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Juneteenth celebrations in Bethel, White River Junction ‘a beautiful occasion’

  • Emmanuel Ajavon, of Grantham, right, his daughter Emilia, 8, second from left, Conicia Jackson, of Bethel, second from right, and her daughter Addison Ramsey, 12, left, joined the Juneteenth celebration with Ajavon's dogs Willow, left, and Luke, right, in White River Junction, Vt., Saturday, June 19, 2021. More than 100 people turned out for the event. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Dartmouth College student Lexi Warden, of Seattle, Wash., goes over her notes before speaking during the Juneteenth celebration at Lyman Point Park in White River Junction, Vt., Saturday, June 19, 2021. It was Hartford's second year recognizing the holiday, which commemorates the the day in 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, that the Union Army began enforcing the freeing of the remaining enslaved people in Texas. Juneteenth was made a federal holiday on June 17, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

  • Joe Major, vice chair of the Hartford Selectboard, listens to remarks from Maggi Ibrahim, diversity coordinator for the Hartford School District, during a Juneteenth event at Lyman Point Park in White River Junction, Vt., Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Allene Swienckowski, chair of the Hartford Committee on Racial Equity and Inclusion, second from right, gets a hug from Laura Perez, executive director of the Special Needs Support Center, after stepping off the stage from speaking at the Town of Hartford's Juneteenth event at Lyman Point Park in White River Junction, Vt., Saturday, June 19, 2021. Perez's daughter Olivia is at right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/19/2021 9:53:45 PM
Modified: 6/20/2021 9:30:26 AM

BETHEL — Before Saturday, 12-year-old Olivia Halsey had never been to a Juneteenth celebration.

By the end of the day, the Bethel resident had been to two. The first was in her hometown, where she sold lemonade, baked goods and origami paper crane earrings she’d crafted with tweezers to raise money for a trip to Budapest, Hungary, with her classmates at Tunbridge Central School. The second was in White River Junction, where her mother, Laura Perez, gave a speech in her role as director of the Special Needs Support Center.

“I think it’s really fun,” said Halsey, whose mother taught her about the significance of Juneteenth, a holiday marking the end of slavery in the U.S. “I like the music. I like meeting other people.”

At both celebrations, children ran around in the sun. People set up chairs and bright-colored blankets. Hugs were exchanged — after a quick confirmation that both parties were fully vaccinated — and there was a persistent aura of joy.

Bethel’s celebration started around noon at the band shell near the White Church, with Earth, Wind & Fire’s September played over the speakers. It was the first Juneteenth celebration held in the town: Last June, there was a rally and tribute to George Floyd, who was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis.

David Phair, who organized the event along with Owen Daniel-McCarter, said the Juneteenth event did not take much planning, and that was part of the point: It was meant to be an organic celebration with vendors, performers and people who could reconnect after a year of COVID-19 restrictions that dictated who could do what and where and when. The push to make Juneteenth a national holiday, which was signed into law on Thursday, played no part.

“I honestly think that’s a symbolic victory,” Phair said of the day’s new status. “Making it a federal holiday does not benefit the Black community at all.”

Like many other people, Phair did not learn about Juneteenth when he was in school and learned about the significance of the date only in the last couple years.

“Not enough teaching about this goes on,” he said, adding that there needs to be more taught about historical events that center on Black people, including Black Wall Street, the site of a dayslong race massacre 100 years ago in Tulsa, Okla.

While Phair would like to see the Juneteenth celebration return annually, he hopes it will be town-supported.

“We’re just trying to hang out and have a good time,” Phair said before introducing Vermont state Rep. Kirk White, D/P-Bethel, whom he asked to speak at the event.

Before speaking about the work the Legislature has done to support Vermonters who identify as Black, Indigenous and people of color, White acknowledged that there is “no place for a cis(gender) white dude,” to stand on a stage and speak during a Juneteenth celebration. He said white people should use the day to reflect on what they can do to better support communities and people of color, instead of just performative actions like wearing buttons.

“We don’t actually commit to real action or real change,” White said.

Before starting his set, hip-hop artist Flex 45 said he did not learn about Juneteenth until two years ago.

“I knew about Christopher Columbus, but I didn’t know about my own people,” he said, before performing a piece that named Black people killed by police officers in the United States.

Dozens of people turned out to both celebrations, the crowd sizes ebbing and flowing. Hartford’s celebration took place at Lyman Point Park in White River Junction, behind the town office building. Joe Major, vice chair of the Selectboard, served as the emcee for the event which featured multiple speakers including Dia Draper, assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business; U.S. Rep. Peter Welch; and Vermont state Rep. Kevin “Coach” Christie, D-Hartford.

“Today is about history, finding out about things you probably didn’t learn in high school,” Major said.

Eighteen-year-old Lucy Glueck, a Hanover resident who works at the Special Needs Support Center, spoke alongside Perez about the overlap between advocacy for people who have disabilities and for people who identify as Black, Indigenous and people of color.

“We’re here to say that history is still alive and well today and we stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter,” Perez said in an interview before her speech. “To have this level of attention is such a heartwarming moment as a parent.”

Conicia Jackson, of Bethel, attended Hartford’s celebration with her 12-year-old daughter.

“It’s a big deal for a lot of African Americans and just America in general,” Jackson said. “As a Black woman, the fact that this is a federal holiday and we can celebrate the freedom of my ancestors who fought so long and so hard to get to this point is just mind-blowing.”

Jackson grew up going to predominantly Black schools and, while Juneteenth wasn’t included in their books, she learned about it from her teachers. In college, Jackson joined a Black student union where she became more immersed in the significance of Juneteenth.

On Saturday, she looked out on the crowd assembled, noting the children who were present, including her daughter Addison Ramsey.

“I’m so happy she can see this and experience this. It’s such a beautiful occasion,” Jackson said. “Look at all the kids here. This is their future.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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