From African dances to powerful summits, NYC neighborhoods gear up for Juneteenth celebrations

ByCrystal Cranmore WABC logo
Monday, June 14, 2021
NYC neighborhoods gear up for Juneteenth celebrations
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George Floyd's murder put a spotlight on Juneteenth last year, but many Black communities in NYC have been celebrating the historic day for decades.

NEW YORK -- From the beat of the drums to the African attire, the ladies of On Your Toes Dance Studio in Brooklyn are getting ready for their performance at Umoja Events Juneteenth Celebration at Herbert Von King Park.

"Sometimes we associate struggle and grief with Black history, but this is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate and honor Black culture," said Althea Holmes, the owner of On Your Toes Dance Studio.

"The message we are trying to send is where we came from, from our ancestors, the different types of dancing," said Serena Ashton, a dancer with the studio.

It's a nod to the culture Umoja Events has been promoting for more than a decade but only officially recognized by New York state and city leaders last year in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder.

VIDEO: What to know about Juneteenth history, flag

"Last year, I got so many phone calls from friends and family who said, 'Thank you, Athenia. It's because of you that I knew about [Juneteenth] before the world found out about it," said Athenia Rodney, the chief event coordinator for Umoja Events.

Approximately 3,000 to 5,000 people attend her celebration each year.

"Last year, because of COVID, we had to go virtual. We thought only a couple hundred people would join us. So I was surprised when over 20,000 people joined us on our virtual platform," she said.

They plan to go bigger than ever this year, from a one-day celebration to a three-day summit split virtually and in person.

In Brooklyn's East New York neighborhood, the story of Juneteenth has been a part of the community's fabric for 20 years.

Inez Barron, the New York City Council member who represents the area, said she wants to celebrate the greatness of Black people this Juneteenth.

"There were African American troops, part of the Union troops, traveling throughout the South and liberating and bringing that message," she said. "Our heritage is such that as Black people, we have always been involved in resistance and liberating those who are oppressed. We want to highlight that great story. It has not been told," she said.

Her event makes a return to Linden Park this year, with plans to honor those who died in the Tulsa Race Massacre.

"This is about raising consciousness and taking steps to change the system, have people understand how certain cultures have been marginalized, made to feel less than -- but in fact, they have contributed to the greatness of this country."

In honor of Juneteenth, we're telling stories of what Black freedom means today, from a 94-year-old's quest for a national holiday to the fight for reparations to cultural celebrations. Click here for more stories from your city and around the country.