“Black Lives Matter” At 27th Annual Lakeland Juneteenth Celebration
by James Coulter
As many Americans across the country take to the streets to proclaim “black lives matter!” in protest, many local residents visited Munn Park to honor the black lives that helped make black lives today matter during the 27th Annual Lakeland Juneteenth Celebration on Saturday.
More than a hundred local residents, most of them taking precautions with masks and social distancing, turned out to celebrate Juneteenth by honoring local community members and enjoying traditional African American art, music, and dance.
Juneteenth is the annual holiday commemorating the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862 to officially free African slaves. Nearly two years later, on June 19, 1864, Major General Gordon Granger and his Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas to announce that the Civil War had ended and that all slaves had been freed.
That date has been long recognized as Juneteenth and celebrated by the African American community. The day serves as a reminder of how far they have come in achieving racial equality, and, especially in light of recent events such as the mass protests of the police killing of George Floyd, how far they still have to go.
The Lakeland Celebration is the oldest one of its kind in Florida. The very first celebration was hosted in 1992. This year’s theme was “honoring our ancestors”, commemorating the legacy of the people who fought for civil rights and equality, and to inspire people today to continue the cause into the future.
“Freedom is for all,” stated Yasmin Barnes, local consultant and event coordinator. “We use our hearts to open our community and let everyone know we fight today. We fight together so we can have a future for our children, for our community and for our legacy [and] to honor our ancestors.”
Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz honored 12 local philanthropists for their hard work and dedication to their local community by presenting them each with a key to the city. One of these honorees was Annie Phyall, a retired teacher, who was busy that afternoon collecting signatures from the crowd for a local political cause. Each of the dozen honorees have assisted with raising money for local college scholarships, according to an article from The Ledger.
Before conferring the keys to the city, Mayor Mutz mentioned how much of a “wonderful privilege” it is to celebrate the accomplishments of people within the community, both in the past and in the present. Only through their hard work have other people been given the opportunity to live the lives they have now, he said.
“It is an honor and privilege to recognize residents in Polk County who have made profound differences in the lives of others because they cared and sacrificed their time and resources for the benefit of others,” Mayor Mutz said. “We are blessed to live in a community that cares about others, and those we will honor this afternoon will exemplify why. Is there room to care for more? Yes there is. And are we going to work to find it? Yes we are.”
The main program included speeches by local community leaders including Julie Townsend, Lakeland Downtown Development Authority executive director, and Chandra C. Frederick, Polk County’s assistant county manager.
Local organizations also set up tents around the perimeter of the park. Polk County Democrats helped people register to vote, while the Polk County Sheriff’s Office offered community outreach about their services.
Several performances were also hosted on the main stage set up near the main fountain. These performances included a traditional African dance, a pantomime performance, and a ventriloquist song act.
Mr. Rick Maxey, along with the rest of the Maxey Family, including Mrs. Jackye Maxey and Ms. Taylore Maxey, hosted the program that afternoon. He was especially proud of the turnout, especially amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a great celebration,” he said. “Anytime we can get together and recognize how far we have come and how far we have to go, it is a great thing. I am very proud with this program.”
The Juneteenth celebration proved especially relevant and timely this year with the nationwide mass protests against police brutality and systemic racism. While it is important to recognize the progress that has been made, it is also vital to continue striving for further progress now and into the future, he said.
“The biggest thing is that it is not just black people seeking change, it is the entire county, and that is what this is all about,” he said.
Dr. Shandale Terrell gave the opening introductions for the program. This year’s co-sponsor was Faith In Action North Lakeland, and the sponsors included and the Hall Communications, Paul A. Diggs Neighborhood Association, City of Lakeland, Grant Career & Technical Education Center, The Juneteenth Committee.
Supporting the event were local individuals such as Mrs. Kristen Carlson, Mr. Frank Kendricksm, The Bailey’s Family, Dr. Larry Rankin and Dr. Trudy Rankin, Mrs. Anne Huffman, and organizations such as the Polk County Democrats.