Las Vegas Sun

May 6, 2021

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Juneteenth celebrations set throughout valley; organizers stress shared history, safety

Juneteenth Organizers

Christopher DeVargas

From left, Jennifer Young, community liaison at St. Judes Women’s Auxiliary, Deborah Evans, state director of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, and Charlotte Carpenter, coordinator for National Juneteenth Observance Foundation Nevada are shown Monday, June 15, 2020. They hold the Juneteenth flag at Craig Ranch Regional Park, the site of their upcoming Juneteenth Observance program.

Events on tap

• Juneteenth Community Collaboration 2 p.m.-7 p.m. Friday, Lorenzi Park, 3343 W.Washington Ave.

• Juneteenth Celebration, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday, Craig Ranch Regional Park, 628 W. Craig Road.

• Juneteenth Freedom Function, Friday, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., Cork and Thorn wine bar, 70 Imperial Ave.

The Juneteenth flag was projected onto the front of the Las Vegas City Hall after dark on June 1.

The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation raises the flag every June 1 to commemorate Juneteenth — the annual celebrations linked to June 19, 1865, which is the date that news of President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 reached slaves in Texas.

This marked the second year the flag was projected the onto City Hall.

The flag ceremony fell on the same day as a Las Vegas rally for George Floyd, a black man who was killed last month in the custody of white Minnesota police. The night ended in tragedy as Metro Police Officer Shay Mikalonis was shot in the face, and protester Jorge Gomez was killed by police in separate incidents.

Demonstrators passed City Hall while the Juneteenth flag was projected onto the walls of building on the way to the protest area a few blocks away.

“I could see the flashing lights of police cars. There were two helicopters over my head,” said Deborah Evans, the state director of the Nevada branch of the foundation who also handles communications for the group nationally. “You could hear them from two blocks away — but where we were, under that Juneteenth flag, it was peace.”

The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation has worked with local and state organizations for nearly 25 years to promote recognition of Juneteenth, which is Friday and recognized by Nevada to help residents understand its significance. The foundation was instrumental in passing bills to make Juneteenth a day of observance in more than 40 states and the District of Columbia.

“That flag means we’ve acknowledged that our blood is covered on the ground over America from the Middle Passage up to George Floyd,” said Steve Williams, the foundation president.

Click to enlarge photo

Diane Pollard, director of the Rainbow Dreams Education Foundation, poses for a photo at Kianga Isoke Palacio Park, Tuesday, June 16, 2020.

Many groups are hosting Juneteenth events throughout Las Vegas, all of which will observe social distancing guidelines out of coronavirus concerns. One related event, the Rainbow Dreams Educational Foundation’s annual Juneteenth celebration at Doolittle Park in West Las Vegas, has been canceled due to the pandemic.

Diane Pollard, the founder of the Rainbow Dreams Educational Foundation, first organized the celebration two decades ago as a fundraiser for Clark County schools. Pollard said 2,700 people came to last year’s event. And though this year’s event won’t take place, she said it was still important to recognize Juneteenth.

“This date commemorates such an important milestone in the history of the United States and has helped to define the nation it is today and the nation we hope to become in the future,” Pollard said. “Right now, the country is facing so much emotional turmoil due to the fight for true equality and tensions are running high. Now, more than ever, it is vital to show our support to celebrate our diverse society.”

The National Juneteenth Observation Foundation initially canceled its annual event at the West Las Vegas Library out of pandemic concerns. But, when Gov. Steve Sisolak lifted some of the restrictions on public gatherings, the foundation worked quickly to reorganize a celebration, which is set for 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday at Craig Ranch Regional Park, 628 W. Craig Road.

Charlotte Carpenter Ogieriakhi, the group’s project coordinator, is labeling the free outing a “family reunion” so it’s not mistaken for a protest. “This is not a riot. This is not a protest. It’s a celebration of our ancestors,” she said.

The event includes a car parade starting at 6 p.m. at the historical Harrison House — where black entertainers stayed during days of segregation — at 1001 F St. and ending at the park. Guest speakers include local Black Lives Matter activist Rev. Vance “Stretch” Sanders and retired Assemblyman Harvey Munford, who helped pass legislation in 2011 that made Juneteenth a day of recognition in Nevada. North Las Vegas Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Goynes-Brown will declare Juneteenth a day of recognition in North Las Vegas.

Evans, who worked for observance foundation in Chicago when former President Barack Obama, then a U.S. senator, led the Juneteenth parade, said the celebration was of generational importance because learning the history shapes what black children believe about their ancestors, she said.

Williams, who became the foundation president in 2018, also emphasized the importance of telling accurate stories about the past. He said the many moments that demonstrate black power are under told.

“We weren’t passive victims. We fought back,” Williams said. “We don’t get the story of victory and encouragement because if you want to oppress a people, you don’t tell them that they can win.”

CORRECTION: This story was updated to identify Williams as the foundation president. | (June 25, 2020)