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Juneteenth holiday ‘just first step,’ say speaker, participants

Passing the voting rights act must come next, say some at celebration staged by Windsor High Black Student Union.|

There was joy at the first Windsor High Black Student Union Juneteenth celebration, the first time the date when the last slaves were officially set free was observed as a national holiday.

But there was also a sense of purpose among the crowd of Black and white people, the sentiment that the new holiday signed into law by President Biden was just the beginning of what needs to be done to combat racism.

Speaker Contra Costa College professor Romus Reece, who was born and raised in Santa Rosa and is the uncle of student union President Jaelynn Pinero, said it simply.

Acknowledging the holiday and what it means is “a great first step,” he said. Just like the proclamation on June 19, 1865, was “a great first step.” He quoted from the Juneteenth proclamation by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army in Galveston, Texas: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, ‘all slaves are free.’“

But, Reece said, “it takes ACTION to make change.”

“It was the many actions afterward that got us to where we are today. Do the work.“ It’s the small things, he said, just ”being a good ally ... speaking up to say ‘hey, that joke wasn’t cool.’ ... It can be how you vote. It can be where you shop.”

Faith Ross and Steve DeLue, she Black and he white, sitting at the Petaluma Blacks For Communiy Development table, said a holiday was nice but more is needed.

“I would like them to approve the voting rights act,” Ross said, referring to a Democrat-sponsored bill designed to thwart restrictions on voting that have been passed in Republican-led states. Currently, it does not have enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

Added DeLue, “Juneteenth is genuinely an important day, but if we don’t get the voting rights act passed, we’re going to have real problems protecting the rights that Juneteenth stands for.”

The singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a hymn known as the Black national anthem, filled the Windsor Town Green, led by Felicia Ford from the Sparks Veterans Memorial Stage. Many knew the words and sang along. The Prayer Chapel Singers also entertained with “There is Power in the Name of Jesus” to break the chains.

Emcee Pinero, who will be a senior at Windsor High this year, said she started the Black Student Union with her friends “because there is so much racism going on here in Sonoma County and especially in Windsor.”

The event would have gone on whether the day was proclaimed a national holiday or not, she said. “I just felt it was important to hold this event because there are microagressions going on that people don’t even know about. If you just take a little something away from this, it can go a long way. We came here to represent Black excellence.”

At the student group’s table, there were free snacks, water and special Juneteenth T-shirts while they lasted. Pinero led the 65 or so people attending in a Black music trivia game and an exercise on privilege, as well as dancing the Cupid Shuffle. There were sponsor booths advertising a henna service and warning against tobacco use by Smoke Free Sonoma County.

One of the top goals of the anti-tobacco organization is convincing Sonoma County supervisors and city governments to ban menthol cigarettes and vape flavors, as they have done for some flavored tobacco products popular with children. He said tobacco companies target the African American community with ads for menthol products.

“Ninety-four percent of African American youths start with menthol,” he said. It’s an anesthetic and softens the throat hit and allows them to take nicotine deep into their lungs, he said.

Romus Reece Sr., a Santa Rosa resident since 1965 and father of the professor, said the Juneteenth national holiday celebration “is a great day, a day of joy.”

He said his father, who was from Texas, taught him about Juneteenth and he taught his children “because it wasn’t in the history books.”

Reece recalled being drafted into the Army in 1966, and “we still had to go through the back door to eat in Louisville, Kentucky. It was the first time I got a taste of overt racism because we didn’t see all these things in California. It was heartbreaking to me.”

Prayer Chapel Singers soloist Sabra Locke, whose grandmother, evangelist Marteal Perry, founded Santa Rosa’s Juneteenth celebration in 1954, said “I’m so happy that this has come this far. My grandmother would be so proud.”

An in-person Juneteenth event was also held in Pioneer Park by the Santa Rosa Junior College Black Student Union and a virtual celebration was sponsored earlier in the day by the Sonoma County Juneteenth Committee.

You can reach Staff Writer Kathleen Coates at kathleen.coates@pressdemocrat.com.

Kathleen Coates

Windsor and Cloverdale, The Press Democrat 

As someone who grew up in a small town, I enjoy covering what's happening in Windsor and Cloverdale, which are growing in their own unique ways.  I delve into issues by getting to know people and finding out what’s going on in the community. I also pay attention to animal welfare and other issues that affect Sonoma County.

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