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  • Writer's pictureRaji Writes

Lift Every Voice and Sing! Juneteenth 2024 in Menlo Park

"Juneteenth" blends the words June 19th, which was the date in 1865 when the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery after the end of the American Civil War was enforced in Texas. President Joe Biden declared Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021.

 

The City of Menlo Park in the San Francisco Bay Area held its 2024 Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 15, on the grounds of the sparkling new Belle Haven Community Campus. The parking lot, shaded by solar panel canopies, was transformed into a lively, bustling space of community, music, food, stalls, vibrant celebration and joy.


A wall of quotes about Juneteenth was mounted at the back, with Barack Obama’s words in the center, and words from community members surrounding it.

 


As a band was performed, I walked around to look at various stalls that were selling a variety of wares. Esosi offered very stylish bags designed by business owner Erika Simpson-Akpawu (in photo below), made to order in Colombia. Cora’s Knits and Crochet had handmade scarves and hats, and I bought a hat for my daughter from Cora and her great-grandson, a student at TIDE Academy in Menlo Park.


 

I learned about the Belle Haven Community Campus and its various activities from Airel Tinajero, the Recreation Coordinator for the Senior Center. I also spoke to Tracie VanHook, the founder of Fit To The Core, a not-for-profit organization that focuses on promoting an active lifestyle among the aging population through their fitness programs. Committed to improving overall health and fitness of people in under-resourced communities, they hold fitness classes at the community center, as well as community walks on the weekends.

 

Here is a photo of Tracie at the Fit To The Core booth, with her son, and with Airel.

 

A lovely rendition of the Black national anthem included some sing-along stanzas.


Next, Mayor Cecilia Taylor spoke, recounting the history of Juneteenth and notable dates in US history leading towards black emancipation in 1865. Here is the Mayor next to the Juneteenth flag, the colors and symbols on which are representative of freedom and the end of slavery.


The City of Menlo Park, which currently has two Black councilmembers, Drew Combs, and Cecilia Taylor, has held Juneteenth celebrations since 2022. Councilmember Betsy Nash was also at the event. Councilmembers are elected officials who take turns serving as mayor. Mayor Taylor’s current term ends this December.


Warm tributes were paid to seniors in the community, in their 90’s and even 100’s, their longstanding contributions acknowledged with a gift of a potted orchid as onlookers applauded enthusiastically.


 

A spoken word performance by Deaidre White was captivating.  White introduced herself as the granddaughter of the first Black mayor of Menlo Park, Billy Ray White. She spoke of growing up in Menlo Park, remembering the local schools and the Boys and Girls Club in nearby Redwood City. 



She then read a haunting poem about a 15-year-old girl who had lost her way, would never again have the innocence she had as a 10-year-old, and was looked at accusingly by older women, despite them having also gone down the same path she had. “Take care of the children,” White exhorted the audience.

 

I walked through the beautiful new community center. The first floor hosts a children’s library, a senior activities room, as well as a sparkling basketball court.



The second floor has a library for all ages and some community rooms. The pool outside looks lovely and inviting. 


Grateful for being able to participate in this wonderful celebration, I walked back home over the Ringwood Avenue bridge over Highway 101, looking at the cars whizzing by below.

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