The Wesley Community Center’s annual Juneteenth festival in Dayton was cancelled this year due to COVID-19. But following the killing of George Floyd and nationwide protests against police violence toward Black people, several community leaders saw a necessity in holding the yearly celebration to commemorate the end of slavery.
By midday Saturday, Dayton View Park was dotted with vendors selling fried fish and burgers, volunteers handing out masks and voter registration forms, and drill team members getting ready for their performance.
Underneath a pine tree Asia Rose Gibbs with The Solution Movement led a healing circle along with Darsheel Kaur, both of whom helped organize the celebration. Gibbs said it was the first time she had done something like this at a Juneteenth celebration, but it was an important focus for the event.
“We’re going to share with our community how important healing is in a time of stress, in a time of hurt, in a time of pain. If you do not process the healing, then you cannot do this work,” she said. “We want to make sure that we are allowing our people to leave with better tools to go through what is currently our state.”
After a guided meditation, a candle lighting, and dancing, the group formed a circle for a final release. They let out a collective yell and chanted together: I love you, I love you, I love you.
Amid protests across the country for racial justice following the killing of George Floyd, some major companies have recently made Juneteenth a paid day off. There is also a push to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. But Gibbs said for her the meaning of the day has not changed this year.
“It means nothing different. Juneteenth is cool for everyone this year, but Juneteenth is when my people were freed, and we like to call that freeish. This is the freeish edition. We are still fighting for our lives every single day,” she said. “I think that Juneteenth is a reminder of the work that it took us to even get here.”