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Juneteenth, now a federal holiday, will have '90s twist at Bristol celebration
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Juneteenth, now a federal holiday, will have '90s twist at Bristol celebration

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BHC 06212020 Harambee Juneteenth Celebration 04

Crowds gather in Cumberland Square Park during the Harambee Juneteenth celebration on June 20, 2020, in Bristol, Virginia.

The Twin Cities’ second annual Juneteenth Celebration will take place Saturday evening in Cumberland Square Park, during a particularly historic moment for the tradition.

Juneteenth, on June 19, is an annual celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. On that day in 1865, two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, learned about their freedom when Union soldiers reached the state. (Texas was among multiple states slow to recognize the proclamation.)

While Black citizens have celebrated their freedom on June 19 since the 1800s, on Thursday, President Joe Biden signed a bill making the day a federal holiday.

The event is also happening just over a year after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police — which sparked a new wave of protests against racism and police brutality — and during a season of reopening for the region and country amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This has been a very long year and a half of having to [stay] inside,” Kiyanna Court, a Bristol, Virginia resident and one of the event’s organizers, said Thursday. “Just to appreciate the fact that we ... get to be outside and get to gather with one another, I think that’s what this is about.”

Court’s co-organizer is Bristol, Virginia resident Keshia Reese. In 2020, the two founded the Future Black Leaders Coalition, an initiative that Reese said grew from the Juneteenth celebration they organized last year.

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Since then, Reese said, FBLC has met and worked with local and state representatives — including Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine — and a host of other local and state organizations and schools to promote diversity and inclusion.

The two said that the Saturday evening Juneteenth celebration will be free and family-friendly and will feature poetry and performances from local musicians — among them, a band called Vibee Musik and an artist named C.F.O. Guapo.

“We’re just trying to showcase some of the sound that Bristol has,” Court said.

Reese said that this Juneteenth will also have a playful twist: She and Court are encouraging everyone to wear their favorite overalls, parachute pants, chokers, butterfly clips — anything and everything from ’90s fashion.

“We live for the ’90s — the ’90s will never die,” Reese said.

“All the music I play comes from there,” said Court. “It’s my favorite era, and I thought that everyone would just enjoy that.”

There are several other Juneteenth events happening in the Tri-Cities and Southwest Virginia region, including one in Kingsport and another in Tazewell County. Court encouraged area residents to attend any of the events.

“It’s worthy to be celebrated; it’s now a national holiday,” she said. “As long as you get out and celebrate the reason, it doesn’t matter which event you go to.”

swade@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2511 | Twitter: @swadely

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