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Daily Journal
     June 23, 2020      #16-175 KDJ

Kankakee comes together for Juneteenth

By Stephanie Markham

KANKAKEE — Community members enjoyed music, food and games throughout the day Friday at Pioneer Park in celebration of Juneteenth, a holiday which recognizes the end of slavery for African Americans.

People also had the opportunity to register to vote, get information about local services and black-owned businesses, and listen to local leaders speak about issues affecting the black community.

The Juneteenth celebration at the park is set to continue from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday.

June 19 was the date Union General Gordon Granger issued a general order to free remaining slaves in Texas in 1865, which was more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and months after the Civil War ended. This year’s Juneteenth marked the 155th anniversary of the general order.

The 13th Amendment banning slavery would not be officially ratified and adopted until December 1865.

Vicky Culp, an Ashkum resident, attended the celebration Friday with her 8-year-old son. They wore matching T-shirts that read “Unapologetically black” with the date June 19, 1865, written underneath.

Culp said she celebrates Juneteenth every year, as she feels it is important to teach her children about their culture and the significance of the day.

“A lot of our [history] has been forgotten,” she said. “Even during Black History Month, a lot of our stuff isn’t taught.”

Culp said she hasn’t participated in any of the local demonstrations following George Floyd’s death; rather, her part in the protests has been to help educate those around her about why they are occurring.

As a black woman in a predominantly white neighborhood, she has been asked a lot of questions, she said.

“That’s how you get past this,” Culp said. “Ignorance is bliss, so how do you introduce somebody else to another perspective? I’m trying to get them to realize that this didn’t just happen; this has been an ongoing thing, and Juneteenth is an ongoing thing.”

Travis Miller, a Kankakee resident who helped to organize local marches after George Floyd’s death, also took part in organizing the Juneteenth celebration.

“This is our independence day,” Miller said. “With everything that’s going on in the world today that is affecting our community, this is our time to celebrate where we come from, who we are and everything like that. It’s all about celebrating.”

Miller added that he would like to see Juneteenth become a national holiday. Juneteenth was first recognized as a state holiday in Texas. Observance of the holiday takes place mostly with local celebrations across the country.

Shawna Mack, a Kankakee resident who also helped organize the weekend’s celebration, set up a table with fresh fruit for community members on Friday. She taped signs from recent protests to the ends of the table; one of them listed over 40 names of black men and women killed by police in recent years.

Despite the seriousness of ongoing issues, Juneteenth is a time for unity and celebration, she said.

“We are all here to celebrate and be one with each other and remember that we are all family at the end of the day,” she said. “Hopefully crime against each other can slow down and stop as well, but just to remember that we are here, to stay in the now; this is what is going on.”

She also noted the influx of support for black-owned businesses that has been helping communities and economies thrive.

“Unity for the black community is so strong, and I just feel like we all have to come together to continue to show the world and each other that we can get along, we can coexist with each other,” Mack said.

Eugene Terrell, a 73-year old Manteno resident, said that Friday was his first time attending a Juneteenth celebration. He said the young people who have been taking part in peaceful protests are well needed and have been making a difference.

“I am elated to be a part of the celebration, and I am so happy for the world that this change is taking place,” he said. “I know everybody will benefit from it.

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