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‘Juneteenth means hope’: Community gathers for Richmond commemorations

Updated: Jun. 15, 2021 at 4:38 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Local residents joined politicians, local organizations and fellow Richmonders for a Juneteenth jubilee celebration on Saturday.

The “Love and Legacy” celebration featured food truck vendors, children’s activities, music, dance and other entertainment. There were also resources available for improving communities, education equity, finances, behavioral health and healthcare equity. Resources regarding voter’s rights and restoration, and criminal justice reform, were also be available.

For many people in attendance, the now federally recognized holiday evokes different meanings.

“For me, Juneteenth means hope because a lot of our ancestors have fought for freedom, and today we stand as it’s recognized as a national holiday,” said Danielle Harris-Rich.

“It means that we made it,“ said Towanda Darden. “We can celebrate everything that everyone one of our ancestors worked for, marched for, died for, so that we can be free.”

The event was organized by Sherri Robinson, the owner of ShowLove LLC and host of last year’s “Conversations at the Monument.” She said she was motivated to plan the event to provide a place to heal, inspire and feel safe after the COVID-19 pandemic and death of George Floyd.

“I was inspired to create a Juneteenth Jubilee Holiday Event to celebrate the life of African American History purposely to give elected officials, community organizations, and residents a positive platform to engage in the enjoyment of food, fun and entertainment,” Robinson said.

The celebration was held at Fountain Lake in Byrd Park at 600 South Arthur Ashe Boulevard from 2-6 p.m.

In Henrico County at Woodland Cemetery, the Juneteenth celebration took a more reflective approach. The cemetery is one of the largest historically African American burial sites in the greater Richmond area. It is likely filled with those who were born into and died in slavery, but also of those that witnessed its emancipation.

State and city leaders and dozens of community members took time to honor those buried at the cemetery, which has been renovated to clear overgrowth covering many of the headstones.

“This is a reflection not of those who are seated here, but those who are buried here,” said State Delegate Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond.

“Those people buried here and many many more inspire us every day,” said U.S. Representative Donald McEachin, Va-4th District.

During the ceremony, Henrico police also honored the veterans buried in the cemetery by playing military taps. The event made people like Judith Wansley and her husband Earnest emotional.

“My grandparents are buried out there,” Judith said. “We would come down and we would look, and everything was just a jungle.”

Judith says she remembers a time when her grandparent’s headstones were hard to find. This cemetery, much like the holiday, did not get the attention she felt it deserved. In recent years, the county leaders and community has come together to help maintain it.

“Kudos to everyone who was involved in clearing this area because it was a monumental task and we really appreciate what they’ve done for this grand holiday,” Earnest said.

Although Juneteenth has always been a day about commemorating the end of slavery and the start of independence for countless African Americans in the United States, McEachin says it should also be a reminder of how much further there is to go.

“It is an ongoing struggle,” McEachin said. “A balance of freedom and equity that doesn’t end.”

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