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Celebrating Juneteenth and using it as a teaching tool as well

Strong National Museum of Play

Monday is the federally-designated observance of Juneteenth. The actual holiday was June 19.

Juneteenth is described as a day in 1865 when African Americans enslaved in Galveston, Texas found out that they were free, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln.

There have been programs and celebrations over the last few days in Rochester to mark the event.

Simeon Banister is Executive Vice President at the Community Foundation and is also President of the Greater Rochester Martin Luther King Jr. Commission.

He said that this past weekend brought the community together for a series of activities to celebrate African American history and culture.

“One of the things that’s actually been a wonderful thing that’s happened this year is that with the federal government naming Juneteenth, a holiday with state government and local government doing the same, there’s been a wonderful opportunity to really lift up and highlight this important holiday.”

Banister also noted that celebration of Juneteenth in Rochester actually began 30 years ago, and has grown over the years.

“When I came back to Rochester, about eight years ago, they said, ‘Alright, we’re ready to hand this baton off.’ And so, we had a torch passing ceremony and we’ve been carrying it forward.”

Banister said the Rochester community can make progress if everyone is connected and committed to creating positive change. He asks Rochesterians to recommit themselves to making that happen.

In celebration of Juneteenth, a number of activities were held at the Strong National Museum of Play on Saturday, including a performance by a Garth Fagan Dance student ensemble and a presentation by a Black storytelling league.

Local children’s book author Nykki Matthews talked about her new books which focus on early literacy for young people, with Black and brown boys as the main characters, to show them being strong and involved in the community.

Matthews said it’s important for them to read and be engaged in their community.

“I think Juneteenth is such an amazing holiday, that allows us to come together and celebrate the significance behind Juneteenth and letting people know that it’s ok to learn about it if you don’t know it, and that we’re all learning from each other,” said Matthews.

One of Matthews’ goals is for young boys to read more and see themselves in literature so that they can be more confident.

Among the events to mark Juneteenth in Rochester on Monday is a Block Party from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Church St. in front of City Hall that will include live music and food trucks. It's open to the public.