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Activists celebrate Juneteenth at Eisenhower Park

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A crowd gathered in Eisenhower Park on Juneteenth to address systemic racism, police reform and how to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

The event was hosted by The Right to Know Your Rights, an advocacy group that strives to bring systemic change and combat racism. One of its main goals is to educate students in inner-city schools and in low-income areas throughout New York about the rights they have when interacting with police.

Discussion ranged and included ways police departments could be reformed to prevent brutality, the importance of lifting up underrepresented voices in the media and how individuals could combat racism on a daily basis by standing up against micro-aggressions.

“It does not take a grand gesture to support the black community,” said one speaker, who preferred to remain anonymous. “When you see someone who is being mistreated because of their identity, speak up.”

As an example, she spoke about hair and how black children have been sent home from school, judged or bullied for having braided hair. “Let people be who they are,” the speaker said.

Juneteenth, observed each year on June 19, celebrates the day in 1865 when slaves in Texas became aware of the Emancipation Proclamation. The executive order, signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, freed slaves in the 11 states of the Confederacy, but it was not until the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in December 1865 that slavery was outlawed in all states.

Because it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write, most were illiterate. Not knowing how to read a calendar or determine dates, newly freed slaves combined the name of the month with what they knew to be a common ending for dates.

Observance of the holiday was erratic, declining after the turn of the 20th century but increasing in popularity in the 1940s and 1950s. Texas declared it a “significant holiday” in 1970, according to the Juneteenth.com website.