Black Voices Reflect On Freedom, The Future Ahead Of Juneteenth

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Juneteenth is Saturday. The day celebrates the emancipation of people who were enslaved in the United States, specifically commemorating the day the Emancipation Proclamation was enforced in Texas two years after it was enacted. On June 19, 1865, people still enslaved in Texas were freed.

Cities around the Southern Tier, including Binghamton and Elmira, have events planned. The Southside Community Center in Ithaca will host a block party this year.

People participate in Juneteenth celebration in Los Angeles. Friday, June 19, 2020. Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state and ensure all enslaved people be freed, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

On its website, the center wrote that by celebrating Juneteenth, they “seek to remember and honor the sacrifices and struggles of our ancestors who were determined to create a better future for Black people throughout the United States and the broader African Diaspora.”

“Thus, Juneteenth is a public affirmation of our determination to stay woke, fully exercise our human rights, and create a better future for our youth in Ithaca and throughout America.”

In celebration of Juneteenth, WSKG is sharing the stories of Black people in our region.

Jared Nwameme, Windsor

Jarrad Nwameme, CEO of Triple J Farm in Windsor, Broome County, said Black people should be celebrated every day.

Jarrad Nwameme, August 8, 2020. (Heather Ainsworth/NPR)

The farm was started by his grandfather, James Minton, where he now raises turkeys and taps trees for maple syrup. The farm’s 900 chickens produce 50 dozen eggs a day, and every carton they sell is stamped with messages like #BuyLand or #MakeFarmersBlackAgain.

A family member released from incarceration recently went to work on the farm.

“I commend my grandparents for opening up the door for him. Now he’s on the farm, he’s working, he’s keeping busy, clear mind. And it’s great, and I love that we’re able to help him out,” Nwameme said. “He’s been a huge help.”

Minton bought the farm so the family would always have a place to go, but also property to be passed down through generations. Nwameme said he is liberated, but he and his family have worked hard for it.

The family hopes the generational wealth attained by owning land will make life easier for the family’s future.

Hajra Aziz, Binghamton

Hajra Aziz, the Executive Director of the Broome Community Land Trust, celebrates Juneteenth with her children each year.

(Photo courtesy Hajra Aziz)

Aziz lives in Binghamton, where there is an annual celebration at the park some groups call “Assata Shakur Park”. Its legal name is Christopher Columbus Park.

“We usually go to what was formerly known as Columbus Park,” Aziz said. “We would go there and celebrate with the community.”

This year, there will be a basketball tournament, a DJ and family-friendly activities. But Aziz said she also uses the day to talk to her family about slavery, freedom and identity.

“And just helping them to develop some self-awareness and power around who they are and their role in this country,” she added.

With the Broome Community Land Trust, Aziz aims to help youth feel more invested in the people and places where they grow up.

Dawn White, Horseheads

Dawn White is a member and former President of the Cosmopolitan Women’s Club. Among other things, the club encourages African American students from Chemung and Steuben Counties to pursue academics by awarding scholarships.

(Photo courtesy Dawn White)

White said she only learned about Juneteenth when she served in the military. There, she met other Black people, many of whom were from the South.

Many young people, White added, are not aware of the holiday or its meaning.

“That, in itself, I think sometimes is at the root of why young people may not appreciate the opportunities they have,” said White. “There was a time when Blacks were not free. We were enslaved and we have to go through a lot, and I’m not sure that young people recognize the price our ancestors have paid for them to have the opportunities that they have today.”

The Cosmopolitan Women’s Club works to create more opportunities for education. In addition to their scholarships, the club also has a “Life After Graduation” event for high school seniors across the Southern Tier who don’t plan on going to college so they can learn about a variety of jobs. The event also focuses on financial independence and emotional and physical wellbeing.

White said programs like those of the Cosmopolitan Women’s Club helped her and so she joined as a way to give back. It also, helped her navigate her new home in the Southern Tier. She called the women’s club a sisterhood.

“Meeting those women really made a difference for me when moving to this community. That was my gateway to meeting other Blacks, and just finding my way on how I can give back,” White explained. “I’ve learned so much professionally and personally from the relationships I’ve been able to build there.”

White said having the choice to pursue dreams and goals is what freedom means to her.

Talima Aaron, Elmira

Talima Aaron said she always made a point to introduce her children and grandchildren to Black culture and history. She tried to interject Black history anywhere possible: fashion, film, music, pop culture, everyday inventions.

(Photo courtesy Talima Aaron)

When her sons turned 13, she gave them the book “Manchild in the Promised Land”. When they were 16, they got “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”.

Anytime the family took a vacation, Aaron would look for the Black history there.

“I think that it is our job to keep history alive by talking about it,” Aaron said. “By visiting those sacred spaces, those places.”

Aaron is president of the John W. Jones Museum in Elmira, which she called another sacred space.

The museum honors the life of John Jones, who escaped slavery in the South and worked as an abolitionist in the Southern Tier. It opens for the season on Saturday.

Kathye Arrington, Owego

Kathye Arrington, an artist living in Owego, said Juneteenth means celebrating the beauty and talent of Black people.

(Provided by Kathye Arrington)

Arrington is one of several artists of color being showcased in an exhibit called Between Starshine & Clay at the Tioga Arts Council in Owego.

“Many of us in this area have not been able to fully participate in the art community,” Arrington said. “We haven’t been as represented.”

Arrington said she hopes upstate artists of color will be featured more often.

“To show our beauty and our strength through our work,” Arrington added.

She said she will celebrate Juneteenth alongside a diverse and intergenerational group of artists.