New Yorkers celebrate Juneteenth on historic James Baldwin lawn in Harlem

Shirley R. Scott and Hazel Smith celebrate Juneteenth at a block party style commemoration on the historic James Baldwin lawn, in St.Nicholas Park, Harlem.
Photo by Tangerine Clarke

A celebration of music, tributes, and reflection on June 18 in St. Nicholas Park, Harlem, acknowledged African Americans who were freed from slavery in 1863 in Texas, a day commemorated across America, long before President Joe Biden, signed into law Juneteenth a Federal holiday.

Mayor Bill deBlasio who hosted the event, along with wife, Chirlane McCray, said, “Happy Juneteenth,” before noting that the emancipation, is now a national holiday in the United States of America due to the persistence of Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer, who ensured the US Senate passed the Bill.

The senator then greeted the crowd with “Happy Juneteenth. This is long overdue. We all know that the official ending of slavery was 1863, but we also know that in many ways slavery is still with us, and we have to fight it every day. The nasty Republicans tried to stop the bill from going through the Senate, but I made sure it did.” He added: “It is now law but we will remember the original scar in America, of slavery and racism, we will fight every day.”

Norma, Beverly, and Elizabeth from Brooklyn, join celebrants on James Baldwin Lawn, to celebrate the Juneteenth celebration in Harlem.  Photo by Tangerine Clarke

“James Baldwin lawn is a perfect place to talk about the power of Juneteenth, because James Baldwin’s voice rang out asking us not to look away from painful truths, he identified them for us so we could act on them, and in that spirit Juneteenth is not just a wishful memory, it is a moment to recommit our selves to change, to action, to not accepting the status quo that we all know, is still broken.”

The Mayor as part of his recovery plan, announced, in the spirit of Juneteenth, that young students of historically black colleges, like Medgar Evers, will be paid to help bring about change, and bring back New York City. The city will also give thousands of four-year scholarships to CUNY student.

He said there is a painful truth about disparities in generational wealth, adding that black families created that wealth but never got to share in it. As such, starting September, every kindergarten public school student will be the recipient of a savings account. The city will make additional contributions, until students are ready for college, in addition to “helping black communities build generational wealth. That is how we celebrate Juneteenth brothers and sisters,” said deBlasio.

The Juneteenth Economic Justice Plan expands NYCKR through public-private partnerships to all school districts, providing universal 529 savings accounts to every public-school child.

The city will invest $15 million annually through 2025. Every public dollar is estimated to leverage 15-20 times in philanthropy, family savings, community scholarships, and investment returns by the time a child graduates from high school.

Dancers of the Drum Corps Marching Band entertaining the crowd at the Juneteenth celebrations in St. Nicholas Park, Harlem.  Photo by Tangerine Clarke

The politician thanked everyone who serves in the public service, and acknowledged, Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clarke, the first female district attorney in New York, who was on the stage.

He also recognized the powerful role the Racial Justice Commission plays in working to identify, and to dismantle structural, and instructional racism, in New York.

Chirlane McCray, said Juneteenth is “all about us, every kind of New Yorker working for the kind of city we have to build, where we all have opportunity. We have to understand where you came from. Black history is American history,” said McCray.

The celebration showcased young talent. The audience enjoyed a choreography by the Secret Society Dance Company of Astoria Queens, a rendition of Lift Every Voice And Sing by the Brooklyn High School of the Arts, and a rousing poem of testimony and stories that bride the past and present, by Maya Prescott, a storyteller.

Iesha Seku, founder/CEO of Street Corner Resources, in turn educated the audience about Juneteenth, before the Cobra Drum Corp Marching Band and Dancers ended the commemoration.