Families decked out in “Juneteenth 2022” gear danced to the “Cha Cha Slide” and munched on catfish and empanadas at local activist group Justice Vanguard’s third annual Juneteenth celebration on Sunday.
The event took place in Hillview Park in Los Altos and featured guest speakers, soul and Afro-Brazilian food, educational booths, local Black businesses selling T-shirts, drinks and jewelry.
But the celebration isn’t any old party, said event organizer and Justice Vanguard co-founder Kenan Moos: Juneteenth is a chance to learn about the history of Black liberation. The holiday commemorates the liberation of the last slaves in Galveston, Texas, which occurred over two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Last year, the date became officially recognized as a federal holiday.
San Jose teacher and guest speaker Tomara Hall, who founded the grassroots organization Teachers Empowering Youth Activists and serves as president of the Santa Clara Black Democratic Club, said she views it as a time to think about how the Black community has been treated in America.
“It’s a point of reflection, to stop and pause. Are we really free? No, we are not … There’s unpaid reparations,” Hall said. “And the 13th Amendment allows slavery to exist in the prison system, especially when a majority of people in the prison system are Black and brown people.”
Moos said, growing up, Juneteenth was a day to learn about the culture and history behind slavery and Black discrimination in America.
“My mom would sit us down and be like, ‘Here’s what happened historically — let’s have a conversation about it.’ [It’s important] to not just party and be performative,” Moos said.
According to Moos and fellow Justice Vanguard founder Kiyoshi Taylor, the event heavily focused on black liberation through education, indicative of Justice Vanguard’s larger focus.
“As individuals, we are always going to continually learn and grow,” Moos said. “So it’s about having the open mindedness to do that, but also the resources and ability to have that access to knowledge, and then being able to share that knowledge with the rest of the community.”
Stanford professor and guest speaker Harriet Virginia-Ann Jerrigan said education has the power to transform a life. In her speech, Jerrigan said that she became a “freedom fighter” by deciding to become a teacher in fourth grade.
“[Receiving an education] is a decision to resist stereotypes, it is a decision to resist the no’s. It is a decision to resist being placed in a corner and boxed in and never given any opportunity. It is resistance simply by being in the classroom,” Jerrigan said in her speech.
Jerrigan highlighted her decision to go to Spelman College, one out of 107 historically Black colleges and universities in America, as an experience that shaped her future and identity as a Black woman.
A majority of the proceeds from booth sales went towards funding the Blackalaureate Scholarship Fund, which Justice Vanguard founded last year. According to Justice Vanguard’s website, its purpose is to financially support “young, bright Black students who have demonstrated a dedication to learning both within and outside of the classroom and who have a passion for humanity and the betterment of our society and world.” The group raised $2,400 for the scholarship fund last year.
“We love putting on Juneteenth because it brings together the Black community out here in a place where they can feel empowered — where they can feel justified,” Taylor said. “But on top of that, it’s important to raise funds for the kids who are going through what I went through when I was in school. Because oftentimes, I didn’t feel like I was believed or understood or heard, and I know so many other kids out here feel the same way.”
Justice Vanguard has had a continued emphasis on education: It was pivotal in the establishment of an Ethnic Studies class that will begin serving as a graduation requirement for Mountain View and Los Altos high schools in the 2023-24 school year and hosts educational programs and webinars about Black history.
“I want you guys to understand what this means to Black people,” Taylor said to the audience during his speech. “Being in Los Altos and feeling this comfort, this safety, this community — it’s not every day we feel like that. Which is why this is so special to us, and why we want to say thank you.”