Santa Clarita Black community celebrates Juneteenth at Central Park

Residents gather in Central Park Saturday to celebrate Juneteenth. June 19, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Central Park was the site of two Juneteenth celebrations Saturday evening.

Both Black Santa Clarita Valley and SCV for Change held events commemorating the date in 1865 when in Texas the last enslaved Black people learned about the end of slavery and the end of the Civil War.

Black Santa Clarita Valley celebrated Juneteenth as part of their second annual Black Santa Clarita Valley reunion.

Sarah Thomas and son Xamir play a game of “Connect 4” in Central Park as part of Junteenth Celebrations. June 19, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

“This event was organized at the beginning of last year when a lot of Black people, specifically in Santa Clarita, felt isolated and are in silos, and really didn’t have anybody to connect with or feel a sense of belonging in the community,” said Jermain Pipkins, one of the event’s organizers.

Pipkins said the reunion was an opportunity to create a warm and welcoming event for all people, and an inclusive environment for the people “minoritized the most…in Santa Clarita Valley.”

“It’s not just for Black people, it is for everyone,” said Pipkins, noting this year’s event also celebrated recent graduates. “But one of the things that we noticed, we wanted to make sure that culturally Black people were included and felt very open to this event and place.”

Lauryn Valley, right, sells raffle tickets at a Juneteenth Event in Central Park Saturday. June 19, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Well over 300 people turned out with picnic chairs, blankets, games and more to enjoy the company of family and friends as the sun slowly started to set on another 100-plus degree day in the SCV.

Pilar Scott-Walker, also an organizer, said many of the people at Saturday’s event interacted over social media during the pandemic.

“A lot of our members, we don’t get to put their face and body language with their name, so it’s nice to get together,” she said. “It’s a family reunion. We all get together, enjoy ourselves, have some music, have some food, some laughs, some games, you know, we have lots of different games.”

Dancers perform at a Junteenth event held in Central Park Saturday. June 19, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Saturday’s event comes on the heels of the federal government’s recognition of Juneteenth as an official federal holiday in the U.S.

Ronald Smothers, who was also part of the organizing team, said that the day is about celebrating and remembering.

“I think the remembering piece is what we forget a lot. We need to remember what those people actually went through, what freedom actually meant and the reason why we remember it this day,” said Smothers. “It’s reclaiming our time.”

Christian, Xochito, and Adrian celebrate Juneteenth in Central Park with their dog Little Bear. June 19, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Smothers noted that the Black community has been celebrating Juneteenth since 1865.

“It’s important that that this holiday is recognized, because it sheds a light on a piece of American society that a lot of people don’t have access to or wouldn’t even think about,” he said.

Barbara White, a member of Black SCV, said that Black Americans make up about 4% of Santa Clarita.

Kiana Tran throws a firsbee while attending a Juneteenth celebration in Central Park Saturday. June 19, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

“We’ve decided to kind of try to watch out for each other, to try to be our brother’s keeper,” she said, noting that she wants Santa Clarita to be “Awesometown” for Black Santa Claritans, too. “It can be awesome here for us as well.”

Juwana Myles was one of hundreds enjoying the event. She’s also a member of the Black SCV Facebook group, which she said helped her promote her business.

“It’s just been a real positive movement to bring the African American community together for businesses and for regular people to get to know each other, you know, build relationships,” she said.

Sarah Thomas and children Xolani and Xamir play a game of “Connect 4” in Central Park as part of Junteenth Celebrations. June 19, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Further down the street running through the park was a Juneteenth event hosted by SCV For Change. Their second annual Juneteenth event was the first public event for the Santa Clarita chapter of the NAACP, which was founded earlier this year.

Chapter President Valeria Bradford said the adoption of Juneteenth as a federal holiday is an opportunity to reflect and recognize as a country.

“It’s so exciting to be able to celebrate because now it is an opportunity for the nation to be educated,” she said. “Before we’ve been celebrating forever, OK for decades we’ve been celebrating, but now the nation can celebrate so we’re excited about that.”

Pilar Scott-Walker speaks to a crowd celebrating Juneteenth in Central Park Saturday. June 19, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Event organizer Lauryn Valley, of SCV for Change, said that the event, featuring live music, a raffle and games, is a celebration for the Black community and for those who support the Black community.

“We’re recognizing local Black-owned businesses that don’t get the attention or love that they deserve,” she said.

Valley called President Joe Biden’s act of declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday a “performative” one.

“How are we going to make something a federal holiday and then states still don’t acknowledge the significance behind the holiday, they’re trying to ban racial studies and theories from classrooms,” she said. “I think our community deserves more than that. I mean, I think we deserve reparations. We deserve acknowledgement.”

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