As Juneteenth approached, hope for freedom shifted throughout the black community to hope that its story would be recognized, its youth involved, and a healthy relationship with the police established.
At first, it was African prayer that filled the cotton fields of American plantations. More than two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Union Army arrived in Galveston, Texas, making enslaved blacks aware of their newfound freedom. This event in 1865 marked a day of celebration called Juneteenth, or June 19.
Michael Baldwin, Faith in the Valley board member, said that although many slaves died without having their prayers answered, black people today are the dream of their ancestors. “We are prayer answered,” he said.
This answered prayer came with the struggle. After the Emancipation Proclamation, it took the ratification of the 13th and 14th Amendments for blacks to gain freedom and citizenship. And although more than a century and a half has passed since June 1, it became a federal holiday on Thursday with the signing of President Joe Biden.
It’s a moment in history that King-Kennedy Council Member Savannah Williams said she has been waiting a long time. “To have this change is huge… it turns me on,” she said.
Talking about this painful story is not meant to arouse anger, Baldwin said, but should arouse curiosity about the influences that played a role. “When we start to deny our story … we are forced to repeat it,” he said.
Moving forward, Darius Crosby, chief correspondent of the Modesto Police Clergy Council, says the excuses must stop. “People say, ‘Well my people never owned slaves,’” he said. “No. Go back to the threshold of all that is ugly and just own it.
Another area of concern for Williams is the mismatch between members of the older generation, who are more traditional, and those of the younger generation, who want change to happen in a more modern way. She thinks the older generation doesn’t trust the younger generation enough to pass the baton. “It’s a little hard to do that… when you’re not supported by the older generation, just because… they’ve done things the same way over and over again,” she said.
But Williams said the younger generation wants to learn from the lessons of the older generation and turn them into modern solutions and opportunities. “Finding ways to bring the younger generation to the table and keep them there is a start in mending this disconnect,” she said.
As the older generation ages, Williams said, young black people urgently need to get involved in the community so that activism can continue. She believes that their involvement in the Celebrate the June 17th festival is what triggered the increased interest in the holidays.
Mi’Shaye Venerable, a Turlock Black Lives Matter (BLM) activist, said she started noticing people’s increased interest in the holidays following the murder of George Floyd last year. “A lot was going on in the black community and people wanted to be there for the community,” she said.
She believes the tragic event also motivated black youth to get involved in the movement. “Young people (are) (…) create their own actions and organize themselves,” she said. “I have certainly seen a lot more. “
Williams said more than 20 vendor booths, not counting resource booths, have confirmed their attendance at the event, Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at MLK Jr. Park, 601 N. Martin Luther King Drive, Modesto. “These are things we haven’t had in years because of lack of interest,” she said. “It comes from… this disconnection from the elders.”
Police-community relationship needed
Baldwin and Crosby agreed that Modesto is far from perfect, but has made strides in improving police-community relations through efforts such as clergy council training and a race relations coaching series. and cultural events for a week. The training series offers the police and the community the opportunity to discuss race and culture.
Crosby said a healthy relationship between police and all residents will lead to conversations that are for the betterment of the community. If officers get to know the residents of the neighborhoods they serve, he said, they are more likely to solve problems peacefully than break into homes or have dead ends.
Crosby, who attended a law enforcement youth summit five years ago, recalls a teenager who asked former Modesto Police Chief Galen Carroll what it would take so that people are not brutalized by the police and that the officers are not mean. Crosby said Carroll responded that it’s only when we all see each other as family that we can root out racism. “How can you be racist and glamorous towards your own family? Crosby agreed.
However, Baldwin said that if we choose to focus solely on racism, we will miss the mark. “You can inject racism into that, but it’s the police culture that we really want to look at honestly and at length,” he said.
Racism rules out the idea that black officers cannot be racist against their own people, but Baldwin said it is the police culture that makes officers lack a sense of humanity for a group of people. He added that the police must operate from a space of empathy, connection and compassion. Without these elements, he said law enforcement would continue to be brutal because they would feel no connection with the people they are committed to serving and protecting.
Saturday’s Celebrate Juneteenth festival will include musical performances; a free throw and three-point shooting competition for all ages, recognition of black graduates and a youth empowerment experience with games, activities, mini-workshops and raffles. For more information, call Deborah at 209-568-3643.