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Juneteenth celebrations planned for Sonoma County on Saturday

Sonoma County residents are planning a mix of Juneteenth celebrations this weekend — one born out of student activism that took place more than 50 years ago in Santa Rosa and another organized by a newly formed Black student group at Windsor High School.

When these events take place on Saturday, it will be the first time Juneteenth will be celebrated as a federal holiday after President Joe Biden signed a bill establishing it as such.

The House of Representatives voted 415-14 Wednesday to send Biden the bill. The Senate passed the bill a day earlier under a unanimous consent agreement that expedites the process for considering legislation.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas — two months after the Confederacy had surrendered. That was also about 2½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Southern states.

It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983.

Local Juneteenth events are scheduled to take place in-person and virtually – just days after California eased its longstanding coronavirus restrictions.

As a result, face coverings are no longer mandatory for fully vaccinated people and restaurants, bars, retail stores, theaters and entertainment centers have been cleared to return to their normal operations.

Also, social distancing is no longer required for attendees, customers and guests.

Reacting Wednesday to the House action, Nancy Rogers, the chairwoman for Sonoma County’s Juneteenth Committee called it “way past due.”

“It’s such an important day,” she said.

A virtual commemoration, hosted by Sonoma County’s Juneteenth Committee, is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday.

Organizers chose to keep this year’s Juneteenth celebration virtual because the coronavirus pandemic-related restrictions were still in place while they were in the planning stages, Rogers said.

The virtual event will include performances by musician Zakiya Hooker, daughter of acclaimed blues singer and guitarist John Lee Hooker, as well as dancers with Santa Rosa’s New World Ballet Studio.

Organizers will also present scholarships to local youth headed to two- and four-year colleges, as well as an appreciation award for the Sonoma County Black Forum, a nonprofit that has given out more than 3,000 food baskets to people in need between 2020 and 2021 so far, Rogers said.

Another component of the event will pay homage to Black leaders who have paved the way for their communities. Among them will be Evangelist Marteal Perry, who founded Santa Rosa’s Juneteenth celebration in 1954 and who is also recognized for her work with local foster children and Santa Rosa’s religious community.

“That’s what Juneteenth is all about, remembering the people whose shoulders we are standing on,” Rogers said. “And, we are definitely standing on her shoulders.”

The Juneteenth Committee, which Rogers has been a member of for at least the past quarter century, was started 51 years ago by a group of Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University students.

They organized against the construction of a street that would have gone through what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park near the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Rogers said.

The group continued to meet to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and eventually began to incorporate the recognition of Juneteenth into their celebrations after Martin Luther King Jr. Day was made a federal holiday, Rogers said.

“I want people to leave with more than just a good time, I want them to leave with ‘Why are we here today?’” Rogers said.

This Juneteenth will also mark Windsor’s first Juneteenth ceremony, which will take place from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Windsor Town Green.

The event is being organized by the Windsor High School Black Student Union, a group that formed in January.

BSU President Jaelynn Pinero, who will be a senior at Windsor High in the fall, said the group opted to host a Juneteenth event in order to expose residents of all races to this significant date in Black history.

“So many people don’t know what happened,” Pinero, 16, said. “They know nothing about Juneteenth.”

The event will feature a number of speakers and performers including Letitia Hanke, founder and president of the Lime Foundation, a Santa Rosa-based nonprofit that helps disadvantaged children develop skills in music, the performing arts, construction, technology and health.

Reacting to Wednesday’s action in the House, Hanke, who is a Windsor resident, said she is glad Juneteenth will now be a national holiday, but she doesn’t just acknowledge it when it is actually June 19.

“There may be one day when (Juneteenth) is recognized as a holiday. But for me it is every day,” Hanke said. “I live the holiday. I recognize it every time I am able to use a restroom that doesn’t say ‘Whites Only.’ I’m able to go into a restaurant and sit down and be served. Every day.”

Pinero, an Afro-Latina, said her mother and her closest friend, Haley Carranza, 17, help her to promote, run and maintain the Black Student Union. She said the group has two faculty advisers and continues despite receiving no support from the Windsor Unified School District.

A representative for the district could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The group’s mission, according to its posting on Windsor High’s website, is to foster success through the social and educational support of the Black community. “BSU strives to unite our leaders by cultivating cultural awareness,” the post adds.

Pinero said she hopes Saturday’s event will attract at least 100 people. “But, I’d love more to show up,” she added.

Another in-person Juneteenth recognition event, hosted by the Sonoma County Black Coalition, Blac Xcellence and the Santa Rosa Junior College’s BSU, will be held at Pioneer Park in Santa Rosa starting at 4 p.m. Saturday, according to organizers with the event.

This article includes information from the Associated Press. You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

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