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Juneteenth Celebrations Across South Florida Looked Different This Year

June 19 commemorates the day the last enslaved African Americans learned of their freedom in Galveston, Texas — more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

This year, Juneteenth was observed amid continuing demonstrations and other events addressing systemic racism, injustice and police violence. In South Florida, people danced, remembered and looked ahead.

West Palm Beach

Young Black professionals and artists in West Palm Beach hosted a panel discussion on Black economic empowerment and race. The audience and panelists wore masks — and sat spaced apart; they called it a “Juneteenth Postlude” as a way to explore “Where we are now and where we are going.”

Nykeythia Reid, the organizer and moderator, said she used the Juneteenth holiday to spark robust conversations within Black communities. She said talks like these could lead to long-term, policy-focused solutions.

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Credit Wilkine Brutus / WLRN
Organizer and moderator Nykeythia Reed speaks to the crowd.

Reid posed questions about the coverage of Breonna Taylor, the impact COVID-19 has had on Black businesses, and asked the panelists whether the momentum from the nationwide Black human rights protest can be sustained.

“We're here for a reason. Everything that's going on is for a purpose, and we have to be vigilant and aware of that,” Reid said. “Amidst the emotions of anger, we have to know that there's a big, big, big picture at hand.”

Nephtalie Pierre-Louis is the founder of Chateau Blaque, a beauty and design company. Pierre-Louis was the financial analyst on the 12-person panel, and she says the event was also a way to network, exchange ideas, and find investment opportunities.

“I've been looking for ways that I can help the community,” Pierre-Louis said. “I've been looking for people who I can partner up with, and to offer up my resources."

The panel was held at the Creativ Department, a multipurpose events company and venue in West Palm Beach. Daniel Fortune, the founder, says the panel was “necessary,” and he plans to hold a series of other discussions surrounding Black economic empowerment, history, culture, and art.

Fort Lauderdale

In Fort Lauderdale the Juneteenth celebration was at Huizenga Park. Last month, a protest in the same spot ended with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters. 

Last week, demonstrators danced to live music and marched peacefully through downtown while police blocked traffic at a distance.

Nikki Davis goes to Broward College and she said the protest was a way to educate.

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Credit Gerard Albert III / WLRN
Davis, right, and Burgess, left, attended the Juneteenth celebration.

“Even if they don't know what Juneteenth is if they ask why these people are protesting, they're gonna figure it out. So in a way it kind of goes towards educating people without that knowledge even without us really having to say anything, and that's important to me,” she said.

Alexis Burgess was there with Davis. She wants people to understand that more than 150 years after the first Juneteenth, Black people are still fighting for freedom.

“This country I mean, slavery came and then Jim Crow, and then it's institutionalized slavery, and all these things, we're still fighting. So it's important to be out here on the day that slavery was ended to still be fighting for our freedom, you know, because that was just the first step,” she said.

Kadeem Rowe says he only learned about the holiday a few years ago.

"As a Black man that in itself speaks volumes. But ever since I've had known about it, I've celebrated it as our emancipation day," he said.

Key West

The Juneteenth rally in Key West was held at a place with its own resonance of slavery in America — the African cemetery at Higgs Beach.

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Credit Nancy Klingener / WLRN
Floyd Jenkins wore his sash as the reigning Mr. Key West Bear to the Juneteenth rally.

That's where some of the 295 Africans who died on the island in 1860 are buried. They were aboard three slave ships heading for Cuba that were captured by American Navy ships. Slavery was still legal in the U.S. but importing enslaved people was not.

Key Westers who gathered there were mindful of the history — and focused on the present.

"I just want to let people know that a change is coming. To keep the hope, keep the fight coming. To understand that the voices that are being heard and seen is a guttural cry for change," said Floyd Jenkins.

Jenkins wore his sash as the reigning Mr. Key West Bear, a gay pageant and party. He’s Pepper Mahogany on social media — and when he spoke at the rally, he brought up the number of black trans women who have been killed.

"We also need to be protecting them as well and looking out for them. We can't say black lives matter and only for one particular group," he said. "It has to be for all of us."

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Credit Nancy Klingener / WLRN
The Juneteenth commemoration in Key West started with a rally at the African Cemetery on Higgs Beach and wound up at Nelson English Park, named for a Black Key Wester who was postmaster in the 1880s.

After the rally at the cemetery, the group marched through Old Town, led by police on motorcycles. They wound up at Nelson English Park in Bahama Village, the island's historically Black neighborhood. The park is named for a Black Key Wester who served as postmaster in the 1880s.