By KEVIN LIMITI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – More than 100 people gathered at Neahwa Park on Saturday, June 19, to celebrate Juneteenth, a day that celebrates African-American emancipation.
There was additional cause for celebration Saturday since President Joe Biden signed a law this week making Juneteenth a national holiday.
With a DJ spinning music the entire time, it wasn’t unusual to see spontaneous dancing. Free hamburgers, hotdogs and beverages were also provided. There was face painting, a raffle and artwork.
The event appeared to attract a diverse group of people, both in terms of ethnicity and age. It was very much a family centric event.
Joanne Fisher, assistant secretary for the Oneonta NAACP, said celebrating Juneteenth in Oneonta for the second year in a row is a great idea because it helps people learn about each other and for Black Americans to reclaim parts of their history that are often forgotten or were untaught in schools.
“I think it’s the only way we’re gonna bridge the gap and learn each other’s value,” Fisher said. “History hasn’t told us everything.”
Fisher, originally from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, said she was not taught about slavery and Juneteenth in her school, and therefore she didn’t get a chance to learn about her own history.
Anita Hopson set up a tent to display old items brought from her grandparents that originated mainly in West Africa. Some of the items included a jumping broom, used traditionally in marriages, sand paintings and others.
“‘I’m proud to have my family history,” Hopson said. She said she appreciated being given the chance to show these things to people who “don’t look like me.”
The Otsego Pride Alliance had a table at the event in which they put up photos of Black trans and LGBTQ members who were killed in violence across the country. They said they were there to support the Black community and promote equality.
Bertram Knight showcased some of his photographs, which he said were meant to convey the beauty of Black bodies.
“All the images are representations of black beauty,” Knight said, who was “looking for different ways to highlight and elevate differences in our communities.”
Aaron Smith, who moved to Oneonta from Alabama in January, said he was happy Juneteenth was being celebrated here.
“It’s good for me to be able to get out and celebrate Juneteenth,” Smith said. “(It) feels good to be learning about the community and celebrating our newest holiday.”
Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig spoke before the entertainment began, quipping that it was nice to be out without masks.
However, Herzig said the last year was one of “needless tragedy, but one of reckoning and one of change.”
Herzig said the city of Oneonta recently “took a hard look in the mirror,” which was necessary for the community to become “better and better every year.”
Juneteenth is “a day for us to pause, a day for us to catch our breath and a day to celebrate,” Herzig said.
“Slavery may have ended, but its legacy has not,” Herzig said.
Herzig said it is only “through the richness of Black art and Black culture” that others can have a semblance of understanding the experience of Black Americans.
Herzig said he hoped the eventual artists lofts on Dietz Street would become the home of artists of color.
“Black culture has enriched our lives,” Herzig said. “We are so much better because of the African-American culture.”
Some of the entertainment included college students performing stepping dances, Jonathan Brown making a speech about how white supremacy not only hurts black people but also white people and the song “Speechless” from the new “Aladin” movie, performed by Ajare Malcolm.
Brown’s speech ended on a note that seemed to encapsulate the entire event. “Be truthful to our human experience,” Brown said. “Before we’re any race, we’re human.”