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‘We made it’

Juneteenth theme highlights struggles of past year

Pictured are scenes from previous years’ Juneteenth celebrations at Memorial Park in Dunkirk. This year’s celebration will take place on June 19 and 20.

For more than 25 years, Dunkirk has been the host to a Juneteenth Celebration.

Even last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Juneteenth Celebration Committee was able to hold a smaller rally to celebrate the holiday. But this year, between Saturday, June 19, and Sunday, June 20, there are a long list of events being held to celebrate the day.

Juneteenth is a day of recognition for the ending of slavery. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was given by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, it took years for slaves still in states under Confederate control to learn of their freedom. The date June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, is when slaves in Galveston, Texas, finally learned of their freedom.

Since then, June 19 has been the day for celebration, as it signifies the day that all Americans gained freedom. And that celebration is no different in Dunkirk, which is expected to have a strong turn out for the weekend festivities.

“I believe thousands of people will be there,” said Loretta Torain, the Chairperson for the Juneteenth Celebration Committee. “People have been cooped up for so long and are looking to do something, and people are learning about the history of Juneteenth. I believe more people will come out, we have interest from groups that have never attended before.”

Torain, who has been part of the committee for every year of its existence, said that the interest and attendance for the event has consistently improved throughout the years, as more people learn the significance of Juneteenth. Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo named Juneteenth a state holiday. And similarly to how the attendance for the event has grown, so too has the lineup of events.

“When it first started, we’d have music and a few games,” Torain said. “It started off with a basketball tournament too because we were at Wright Park when we started. Now at Memorial Park, there isn’t even a basketball court. We started the education fair and labor fair as the years have gone on, and the children’s tent has grown. It started off with just a few activities, but now there’s something going on there the whole day.”

Torain said that the planning for the celebration typically takes most of the year, with only a month off during the summer for a break. She also added that it was especially difficult to plan for this year, because the guidelines and restrictions enforced by COVID-19 were ever changing. And for Torain herself, it means a lot to her to be a part of the celebration.

“When Juneteenth first started, it was a celebration of slaves being freed,” Torain said. “Every year we dedicate our celebration to family. We believe it is so important. I think about my grandparents and those before me and all they suffered through so I celebrate that freedom. In our opening ceremony, we’re doing a stones of remembrance celebration tribute to all those who went before us.”

As the Juneteenth Celebration goes over a quarter century of celebration in Dunkirk, Torain said none of this would have happened without the late Jesse Thomas.

Taylor Rancka shows off books that will be given away in the education tent from the See Me Literacy Drive at this weekend’s Juneteenth celebration.

“He was the first person who came up with the idea of celebrating this in Dunkirk,” Torain said. “Because of his hard work, he got us together and we’ve been doing it since.”

The Juneteenth Celebration will be an all day event on Saturday, June 19, and will have afternoon events on Sunday. Ceremonies for both days will begin at noon. The theme for Juneteenth 2021 is “We Made It.” There will be activities for all ages, including an ice cream eating contest, a hula hoop contest, a Juneteenth basket giveaway and so much more. The full list of events for the weekend, which all take place in Memorial Park in Dunkirk, is as follows:

SATURDAY, JUNE 19

¯ Noon — Opening Ceremonies – A Tribute to Loved Ones

¯ 12:30 p.m. — Juneteenth Basket Giveaway, Games of Chance; Pound by GX Warehouse Fitness and Wellness; League of Women Voters; Education Tent; Party Bouncers and Children’s Tent

¯ 1 p.m. — DJ Kvbaby, Corn Hole Tournament by Small Town, BIG MINDS

¯ 2 p.m. — ice cream eating contest, balloon animals, children’s dentist presentation, face/hand painting, Dunkirk City School District Pre-K Program, Schwan’s Job Fair, Campus & Community Center, Upward Bound Program, Jamestown Community College

¯ 3 p.m. — Pure Ink Poetry Slam, Buffalo, founded by Brandon Williamson

¯ 4 p.m. — Hula Hoop Contest, with age groups for 4-10 years old, 11-14 years old and ages 15-adult

¯ 4:30 p.m. — performance by One World Tribe, Erie, Pa.

¯ 6 p.m. — performance by Familiar Spirit, Erie, Pa.

¯ 7:30 p.m. — Juneteenth basket giveaway drawing

¯ Dusk — Movie In the Park

SUNDAY, JUNE 20

¯ Noon — Gospel DJ, Juneteenth basket giveaway, games of chance, party bouncers – children’s tent, League of Women Voters

¯ 1 p.m. — worship service

¯ 2 p.m.– Community African Drummers, Father’s Day competitions, face/hand painting

¯ 3 p.m. — Gospel Fest – Brothers in Christ, Dunkirk; M.O.D. (Men of Distinction) of OD3, Dunkirk

¯ 5:30 p.m. — Juneteenth basket giveaway drawing

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