3,000 toys that afternoon.

For Christina Davis of the Louisiana Small Business Development Center (LSBDC), celebrating freedom comes with celebrating knowledge.

“It’s important for people to get the knowledge and education of starting your own business. One of the freedoms that you need is freedom of intellect to gain access to that knowledge,” Davis said.

“ I think it empowers our community.”

The final day of Juneteenth jubilation ended in The Future with a flag raising ceremony at the NELA Delta African-American Heritage Museum.

Sergeant First Class Toby Green (1023 Engineer Company)  led his troop of four soldiers into place as he presented the flag to a Congressman Abraham representative and also, the museum executive director Lorraine Slacks.

Slacks says that working together like this could “make this what God wants this to be.”

“This is not for me. This is for us and I want it to be here,” Slacks said.

“I want to live to be 100, but whenever I go, I want it left for our children, and your children. This is our history.”

The program continued inside the museum with the spoken word piece and a few select songs from the Southern Harmoneers who dazzled the crowd with their sextet holy spirit harmony.

Marie Brown

Philedelphia Eagles wide-receiver Paul Turner along with his wife Mary came out to support his father, Carl Turner who has been a Harmoneer nearly all of his life.

“Stuff like this is really great for the community to bring us together, especially times like today where everyone’s kind of divided,” Mary said.

Brown introduced the Juneteenth festival to Monroe when she realized that Black history should not be limited to February.

“Once you learn about your history, then you want to start participating in functions to get people to understand where we are in these times,” Brown said.

“Our goal is to start focusing on things that concern us as a community, and when you find out that a lot of people don’t know about it, it’s real heartening.”