‘Juneteenth’ significance explored at BR family day, party

In advance of the approaching Juneteenth holiday, members of a local anti-violence organization held a party and family day Saturday to put the holiday on the community’s radar while also promoting healthy living.

“We found that by doing it the first weekend, it sets the tone for June and gets people looking forward to Juneteenth,” said Pat LeDuff, president of the nonprofit Community Against Drugs and Violence.

Juneteenth is celebrated annually on June 19 and is the oldest holiday celebrating the abolishment of slavery, according to the website Juneteenth.com.

LeDuff’s group hosted the Juneteenth Family Fest and 1K Walk on Saturday. The theme of this year’s event was “Keep It Moving,” as organizers sought to focus public attention on the issue of childhood obesity, LeDuff said.

The event was held at a park at the corner of 72nd Avenue and Howell Boulevard.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862, outlawing slavery in the 11 states of the Confederacy. However, slaves in Texas did not know about Lincoln’s Proclamation until Union troops led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865.

Hence, that is the day Juneteenth is celebrated.

Black people in Louisiana and other states also first learned of the news in 1865.

Helen B. Toliver, 83, of Baton Rouge, said that, to her, Juneteenth is “a celebration and reminder of struggles that blacks have gone through and survived.”

Toliver said the holiday is not celebrated like it should be, with lack of education and awareness about the day being the culprit in Toliver’s mind.

“If we keep reminding them of the purpose of the celebration, it will impact them a little more,” Toliver said. “Now we need to reach the young people because when you know your history, you don’t repeat it.”

After getting large turnouts the past few years for the annual early June gathering, sparse crowds of just a few dozen on Saturday flummoxed LeDuff and other organizers.

To bring greater awareness to childhood obesity, the family day event included a 1K “Obesity Is for the Birds” family trail walk/run in the morning. A baseball field at the park was set up with nets for volleyball and badminton as well as a disc golf course for children to play on.

Representatives from the LSU Agricultural Center talked to children about healthy eating and lifestyles while gospel music blared from a DJ booth. Next to the booth, members of the East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court’s Office created children’s ID cards for parents in case of emergencies.

Anthony Davis, 32, of Baton Rouge, brought his three children — Danica, 5; Payton, 9; and Gerami, 11 — to have some fun and teach them about Juneteenth.

He said the education aspect of the event, both for Juneteenth and healthy living, appealed to him and he wanted his children to take part in the activities.

Sam Boatner, 65, an LSU police officer, has celebrated Juneteenth every year since he left the U.S. Army in 1970 and drove out to Howell Park to see how others would be celebrating.

He echoed Toliver’s comments that young people do not celebrate Juneteenth like they should today. He said audio and video educational tools, and not just books, are needed to impress upon the young generation the importance of Juneteenth.