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Juneteenth celebrated in Las Vegas: ‘This is an American holiday’

Updated June 15, 2024 - 7:17 pm

Thousands gathered on Saturday to celebrate the 23rd annual Las Vegas Juneteenth Festival at The Expo at World Market Center.

While Las Vegans have been celebrating the effective end of slavery in the United States for more than 20 years, it’s only the third year that Juneteenth has been recognized as a federal holiday.

On June 19, 1865, more than 250,000 enslaved Black people were freed by executive decree, according to the National Museum of African American History & Culture. This was nearly two years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.

In anticipation of the official holiday on Wednesday, musical artists, small businesses, community members and more joined together to recognize Juneteenth, with many calling for more public awareness about what it stands for: freedom.

‘This is an American holiday’

The festival was organized by the Rainbow Dreams Educational Foundation, a charitable organization that aims to improve lives and create opportunities for young people in southern Nevada,” according to their website.

Jason Haywood, 51, event director for the festival, became involved in the foundation’s vision of expansion for the holiday. “Our goal is to continue to expand it and make it a huge celebration, much like MLK Day,” he said. He hopes the event encourages people to visit Las Vegas to attend.

“This is an American holiday. People say, ‘Oh it’s that Black holiday.’ It’s really not,” Haywood said. “It celebrates us being, as a country, freed from that stigma of slavery.”

As well as highlighting “Black excellence, Black Heritage and the African Americans’ contribution to the fabric of the country,” Haywood said, Juneteenth is also about education.

“It starts at home first”

Namely, Haywood feels that public awareness about the holiday and the end of slavery in America needs to be higher.

Roderick Talley, a 37-year-old book store owner and publisher, said that the information is out there, if you know where to look for it.

“A lot of people don’t realize how much information is out there that can assist with education,” he said. He keeps his community in mind when choosing books for his store, R.D. Talley Books.

For Teanna Moore, a 35-year-old teacher and mother who brought her children to the festival, education about Juneteenth starts at home.

In the classroom, she makes sure to teach her students about their communities. And as a mother, it’s important for her children to know what their background is. “It starts at home first,” she said.

A resilient culture

Carla James, 40, greeted attendees at the door as a volunteer for the event. She said she was there to give back to her community. “We’ve gone so far, but we have farther to go,” James said. “It’s just important to reach back sometimes.”

For Sydney Epps, 33, her jewelry is her way to give back to the community. She said she has travelled across the world to source stones that represent the resiliency of indigenous culture.

Her art helps her understand those who came before her. “I really can’t connect to them positively in a lot of ways,” she said. But art allows her to do this.

Epps is a statistician and professor, but making art is the first occupation that women in her family had.

“Promoting freedom”

Also uplifting the voices of a diverse community is Jennifer Gachui, president of the African Diaspora of Las Vegas. She is 47. As an immigrant community representing more than 30 countries, she said the African diaspora has a unique perspective on Juneteenth.

But Gachui said there is a synergy between the diaspora community and what Juneteenth represents: “You’re promoting freedom. You’re celebrating emancipation.”

Gachui urged Nevadans to attend events like the Juneteenth festival. “Engage,” she said.

Contact Estelle Atkinson at eatkinson@reviewjournal.com or 610-810-8450.

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