Utica Celebrates Juneteenth in a Big Way!
On June 19, 2021, at Chancellor Park in Utica, a unique celebration occurred and culminated a more than weeklong series of events. A celebration that has been honored for the last 17 years, Robbie Dancy, a Utica native, and respected Elder in Utica’s Black Community, was responsible for organizing this event, Juneteenth and African American Heritage Day. “This is the last time I’m doing it,” she says when asked about the future of these successful gatherings that have become more than just a celebration; but an opportunity for Black Entrepreneurs in The Mohawk Valley to introduce their service and products to the community at large.
Dancy was not alone in the planning this year. “I had a lot of help this year” Dancy admitted. For The Good Inc. brought the support of their influential Black Media platform that includes radio, internet, and print mediums. “Jill Voss has been absolutely fantastic and I don’t know what I would have done without her” she added.
Robbie Dancy’s service and dedication played out in the midst of a sea change of energy and recognition that began in Utica 25 years ago on South Street: Juneteenth.
Many people in Mohawk Valley have no idea what Juneteenth is. This year was extra special due to the recent legislation that recognizes Juneteenth as a National Holiday. For the first time America acknowledged an important day in Black American History. The bittersweet details define our journey, as a people, in a nation where we have often been treated as foreigners or even enemies.
For those that don’t know: Juneteenth is a Black American Holiday commemorating the end of legal slavery in The United States. Abraham Lincoln declared all enslaved people in Confederate states will now and forever be free after Jan. 1, 1863. What makes Juneteenth bittersweet is the fact that The Enslaved People of Texas were not informed until 1865; a full two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was ratified.
Obviously a lot has changed since then. But our appreciation of freedom and love for our neighbors make these annual events something to look forward to every year. This is like the Black St. Patty’s Day. This is a day when all Americans can be Black.
This year Utica’s participation grew to unprecedented levels of enthusiasm throughout the community. A new group of organizers calling themselves “Motivated Minds” put together an outstanding, first-time, Pre-Juneteenth event at Kemble Park on June 12 which went on from 11 AM – 6 PM. Organizers Vanessa, Katrina, and Cameron included Patrick Johnson’s ever-popular Hoops and Dreams 3 on 3 Tournament which drew huge afternoon crowds. The most impressive aspect of this event was the massive response of vendors which lined the entire park where hundreds of people swelled the entire afternoon. Dr. Duss, of 95.5FM The Heat maintained a musical groove throughout the day including queuing up tracks for the various performers who brought their talents to the people including 95.5FM’s own J Easy who performed his Hip Hop hit classic, Black Lives Matter.
On June the 18th, preceding the traditional Juneteenth outdoor festival event, For The Good presented its second Juneteenth TV Musical, Songs of Freedom. It was an hour-long showcase of local musical talent intended to inspire and motivate viewers. Musicians Doc Woods, John Kelsey, Ed Crowder, and Steve Falvo, singers T.K. Howard, DJ J Easy, Rev. George Clark, Astena Smith, Tracy Bowens, Delmarshia Curry, and Cassandra Harris-Lockwood performed music celebrating racial equality, freedom, and justice in our nation, and for uniting people of all backgrounds at this time of social change. There was a special message from Sister Elder Robbie Dancy, of MUNPC. The event followed last year’s Covid ridden celebration just in time to drive home the horror of George Floyd’s murder and the worldwide response to America’s ongoing damning racial discrimination and brutality.
Additionally, on Friday, June 18, The Oneida County Freedom Trail Underground Railroad and Abolition group held a free Walking Tour on Friday 6:00-7:00 PM.
At Chancellor Park on June 19th, The band Trumptight 315 held forth under the cover of the gazebo and pleased the crowd of hundreds and hundreds of people which coursed through the park during the afternoon. There were scores of vendors and presenters who gathered under the protection of the trees with gratitude for the shelter from the sun. For The Good’s Juneteenth performers brought forth the live version of the previous evening’s show for the crowd. A special appearance by 95.5FM Hip Hop Gospel DJ of the Church in the Hood, Lady JAM LaDana Clark wowed the crowd with her energy-charged performances.
On June 20th, the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute capped off the more weeklong event with the opening of the Emma Amos Color Odyssey for their offering of Juneteenth Weekend Celebration. The opening included an impressive performance by The Ladies of Soul and their Gentlemen in the Sculpture Court.
In a perfect world, we would not have to choose between celebrating The Fourth of July and celebrating Juneteenth in the name of Freedom. To many in the Black community, it is difficult to trust or forgive our White neighbors because of the current social climate regarding race, police brutality, and huge economic disparities like wage gaps, educational opportunities, and real estate appraisals where it is suggested the Black community loses billions annually for no other reason than being Black. It’s the epitome of systemic racism.
Utica is leading in a cultural shift that will occur all over the country as we start to unearth the real history of America and come to terms with our past by singing dancing and sharing our experience with the rest of America. Juneteenth is new to White Americans. Just like the Tulsa Massacre, it was hidden from them. Buried by a policy of omission that has blinded the white community. How else could a moral, well-meaning group of people commit so many despicable acts in the name of freedom? They were fooled and continue to be fooled into being scared by things like CRT.
Juneteenth isn’t about blame. It’s about gratitude. Next year make sure you are there. Folks will be glad to break bread with you.
Juneteenth Photos by:
Joe Schmidt, John Kelsey, Teresa Van Etten, Cassandra Harris-Lockwood