For many people, Juneteenth is a day to celebrate a milestone in black history and black liberation. It commemorates the official end of slavery in the United States and serves as an opportunity to educate people about racial justice.
Although Juneteenth has been celebrated annually on June 19 by many Americans across the country since 1865, it was only declared an official federal holiday last year by President Joe Biden.
This weekend, Livermore Valley Arts and community group Tri-Valley for Black Lives are teaming up to host two June 19 celebrations at the Bankhead Theatre.
“We just haven’t had a lot of events honoring black history (or) really any history outside of whiteness,” said Isaiah Campbell, who is part of Tri’s grassroots planning team. -Valley for Black Lives.
According to its mission statement, the organization aims to foster a safe, anti-racist community for Black, Indigenous, and people of color with Black Lives Matter first. As part of the June 19 weekend of festivities, the band is teaming up with Livermore Valley Arts to bring motivational speakers, vendors and performers to Bankhead Plaza on Sunday June 19 for an outdoor family festival.
On Saturday, June 18, local radio personality and comedian Faith Alpher will perform “Juneteenth: Steps of Faith,” inside the Bankhead Theater.
Developed by Alpher, the production “explores the uplifting life stories of four consecutive women of color – Zora Neale Hurston, Dorothy Counts-Scoggins, Josephine Baker and Claudette Colvin – their approach to life, their timeless messages and the outsized impact that ‘they had, and still have, on our cultural landscape today,’ organizers said in a statement.
“It is very important that people not only learn the stories of women who have helped advance social justice in our country, but also that students reflect on what they want their legacy to be,” said the principal. from Livermore High School, Helen Gladden. statement about the event.
But for Alpher, the show isn’t just about teaching the stories of these four women; it’s about showing people that black history is part of American history and that being open to learning about it is a way to grow and better co-exist with others.
“When you start talking, having conversations with people different from you, that’s when you really grow,” she said.
Alpher said it wasn’t always easy for her to talk to others and try to educate people about her story.
Originally from Teaneck, NJ, Alpher grew up in a diverse neighborhood and said she never really had to think about the fact that she was black.
“You let me know by closing your doors on Saturday morning when you’re walking my dog and it’s around seven in the morning,” she said.
It was only after the 2020 murder of George Floyd and the death of her sister who was heavily involved with organizations like the NAACP that she decided to use her writing and acting skills to raise awareness and educate. people on Black History.
“So many people talk so much about what they want to do. I don’t want to be one of those people,” Alpher said. “I’m like, OK, I like comedy, I like talking, I like acting. Why don’t we put all of these things together and teach this and not just teach it normally but teach it like I know how?”
Campbell, a Livermore resident since 2005, echoed similar sentiments. He said he had seen the Tri-Valley grow and change over time, but noted that as a black man he hadn’t really seen an effort to create space for black people and voices. in the Tri-Valley.
“I feel like a lot of things in the Tri-Valley aren’t necessarily meant for us or aren’t necessarily meant for us,” he said.
He added that he views the region as a predominantly white space and because of this, most events and festivities are held through these lenses. According to a 2015-2019 US Census Bureau American Community Survey, Black and African American residents make up 10.3% of the Tri-Valley’s population.
Campbell said it’s important that different groups feel represented and feel like they have a space where they have a voice.
He also hopes these upcoming events will inspire other activists to create spaces for other underserved communities so everyone in the Tri-Valley can feel like they belong.
“One thing to take away that I hope people will have is some kind of desire to engage more with this community in the kind of community process that’s just to make the Tri-Valley better,” Campbell said.
Both Campbell and Alpher noted that the only way to foster a more welcoming community is for the public to make an effort to be curious and attend cultural events like the June 19 celebration, even if they feel be moved.
Alpher said this was especially important because even though Juneteenth only happens once a year, she is still a black woman every other day of the year and people have to try harder to accept her culture. not just one day, but every day.
“There will be people who maybe see it as a one-time event, much like the black square posts on Instagram,” Campbell said. “We can’t see social justice and community activism, almost like a checklist of certain things that just require doing one or two actions or a number of tasks and then it’s done from there. “
Alpher added to this point by saying people need to take advantage now and start learning to embrace other cultures before it’s too late.
Both said that with these healthy conversations about black liberation around June 19, the fight for racial justice can continue and grow.
“The unknown can always be scary. But I think the only way to overcome that fear is to make it known and go learn for yourself to see, to experience,” Campbell said. “I think most of the time you find that there are a lot more similarities and things are a lot less different than you think.”
The “Juneteenth: Steps of Faith” production is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday and registration is required. The registration link is available here. The outdoor festival is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. Both events are free.