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Richmond celebrates first federally recognized Juneteenth
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Richmond celebrates first federally recognized Juneteenth

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Celebration. Recognition. Jubilee. History. Emancipation. Freedom.

Those are just some of the ways Richmond’s Black community described what Juneteenth meant to them as they celebrated all day Saturday.

Although the holiday commemorating the day people who were enslaved in Texas learned of their freedom more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued has now been federally recognized, the community says the work to achieve true racial justice is not over.

“That was half the battle; at least they finally recognized it,” Clinton Arthur, 51, of Henrico County said Saturday afternoon. “There’s more to come.”

Arthur was one of thousands of people expected to attend the festivities held at Dorey Park on Saturday. With live music, inflatable activities for children, booths for local businesses and food trucks, people funneled into the park as the afternoon went on. The night ended with a fireworks show.

“This is time to get out after COVID, time to get together, time to be safe and be back again with family ... and just have a great time being out here,” said Julian Charity, facility coordinator for Henrico County Recreation & Parks, at Dorey Park.

Charity said this celebration has been in the works since around August, and organizers were hoping to have about 10,000 people attend, but the “sky [was] the limit” for attendance.

In addition to vendors and outdoor activities, there was a station for people to receive their COVID-19 vaccine with the Richmond City Health District, which also had tents set up at other Juneteenth events.

Samuel Sessou, a doctor in the Virginia Department of Health, said the vaccination effort was trying to meet people where they were and help educate in the process.

“We want to make the vaccine accessible to people” in as many ways as possible, Sessou said. “At an event like this that is primarily for the Black community, we want to make our faces known.”

For him, the celebration of Juneteenth is the long-anticipated “freedom from bondage.”

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Back in Richmond, BLM RVA hosted a cookout across from the Robert E. Lee statue at Lee Circle, which was dubbed Marcus-David Peters Circle by protesters last year. The group also planned to hold a march at 8 p.m. to bring attention to a continued need for change in the city.

“There’s symbolic things that are being done in Richmond,” said BLM RVA founder Lawrence West. “We need to do more than just talk. [There are] things that need to happen to allow us to have the equality, social equity that we’ve been looking for.”

West said those who have been re-elected into government positions following last summer’s protests have a “huge responsibility” to help the city progress.

“If they haven’t implemented new policy and enforced new policy, then nothing’s happened,” he said.

A yoga event to reflect and celebrate was hosted by BareSOUL Yoga and Wellness, Drums No Guns, the Well Collective and other community organizations and businesses at the 17th Street Market on Saturday evening.

“This event specifically is going to speak to what Juneteenth should be and really commemorate it for what it is,” said BareSOUL Yoga instructor Charles Bolling at the event. “It should really be about protecting Black people and liberation.”

Project Yoga Richmond also held a yoga session at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Henrico on Saturday morning. Nitika Achalam, Project Yoga’s executive director, said it was a way to work in more green spaces and reclaim a place that was once exclusionary.

Achalam added that while she is glad Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, the country still needs to heal and work toward equality and justice.

“There are plenty of things between emancipation and making things a federal holiday that should’ve happened and still need to happen,” Achalam said. “It’s ceremonial, which is wonderful, but it’s not the final result.”

Virginian home care workers also gathered at the Bon Secours Training Center field with SEIU Virginia Local 512 to launch a campaign for a union contract and collective bargaining.

“The reason why we’re here to celebrate is because there was a time [when] instead of dancing in the field, we were working in the field without the respect and admiration we deserved as human beings,” said Athena Jones, a longtime member of SEIU Virginia 512, during the event. “Not today.”

Thomasine Wilson, home care chair of SEIU Virginia 512, said the group was there to celebrate their recent victories for home care workers, but there must be more legislation and government action to address the issues of systemic racism.

“We’re celebrating freedom,” Wilson said. “But are we really free?”

This story has been updated.

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