Feature: African Americans celebrate Juneteenth as federal holiday, urging more to be done

2021-06-20 08:35:22 GMT2021-06-20 16:35:22(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

by Xinhua writers Liu Yanan, Zhang Mocheng

NEW YORK, June 20 (Xinhua) -- Like many other places across the United States, hundreds of jubilant African Americans gathered Saturday on the green ground of Roy Wilkins Park in Queens of New York City to celebrate June Nineteenth (Juneteenth) as a federal holiday in the country for the first time.

Though New York State has recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday in 2020, many people came to this kind of community event for the first time.

On the ground that could easily handle over a thousand people, the scattering crowd and the humid summer day did not hold back the joy and smile on African Americans' faces.

The main stage at one end of the ground accommodated a large group of people with traditional music, dances, rap songs, drama and other live performances.

Participants could also join interactive activities like Yoga, art party, African dance class, bingo game, live painting and taking commemorative photos.

Besides, visitors could find food, children's playground and vendors of beauty supplies, toys, wedding dresses and a few other items.

The in-person celebrations, guarded by a number of policemen, followed a week-long virtual series of celebrating activities, involving history of Juneteenth, mental health, town hall meeting with local politicians, thematic songs and history of the Great Migration in the United States, according to flyers of the event.

A LONG TIME COMING

Collette Phillips, who lives nearby and joined the celebrations with her family members, said Juneteenth is about celebrating African Americans' culture and contribution to the community.

It is "just a way for us to all come together, be together like a family, whether or not we know each other," Collette said.

"It's a good thing giving us an opportunity to celebrate ... It's definitely good in that they're finally recognizing the fact that we, as a people, deserve the right to be free and to encourage the land of the free," she said.

Nicholas Ferguson, another participant, said the event is something nice to do with the family, and "it means a lot."

U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday signed into law a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the nation.

That is a long time coming for African Americans, especially as slavery has been abolished for such a long time, said Donna Hasfal, a local resident.

"The holiday's about our victory from slavery. As much as slavery is done, I think it's still here. We experience it every day on the job. Everywhere you go, you know people call your kind of name because you're black," said Hasfal.

Hasfal said she hopes Juneteenth could be recognized by a lot more employers, so people could take this day off and celebrate it.

Meanwhile, Hasfal's son Samuel, who is an 8th grade student, said he hopes the holiday "will help fix the issues that we have today and get us closer to where we want to be with racial and inequalities."

"It's a wonderful thing that they decided to make it into a holiday. And this has been awaited for many years," said Samuel.

MORE TO BE DONE

Collette said making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a step in the right direction, and there is still a lot more that needs to be done in terms of institutional racism and everything else.

Though the holiday is nice for people to get together, "there's no real change because we don't have any reform being passed on the federal level," she said.

Collette stressed that the police shall be held accountable for not observing the law, and African Americans shall be treated equally and not to be targeted because of the color of skin.

People need to stop killing each other, she added.

"We're still waiting for a crime bill to be passed on behalf of black people. There are still racial injustices" in daily life, with African Americans being targeted by the police and followed in stores, said Nicolette Phillips, a family member of Collette.

If laws are passed to address systemic issues on the prison system, drugs and others, it will be going in the direction towards fixing the problems, said Nicolette.

The police interrogate and "target us a lot more than anybody else, especially if you live in a black neighborhood," said Hasfal.

"When I grow up, I expect that it's much better than it was. I don't fully expect it to be fixed. That would be great if it does," said Samuel.

There is a long way to go as far as racial injustice, and it is just like the fight against white supremacy, said Ferguson, adding, "I feel like this is a small gesture, but a lot more has to be done than just a paid holiday." Enditem

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