Juneteenth celebrations aim to provide community, education, empowerment

Juneteenth, a holiday marking the emancipation of African Americans from slavery on June 19, 1865, is being celebrated across the Dayton region this weekend with various events seeking to educate and entertain.

On Saturday, a Juneteenth celebration was held on Mc Donough Street in downtown Dayton. The event was hosted by Genuine Work, a co-working service firm, in collaboration with the Oregon District Business Association, Northwest Dayton Partnership’s Learn to Earn, and venture development firm Trep House.

“We’re very big on community,” said Dana Graham, community manager for Genuine Work. “That’s why Genuine Work event exists because we are here to cultivate our community.”

Saturday brought a reprieve from from this week’s scorching heat wave, with temperatures falling to the upper 70s along with lower humidity. The Genuine Work event included food trucks, a DJ, art vendors, children’s activities, and arguably most important to Graham, an opportunity for engagement.

“Today has been amazing,” Graham said. “I’m very grateful and appreciative of the community supporting and showing up. A lot of different connections are happening and that’s really what we want, which is to keep connecting with our greater Dayton community.”

Artist and Dayton native Tobi Ewing set up shop at the event, offering various pieces of art for sale.

“Something I’m very passionate about is the home space and creating other spaces that feel like home and that are sacred in that way — and I think we all saw the importance of that during the pandemic — to make your space yours, whether that’s your home, an office, a restaurant, or a shop,” Ewing said.

Ewing said events like Juneteenth serve as a reminder to lift up and honor people of color.

“I think it’s always important to celebrate Black people,” she said. “We’re part of what built this country, so it’s always a disturbance when we’re not recognized for that. I’m always going to be down to support Black people and people of color and people who are down for sharing their art, sharing their beauty with the world, and collaborating together.”

Lamont Figgers, of Chicago, is visiting Dayton this weekend for a biennial family reunion and stopped by the event.

“This is my first Juneteenth event I’ve ever attended,” Figgers said. “(These events) let us know where we come from and to understand what our ancestors went through.”

Saturday’s celebrations come just over a year after Congress officially designated June 19 as Juneteenth, though it’s been celebrated in a variety of communities throughout the country since 1865.

“It lets us know that we’re important and that we should have a day to be recognized,” said attendee Victor Gutierrez. “We have Fourth of July, Memorial Day, and others, but this day is important for us and I’m glad we’re able to celebrate it now.”

Juneteenth celebrations will continue across the region through Monday.

“I believe (events like this) are important to empower our community, especially the Black and brown community, and also to educate those who are not necessarily aware of what Juneteenth is and why we celebrate it because it is American history,” Graham said. “I think having these events continues to give reminders of where we’ve been and where we’re going and the progress we need to make to continue to emancipate those under different systems of oppression.”

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