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'Finally Juneteenth is being celebrated': local community commemorates the holiday

Reverend Robert Cambell, Robin McClain and Noahh McClain provide cold beverages in front of Hargraves Community Center at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Juneteenth Celebration on Sunday, June 19, 2022.

The Chapel Hill and Carrboro communities celebrated Juneteenth at the Hargraves Community Center on Sunday afternoon. 

Tents and food trucks speckled the baseball field and outdoor basketball court. Children spray-painted panels of wood, popped giant bubbles blown by performers in festive outfits and played on the indoor basketball court as part of a basketball skills clinic. 

Black artists performed on a stage set up on the baseball field, and their music could be heard all throughout the day.

CJ Suitt, a community organizer and performance poet, poses for a portrait at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Juneteenth Celebration at Hargraves Community Center on Sunday, June 19, 2022.

Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States. Chapel Hill and Carrboro proclaimed the commemoration of Juneteenth on June 19, 2020. It became a federal holiday on June 17, 2021. 

Gov. Roy Cooper recently proclaimed June 19 as Juneteenth in North Carolina on Friday.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, NAACP Youth Council, Marion Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Office of Equity and Engagement, Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association and the Towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro planned the event.  

Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Youth Council President Kendall Lytle said that planning for the event started between February and March of this year. 

She said the Juneteenth celebration was a "long time coming" and that she was excited the event was finally taking place.

"One of the big things that we talk about in the Youth Council specifically is amplifying Black voices and just making sure that we, as the Black community, are seen and that our excellence is known," she said.

Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Teens Specialist Deaver Smith said African Americans have been celebrating Juneteenth long before it was formally recognized as a national holiday. He said the holiday represents the rich history of the day African Americans were freed from slavery and celebrates their place in the country as a whole.

"Black history is rooted in a lot of a lot of pain, a lot of suffering, but it's also important to realize that it's rooted in a lot of perseverance and joy," he said. "Today is a prime example of the joy we expressed when we got freedom and how, since then, we've continued to drive forward and carve out our permanent place in this country."

He added that the Hargraves Community Center hosts African American-centered activities and programs through Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation that highlight its importance in the community.

"One thing I want participants to take away from this event is that Hargraves is here, it's always gonna be here and it does a great job of representing the African American community in Chapel Hill," Deaver said.

Mike's Vegan Cookout's Ke'Air provides customers with services at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Juneteenth Celebration at Hargraves Community Center on Sunday, June 19, 2022.

In addition to the outdoor activities, a small business fair was held inside the community center where local Black-owned businesses sold everything from handcrafted clothing and accessories to homemade desserts.

Cake Mommy LLC Owner Tiffany Palmer-Lytle, Kendall Lytle's mother and a self-proclaimed "freestyle dessert artist," sold desserts such as honeybun cake, cupcakes sporting Juneteenth symbols and her famous "not your nana's banana pudding" at her table at the fair. 

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Palmer-Lytle said she was happy to be at the event and see the community's response. 

"We're happy that finally Juneteenth is being celebrated, everybody's out and about," she said. "It's great to see the community out celebrating and sharing together."

The Boring Store Owner Lorina Morton was also a vendor at the event. Morton said that as a Black-owned business, finding people who genuinely want her to succeed and are trying to do whatever they can to offer support is priceless. 

She said she experiences a huge rush of sales around Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month. While she wants people to support her, she said it is hard to succeed without support year-round.

"I can't thrive as a business owner with just one uptick in sales and then a constant straight line for months and months," she said. "It's wild seeing when tragedy happens as why people are supporting your business. That's something that's really, really hard to deal with: when our community members are hurt and people's kind of first response is to fling money at us."

Morton said supporting minority-owned businesses needs to be built into peoples' daily buying habits year-round.

She added she felt comforted by the support from attendees, who took business cards or followed her on social media even if they couldn't afford to buy anything.

"It's just really wild because Juneteenth wasn't really something that you heard about, or at least I even heard about growing up," she said. "It's nice to see a community event like this advertised and shown and have people show up; not only our Black community but other community members as well. I think it's important that that kind of solidarity is shown, and I think it's super cool."

Children's activities were featured at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Juneteenth Celebration at Hargraves Community Center on Sunday, June 19, 2022.


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