Valley News – Juneteenth celebrations in Bethel, White River Junction ‘a beautiful occasion’

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BETHEL – Olivia Halsey, 12, had never been to a June party before Saturday.

At the end of the day the Bethel resident was at two. The first was in her hometown, selling lemonade, baked goods, and origami paper crane earrings she had made with tweezers to raise money with her classmates at Tunbridge Central School for a trip to Budapest, Hungary. The second was at White River Junction, where her mother, Laura Perez, gave a speech in her role as director of the Special Needs Support Center.

“I think it’s really fun,” said Halsey, whose mother taught her the importance of Juneteenth, a holiday that marks the end of slavery in America. “I like the music. I like to meet other people. “

At both celebrations, the children ran around in the sun. People put up chairs and brightly colored blankets. Hugs were exchanged – after a quick confirmation that both parties were fully vaccinated – and there was a lingering aura of joy.

Bethel’s celebration started around noon in the band shell near the White Church while Earth, Wind & Fires September was played over the loudspeakers. It was the city’s first June tenth celebration: last June there was a rally and tribute to George Floyd, who was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis.

David Phair, who co-organized the event with Owen Daniel-McCarter, said the June event didn’t require a lot of planning, and that was an essential point: it should be an organic celebration with vendors, artists and people coming back afterwards could combine a year of COVID-19 restrictions that dictated who could do what, where and when. The move to make the June tenth a national holiday, which went into effect on Thursday, didn’t matter.

“I honestly think this is a symbolic victory,” said Phair of the new status of the day. “Making it a federal holiday doesn’t benefit the black community at all.”

Like many other people, Phair did not learn about the Juneteenth while he was in school and did not learn about the importance of the date until the last few years.

“Not enough is taught about it,” he said, adding that more needs to be taught about historical events that centered on blacks, including Black Wall Street, the site of a day-long racial massacre 100 years ago in Tulsa, Okla.

Phair would like the June 15th celebrations to return annually, but hopes the city will support them.

“We’re just trying to hang out and have a good time,” Phair said before introducing Kirk White, Vermont State Representative D / P Windsor-Rutland, whom he asked to speak at the event.

Before Kirk spoke about the work lawmakers have done to help Vermonters identify as blacks, indigenous peoples, and coloreds, Kirk acknowledged that “there is no place for a white cis (gender) guy” to stand on a stage and during a June tenth celebration. He said white people should use the day to think about what they can do to better support communities and people of color, rather than just doing performative actions like wearing buttons.

“We’re not really committed to real action or real change,” White said.

Before starting his set, hip hop artist Flex 45 said he only learned about Juneteenth two years ago.

“I knew about Christopher Columbus, but I didn’t know about my own people,” he said before performing a play about Black people killed by police in the United States.

Dozens of people came to both celebrations, and the crowd leveled and flowed. Hartford’s celebration took place at Lyman Point Park in White River Junction, behind the city’s office building. Joe Major, vice chairman of the Selectboard, moderated the event, which featured several speakers including Dia Draper, assistant dean for Diversity, Justice and Inclusion at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business; US MP Peter Welch; and Representatives of the State of Vermont. Kevin “Coach” Christie, D-Hartford.

“Today is about history, finding out things you probably didn’t learn in high school,” said Major.

18-year-old Lucy Glueck, a resident of Hanover who works in the Special Needs Support Center, spoke with Perez about the overlaps between advocacy for people with disabilities and for people who identify as black, indigenous and colored people.

“We are here to say that the story is still alive and well today and we show solidarity with Black Lives Matter,” said Perez in an interview before her speech. “Having that level of attention is such a heartwarming moment for parents.”

Bethel-based Conicia Jackson attended the Hartford celebration with her 12-year-old daughter.

“It’s a big deal for a lot of African Americans and only for America in general,” said Jackson. “As a black woman, the fact that this is a federal holiday and we can celebrate the freedom of my ancestors who fought so long and so hard to get to this point is just mind-boggling.”

Jackson grew up in predominantly black schools, and although Juneteenth was not on her books, she learned about it from her teachers. In college, Jackson joined a black student union where she delved more into the meaning of juneteenth.

On Saturday she looked at the assembled crowd and noticed the children present, including her daughter Addison Ramsey.

“I am so happy that she can see and experience that. It’s such a nice occasion, “said Jackson. “Look at all of the kids here. This is their future. “

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.