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'Juneteenth has to be about joy': Broward celebrated the holiday at a historic Black beach

Gerard Albert III
Wooden sculptures showed the names of historic Black neighborhoods in Broward. The sculptures sat on the raised dune, giving an optical illusion organizer Nerissa Street was aiming for. These neighborhoods were subject to "redlining," a Federal Housing policy that devalued property.

Dozens of people gathered on the sand in Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park in Dania Beach over the weekend to reflect on the history of racial segregation and experience the healing power of water.

Nerissa Street hosted the event. She got the idea for a Juneteenth celebration after talking to her students.

"Everything that I heard, and everything that was advertised around Juneteenth was more of the same struggle, more of the same anger and rage that my students were experiencing, and transforming into apathy," Street said.

 "When I started to see more of the things that my students were expressing to me being said by the adults, it just dawned on me, It has to be about joy. Juneteenth has to be about joy, we can't truly be free, if we're not happy."
Nerissa Street

Street chose the Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park Beach as her venue. It was the only beach in Broward County open to Black people before 1962. Black residents held “wade-in” protests at white beaches until the county agreed to desegregate them.

"This particular space was fought for. I wanted to reconnect people to this place that is full of joy. There's nothing else to do on a beach except to enjoy yourself and to be with the people that you love and experience the beauty of nature."

The beauty of nature helped Thaddeus Gamory heal. He developed PTSD after working as a New York police officer during 9/11. He moved to Broward two years after and now uses the water to teach safety and healing.

He guided a group into the ocean for what he called a healing experience.

"Now I just want you to acknowledge the massive body of water that we're connected to right now," he told the group wading in the ocean. "It has the capacity for us to bring any of our hurt and pain. And it also has the capacity to give us joy."

Gerard Albert III
Attendees wade into the ocean as part of a mindfulness meditation as part of the event.

Farther up the shore, wooden sculptures showed the names of historic Black neighborhoods in Broward. The sculptures sat on the raised dune, giving an optical illusion that the names were floating in the water.

These neighborhoods were subject to "redlining.” It was a Federal Housing policy that devalued property and prevented mortgages in those communities from being insured.

Street wants to change the narrative of these red-lined neighborhoods. She did this by giving the mic to residents.

Part of the installation was a scannable code that allowed attendees to watch videos of residents of those communities telling stories about where they live. Street recorded the videos.

"And I'm just asking them, tell me what's beautiful about your neighborhood?" Street said. "Tell me what your favorite local business is tell me about the people that you can count on? Tell me what you're grateful for?"

She asked that question to Susan Robinson.

"What am I most grateful about? Community. You know, you see different things on TV and they'll be like 'I never thought that would happen here,' " Robinson tells Street in a video filmed for the project. "But even when that does happen, be it a shooting or accident or whatever, we're still there for each other."

These recordings inspired Amorette Lormil. She’s a spoken word artist who goes by Epiphany. She read a piece dedicated to those residents.

"There is a mantra held captive in this ocean I call a body. A refrain I've been too proud to release but today I call it by its name I am resiliency. I am what makes everyone in the room stand up. Both breathtaking and breath giving. Some people call me courage."
Amorette Lormil

Cleo Boswell was a snowbird from Illinois. Now she lives full-time in Broward County. She left the event with some new perspective.

"I did not know all of those historic Black communities," Boswell said. "And so my homework is going to be to spend a little time over the next few months going and taking a peek at just what the communities look like. And what's the flavor of the folks in the community."

Gerard Albert III
Cleo Boswell takes part in a guided meditation.

Gerard Albert III is back in Broward, where he grew up, after reporting on crime and public safety in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and West Palm Beach. Albert is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University.