Community members gather to celebrate Juneteenth


Mira Sundar

Juneteenth is the commemoration of the liberation of the last enslaved people in the Confederacy in 1866. The Justice Vanguard organized and hosted their first ever Juneteenth festival today to celebrate the steps taken towards the liberation and freedom of the Black community.

Justice Vanguard hosted its first-ever Juneteenth Festival in Downtown Los Altos today, bringing together a diverse group of residents from across the Bay Area to celebrate the liberation of the last enslaved people in the Confederacy with the arrival of federal troops in Galveston, Texas in 1866. While this day has been celebrated across the United States since its origin, two days ago, President Joe Biden signed a bill that recognized Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

“Originally, Juneteenth was a small community celebration,” Justice Vanguard co-founder Kiyoshi Taylor, Los Altos High School 15, said. “Depending on where you were, there might have been a church service or a barbeque block party. But today, the day has evolved to be a celebration of the steps taken by our ancestors to free themselves of the chains of slavery. Today, it’s a celebration of all the steps taken towards liberation and all the steps that we continue to take.”

During the festival, a collection of different booths run by Justice Vanguard members were spread out across Lincoln Park that focused on the various aspects of Black history in America, including one about the history behind Juneteenth. A series of 19 signs that included 19 different facts — recognizing the Juneteenth date, June 19 — were also scattered across the park. These signs focused on aspects of Black culture like music’s role in freedom and the Emancipation Proclamation. 

The Juneteenth celebration also included different interpretive dances and poetry readings, as well as music by Black artists, like Tracy Chapman. Toward the end of the festival, songs like “Cha Cha Slide” and “Cupid Shuffle” were played, and community members lined up to participate in cross generational dances, dancing together. 

Justice Vanguard co-founder Kenan Moos, LAHS ’16, commented on how he has never seen so much positivity and support surrounding Black culture and the Black community. 

“Just look around,” Moos said. “We have kids running around, we’re doing artwork, we have families gathering together, we’ve got food and music and we’re teaching; what better way to teach than in a fun and beautiful way.”

Foster City resident Rebecca Swan spoke about how she saw an advertisement for the festival on Facebook and drove to Los Altos to show her support. 

“[Juneteenth] has finally been recognized as a national holiday, which has been more than a hundred years in the making,” Swan said. “This is an indication that Black people are finally being accepted in this country and I came today to celebrate this happy day.”

Many attendees also commented about how the recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday shouldn’t distract from the continued efforts for equality and justice for the Black community. 

While the acknowledgment of the holiday shows the impact and strength of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, there is still much left to be fought toward, agreed both Rev. Dr. Zandra L. Jordan, a professor at Stanford University, and former president of the Mountain View High School club Campus Change Enola Imani Talbert, MVHS ’21. 

Talbert further commented on the lack of acknowledgement of the history behind Juneteenth in public schools across the country and how the recognition of Juneteenth as a national holiday seems like a small effort. 

“It’s like we’re being given a gold star, a sticker for our fight through the BLM movement, but the government isn’t willing to make the big changes surrounding the reform of certain legislation, like the school to prison pipeline and police brutality,” Talbert said. 

Justice Vanguard is petitioning to remove school resource officers (SROs) from MVHS and other San Jose schools following their successful efforts toward removing SROs at LAHS last year. Justice Vanguard also created a scholarship fund — the Black Laureate Scholarship — which was open for community donations during the festival; the money from this scholarship will go toward funding books and college tuition for about two to three Black Mountain View–Los Altos District graduates. As of today, over $15,000 has been raised toward the scholarship. 

At the end of the event, both Taylor and Moos said that the Juneteenth Festival would not be a one-time event, but an annual one and this celebration would continue to both commemorate the steps taken towards liberation, but also push for additional change. 

“What we celebrate today is not only that Juneteenth became a national holiday, but that we will continue to fight for the rights and equality of all,” Jordan said.“At some point you have to just stand up and say enough is enough. Can we just live? Can we jog without being killed? Can we sleep in our own homes without being killed? Can we go to the park? Can we grill? Can we do any kind of thing while being Black and have the expectation that we will be able to make it home the next day?”