Picnics and conversation: Santa Clarita celebrates Juneteenth

Morelle Brooks paints a sign during a community Juneteenth Celebration at Bridgeport Park Friday afternoon. June 19, 2020. Bobby Block / The Signal.

More than 150 Santa Clarita Valley residents gathered at Bridgeport Park on Friday for picnics, food, singing and communal conversations in celebration of Juneteeth, also known as Freedom Day, joining others across the nation who marched and rejoiced. 

Juneteeth — a mashup of June 19 — is an annual holiday observing the end of slavery in the U.S. when Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston, Texas, in 1865 to announce emancipation, and that the Civil War had ended. The day is observed in 47 states and in Washington, D.C., but not a federal holiday. 

Friday marked the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth but this year’s celebration shed new light given the nationwide civil unrest following the death of George Floyd and ongoing conversations about police reform. 

Instead of having to find an event in Los Angeles, the Harris family was excited to know that local residents would celebrate the holiday in Santa Clarita. 

A crowd gathers as guests at the Juneteenth celebration held in Bridgeport park Friday afternoon write the names people of color killed by police on a banner titled “Say Their Names”. June 19, 2020. Bobby Block / The Signal.

“It’s nice that these things are happening locally because I feel like, over the years, we’ve always said we’ll go to L.A. or Santa Monica — so it’s amazing to see our own community come together on this day,” said 15-year resident Ashley Harris, who attended the picnic with her husband and children.  

Her husband Antoinne said it was important to have their children attend. “For me, I think before we could have any type of change, you got to understand your history and that’s what we want to teach my kids,” he said. 

They weren’t the only parents. Nearby was Jonathan Lais, with his 4-year-old and 7-month-old children, who was also teaching them about the meaning of Juneteenth. 

“I’m from Memphis, Tennessee. So, I’ve grown up knowing about it, and now I’m here starting to talk about it with my 4-year-old because even though it came about from Texas, it still impacts us as African Americans,” he said. 

A line forms in front of the raffle booth at the Juneteenth celebration at Bridgeport park where guests had the chance to win prizes from local black-owned businesses. June 19, 2020. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Organizers of the picnic, Megan Duncan, 21, of Saugus, and Lauryn Valley, 23, of Canyon Country, said they were overwhelmed to see how many people had attended. Besides inviting local singers and a book reading from a 7-year-old, they also organized a raffle where proceeds go to benefit Black-owned SCV businesses. 

“Protests are so important, but today is to celebrate. The Black experience is joyous and we’re here, we’re alive and here to say this is our country as much as it’s anyone else’s,” said Valley. 

Picnics and conversation: Santa Clarita celebrates JuneteenthLocal representatives of the SCV also voiced their support for Juneteenth, including L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita, State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, and Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, who has urged President Donald Trump to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday. 

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