Juneteenth or Freedom Day kicked off early in Brooklyn on Sunday at the Brooklyn Public Library, at Grand Army Plaza, hosted by Council Members Farah N. Louis and Crystal Hudson.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and former Mayor Bill de Blasio also participated in the family-friendly event that included entertainment from Blue Angels Drumline, Brooklyn United Marching Band and a musical performance by Phresher.
“I’m so proud that last year under my leadership, the US Congress at long last passed legislation recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday,” said Schumer (D-NY). “The day is recognition of a promise by our government to fulfill the goals of the Emancipation Proclamation, and marks a turning point in our nation’s history. I am humbled to celebrate this day in Brooklyn, as our city recognizes its first official Freedom Day.
“Today, we reaffirm our commitment to equality and hold high the beacon of freedom that Lady Liberty promises people of all races, religions and creeds,” he added.
“Brooklyn is synonymous with freedom for thousands of families like mine: immigrants who came here on a wing and a prayer, to see generations of their children live out a life they could only dream of,” said Louis, the daughter of Haitian and Bahamian immigrants, who represents the 45th Council District in Brooklyn.
“On Freedom Day, I thank Sen. Schumer, and my colleagues, for standing together at Grand Army Plaza – a meeting place for Black Diaspora from across the world, and across Central Brooklyn.”
Notably, under Mayor Eric Adams, the second Black Mayor in New York City’s history, this is the first year that Juneteenth is a paid holiday for New York City workers. The holiday was first recognized under President Joe Biden in 2021.
“Seeing so many beautiful people come out to celebrate what it means to be free, in our culturally rich 35th Council District, is a tribute to our diverse community,” said Hudson, who represents the 35th Council District in Brooklyn and whose grandmother hailed from Jamaica.
“Today, we paid homage to our ancestors, as we came together to celebrate and unite, highlighting the history of Juneteenth and what it means to us individually,” she added. “We are living our ancestors’ dreams, and I am proud to be a part of a community of colleagues, including Mayor Adams and Council Member Louis, who continue to show up to celebrate our shared history.”
“The celebration of Juneteenth, recognizing the story of emancipation from slavery, has never been more important,” said Linda Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the Brooklyn Public Library. “Nearly 150 years later, the fight for racial equality is ongoing.
“As we mark Freedom Day, we invite the entire borough to explore our holdings at the African American Heritage Center, Center for Brooklyn History and branches throughout the borough to understand our shared history and take steps toward a more equitable future,” she added.
Sponsors of the event included the Office of the Mayor; NYC Council; Brooklyn Public Library (Central Branch; Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce; Elite Learners, Inc.; Entertainers for Education Alliance/I WILL GRADUATE; Juneteenth NYC; Celebrating Unity in the Community; BHH, Inc.; Ede Youth; Brooklyn Public Library; A’ La Mode Experience; Creation Station Studio; and Creating Unity in the Community, Inc.
Others were: Diaspora Community Services (DCS); Jump-In Enrichment, Inc.; Brooklyn Heritage House (BHH Inc.); Brooklyn United; Blue Angels Drumline; Brooklyn United Marching Band; RISE Project; SCO Family of Services; Freedom March NYC; Partners Uplifting our Sisters and Daughters (PUDS); KAN COBRA; SNAPSYNC; and the 67 Precinct YCO’s.
“We fought for freedom and achieved it with the Emancipation Proclamation; when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama; when John Lewis got into ‘good trouble’ and we went on to pass the Voting Rights Act; when Martin Luther King marched on Washington; and, in our lifetimes, with the election of our first Black president and first Black woman vice president,” Louis said.
“And these are stories that are told in the books in this very library, and so many like it around the nation,” she added. “Do you know why, because we wrote it. And we will not let anyone else write that history for us. We will keep on authoring our futures.”
Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, the Haitian American chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, said: “As long as there was enslavement, America was not the land of the free.
“You cannot properly celebrate Independence Day without recognizing Juneteenth,” said the representative for the 42nd Assembly District in Brooklyn. “While this holiday is about the emancipation of Black folks from slavery, Juneteenth is truly about the freedom of all Americans.”
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, the son of Grenadian immigrants, noted that it took two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed for the last of those enslaved to learn of their freedom.
“It took another 150 for our federal government to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, or to see that while the institution of slavery may have been officially abolished in 1863, the systems rooted in the same oppression persist,” said candidate for Governor of New York in this Democratic Primary. “Each Juneteenth, I am reminded that even as we acknowledge the progress of centuries, there is so much more work to be done to be truly free.
“So many, especially Black Americans, are in a space of simultaneously celebrating the recognition of Juneteenth and what it represents– an important, undeniable validation – while also understanding that it pales in the context of what was asked, demanded and promised, but never delivered,” he added. “We stand together, march together, to fight the systems that continue to deny us the rights afforded by our humanity, much less our country’s unfulfilled promise.
“Today, we celebrate the cause of freedom and the work for liberation; tomorrow, we work to build a better New York City and nation,” Williams continued. “Tomorrow, we work to make sure that all our communities have access to the resources they need to thrive: mental healthcare, deeply affordable housing, good jobs, parks and outdoor spaces, quality public education, safe and reliable transportation, reproductive rights, gender-affirming care, accessible cultural spaces, childcare, nutritious food, and more.
“We cannot be free while our siblings struggle under oppression, racism, bigotry and hate: be it through our words or our policy choices,” he said. “Today, even amid the ongoing struggle, we will celebrate. In the centuries since Juneteenth was first marked by news of emancipation we have marched forward, persevering through hardship and progressing toward true liberty and justice. “Let us march on till victory is won.”