Together We Rise!

1st annual Williamsburg Juneteenth Celebration lifts up community!

On June 19th St. Nicks Alliance and UPS sponsored the 1st annual Williamsburg Juneteenth Celebration. The event was mostly virtual.  There was a live audience made up of those in the community who helped organize this event and their friends and family. Photo Credit: Stefano Giovannini

“My father always said, ‘Stand up to be seen. Speak up to be heard, and sit down to be appreciated,” said Elisha Fye at the end of his introduction to the 1st Annual Williamsburg Juneteenth Celebration held on June 19.  This statement followed Fye’s personal recollection of family trips travelling through the segregated south that were carefully navigated by his father with the aid of The Green Book.  He shared that as a child he thought this type of journey was for fun, but then he grew to understand what was behind the particular route his family took. “My heart became saddened and a little hardened too, to know that we were free, but not really free.”

Elisha Fye Photo Credit: Stefano Giovannini

Elisha Fye and Deneise Jennings-Houston served as the Juneteenth Committee Co-Chairs and welcomed the invited in-person audience of neighbors and the virtual audience that were watching live via YouTube and Facebook to this Juneteenth Celebration titled, An African American Historical Perspective & Celebration of the Road to Freedom.  They stood before a printed backdrop of an endless cotton field and alongside planters filled with cotton boughs.  The idea for the event began a year ago, when the tragedy of George Floyd’s murder amplified the need for real change.  Last year the awareness of Juneteenth spread fast, far, and wide.  St. Nicks Alliance facilitated and supported North Brooklyn’s African American community leaders in the effort to create the 1st annual Williamsburg Juneteenth celebration.  

“Our community leaders have been so inspiring and committed to this project. I am personally very touched by their passion and shared effort,” said St. Nicks Alliance Exec. Dir. Michael Rochford.

Rev. Yvette Vanterpool Photo Credit: Stefano Giovannini

The event opened with a blessing from Rev. Yvette Vanterpool.  Then “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (The Black National Anthem) was sung.  Then came an historic dramatization of the announcement from Major General Gordon Granger that informed slaves in 1865 Galveston, Texas that they were free.  This piece was written by Karen Leader, a Juneteenth Committee member.  Cast members sang African American spirituals “Wade in the Water” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and explained how song was part of the African American experience starting from the slave ships on the voyage from Africa and later would be used as code for the Underground Railroad or other secret messages.   

Major General Gordon Granger reads the proclamation notifying the slaves in Galveston, Texas that they were free. In a scene from An African American Historical Perspective (l to r) Candaceia Charles, Timothy Tait, Alana Cauthen, and Gabriel Lawrence Photo Credit: Stefano Giovannini

This Juneteenth celebration also celebrated the present.  There was a joyous dance performed on screen by LM Dance Club (from Nathan Hale Middle School), which was filmed on a sunny day in Domino Park.  A prerecorded reading of “Still I Rise” by P.S. 150 students made hearts soar.  Another dance performance also filmed at Domino Park on that same sunny day showcased traditional African dance by The Daughters of Divinity (from Devoe Street Baptist Church)

Although most of the event was live, a few performances were pre-taped for the event.  One such performance was from the LM Dance Club (from Nathan Hale Middle School) who danced to “I’m Bigger” at Domino Park Photo Credit: Stefano Giovannini

It was also noted that on June 18, 2021 President Joe Biden signed the law that made Juneteenth a federal holiday.  U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney gave an enthusiastic telling of how fast the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives worked to pass this law and how the President rushed home from Europe to sign it into law before 2021’s Juneteenth.  Rep. Maloney stated the last federal holiday to pass into law was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and it took twenty years to pass.

St. Nicks Alliance Exec. Dir. Michael Rochford, Representative Carolyn Maloney, and St. Nicks Alliance Board Vice Chair Laura James Photo Credit: Stefano Giovannini

Senator Julia Salazar and Assembly Members Maritza Davila and Emily Gallagher participated in the event virtually.  They sent videos with personal reflections and professional hopes for moving the country toward true equality. 

Senator Julia Salazar sent a video commemorating Juneteenth Photo Credit: Stefano Giovannini
Assembly Member Emily Gallagher acknowledged that we are still in a struggle for equality but the achievements we have made are worthy of celebration.
Assembly Member Maritza Davila sent her best wishes for moving community forward on video
Awards were presented (l to r) for Business of the Year (Taste of Heaven, owner Melody McConey-Vergara) and academic achievement M.S. 582 student Alysha Luciano, P.S. 196 student Na’Kay Merriweather, and Williamsburg High School of Arts and Technology student Stephin Cruz (not pictured) Photo Credit: Stefano Giovannini

Awards were presented.  Business of the Year went to Tony Vergara and Melody McConey-Vergara for their restaurant Taste of Heaven.  Academic awards went to Na’Kay Merriweather (P.S. 196 — 1st grade), Alysha Luciano (M.S. 582 — 7th grade), and Stephin Cruz (Williamsburg High School of Arts and Technology — 11th grade).  

Juneteenth Celebration heroes behind the scenes: (l to r) Bertha Watson (St. Nicks Alliance Board),  Theresa Womble (St. Nicks Alliance Board), Debra Benders (Juneteenth Committee), Rev. Yvette Vanterpool, Elisha Fye (Juneteenth Committee co-Chair), Karen Leader (Juneteenth Committee), Min. Paulette O’Neal (Dance Ministry), Debra Sue Lorenzen (St. Nicks Alliance Youth and Education Dir.), Laura James (St. Nicks Alliance Board), Deneise Jennings-Houston (Juneteenth Committee co-Chair) Photo Credit: Stefano Giovannini

Laura James, Vice Chair of the St. Nicks Alliance Board, gave the closing remarks.  “Being in the right place at the right time is usually not an accident.   It’s wonderful and incredible that this event culminated with the recognition of a federal holiday, but I think it’s because this community recognized way before it became a federal holiday — the significance of this event on this community and how it would resonate on the people of this community.”

You can view the 1st Annual Williamsburg Juneteenth Celebration here:

Author: Lori Ann Doyon

Managing editor, head writer, and lead photographer of Greenline | North Brooklyn News since October 2014. Resident of Williamsburg, Brooklyn since 1990.

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