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For DeKalb organizers, Juneteenth ‘shows us where we’ve been and where we need to go’

Juneteenth community celebration set for Sunday at Hopkins Park in DeKalb

DeKALB – Area organizers are inviting all in DeKalb County to come out to Hopkins Park Saturday to mark the second annual Juneteenth celebration.

“It’s a celebration of authentic freedom,” said Rev. Joe Mitchell, senior pastor of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, which collaborated to organize the event and will hold Sunday worship services welcome to all ahead of the event.

The free event kicks off from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at Hopkins Park, 1403 Sycamore Road in DeKalb. The family-friendly celebration will feature social services information, vendors featuring Black-owned businesses, food, music, a planned 3-on-3 basketball tournament, history trivia, games and others.

Co-sponsors include Northern Illinois University’s Center for Black Studies, Mortenson Construction, Dekalb County Community Gardens, The Rock Christian Church in DeKalb, Kishwaukee College and B.L.L.A.C.K. Inc. NFP, a non-profit that stands for Black, liberated, leadership and community kinship. The nonprofit advocates to improve the lives of area Black residents.

It’s that kinship, that Mitchell, also part of B.L.L.A.C.K., said he hopes will shine through Sunday.

“My hope is the community will come out and celebrate freedom,” said Mitchell. “It’s a great opportunity to belong and embrace the truth and diversity of American history.”

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when slaves in Galveston, Texas, first learned of their freedom by Union soldiers more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed and two months after the Confederacy had surrendered. Juneteenth also is known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day. Later that year, on Dec. 18, the 13th Amendment was officially adopted as part of the United States Constitution.

The day, recognized for generations by Black Americans, has entered more widely into the mainstream in past years. President Joe Biden signed legislation in June 2021 that designated Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Stanley Arnold, Northern Illinois University history professor, said the holiday can serve to mark the day’s significance.

“I think for all people it’s a reminder that there’s an ongoing struggle for equality,” Arnold said. “It shows us where we’ve been and since where we need to go. I’m glad it’s being celebrated in this way.”

New Hope’s Sunday services will precede the event and take place at 10 a.m. at the Hopkins Park Band Shell. It’s a fitting kickoff for Juneteenth, a day meant to celebrate Black freedom, Mitchell said.

“Juneteenth is part of Black history in America, and you can’t talk about Black history without talking about the Black church,” Mitchell said. “Given the fact the Black church was started out of the oppression of American chattel slavery, it has always been an inclusive space. So, we will move our weekly worship service outdoors and invite the community to join us.”

Father’s Day, also Sunday, will feature in New Hope’s service, Mitchell said, with a Father’s Day conversation between him and his own father, Rev. Leroy Mitchell, a founding pastor of New Hope.