By Sam Bojarski
African-Americans have celebrated Juneteenth ‒ their Independence Day ‒ for 155 years. As millions throughout the country challenge systemic racism, many have realized that the struggle for black liberation is far from over.
“To me, Juneteenth is a day of freedom, that celebrates freedom, and I had to be here,” said Myriam Sterlin, a Haitian physician who attended the Juneteenth Cel-Liberation Rally, held on the morning of June 19. Sterlin, of New Jersey, said her work schedule had previously prevented her from attending any local events or protests, held in response to the death of George Floyd in May.
Haitian-American District 45 Councilwoman Farah Louis partnered with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, fellow Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo and multiple community organizations to present the Cel-Liberation Rally event. Haitian American Caucus and Haiti Cultural Exchange were among the sponsors. The event, held on the steps of the Brooklyn Public Library, featured music and dancing, while youth from the community shared their perspectives on racial justice and police brutality.
Juneteenth celebrates the end of chattel slavery in the United States. The holiday this year comes weeks after the police killing of George Floyd, as protesters throughout the country challenge the systemic racism that has continued since the end of slavery.
Yashiyah Vines, 19, was one of the youth who addressed the large crowd gathered at the foot of the library’s steps. Vines has been an activist since his cousin, Delrawn “Smalls” Dempsey, a black man, was shot and killed by an off-duty NYPD officer in 2016. Earlier this month, he helped organize a protest in response to the death of George Floyd.
“We saw how strongly people felt about the murders and the injustices toward black men and women and children in this country. So we decided we’re going to be the last generation. No more names, we don’t want any more names,” Vines said.
Performers for the morning included the Brooklyn United Marching Band, Blue Diamonds Drumline and the rapper Papoose. Singer Asia Williams and spoken word artist Hanifah Johnson also shared the microphone with elected officials and community leaders ‒ including District 42 Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte and Farah Louis. Haitian-American District Leader Josue Pierre served as master of ceremonies.
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