Meet the business woman behind Valley Stream’s inaugural Juneteenth fest | Herald Community Newspapers | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

The line of display tables, manned by mostly Black-owned businesses from throughout the area, started on Roosevelt Avenue and bent east around the commercial lot of businesses tucked between South Franklin Avenue and 1st Street. Festooned with red, black and yellow balloons, the commemorative colors of Juneteenth, they were there to celebrate a watershed moment in African American history over a century and a half ago.

It all began when the Civil War was declared over. Union General Gordon Granger traveled to Galveston, Texas, roughly two months later on June 19, 1865, bearing news to enslaved African Americans of the war’s end and their newly secured freedom. The announcement effectively triggered President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued roughly two and a half years earlier.

Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19. Thus, on a particularly bright evening last Sunday,  people’s spirits were high.

Speakers were thumping as D.J. Recardo Belcon Jr. blasted songs from synth-funk to R&B. Residents milled about, greeting one another and curiously browsing the stands or sitting down to soak up the sun. Children gravitated toward the table of family and estate family planning attorney, Leslie Sultan, where they crafted child safety ID beaded bracelets with their name and contact number. Others hurtled toward the bouncy house or waited in line with dollars in hand at the food truck.

Darlene Edwards, who owns Best Goodie Bags in Valley Stream and the event’s host, bounced from stand to stand with her warm, disarming smile. She invited the entire Valley Stream community outside her storefront to commemorate the historic holiday. Her flagship table sported Juneteenth paraphernalia, including literature provided by the Town of Hempstead on the historic significance of the day. The table showed off a sign that read: Together We Rise.

Jubilant and sweet-voiced, Edwards said her and her tight circle of family and friends would usually celebrate the holiday among themselves, long before it gained national status as a federal holiday in 2021. The plans to host an inaugural Valley Stream event has been in the works for some time, aiming to bring everyone to the freedom festival.

It finally materialized, after the pandemic. Edwards sent a flood of social media and email invitations to hometown organizations and businesses asking them to lend their support.

“What I’ve found is that a lot of people want to find a way to support Black businesses on Juneteenth,” she said. “As a thank you to Valley Stream who helped keep us open during Covid, I wanted to bring a lot of these minority businesses together and wanted different social and educational resources.”

Roughly a dozen-plus businesses and organizations chipped in. But aside from lifting her fellow Black-owned businesses: “I want people to have fun,” Edwards said.

“People ask if this holiday is just for Black people, and I’m like no, it’s for everyone.”

The day’s widespread fun shouldn’t be all that is to be gleaned from the holiday, however, noted Edwards. Juneteenth is not “just a day off work or school.” It’s charged with symbolic meaning: a milestone victory in African Americans’ generational struggle to survive and secure their basic liberties and freedoms in this country.

“Everyone, even I, needs to understand this,” said Edwards. America’s complicated, often brutal racialized history is hard to look at but “it’s part of our larger history and it’s something to be learned from.”

Annette Gray-Thorn, Edwards’ best friend of forty years and a Black community leader, said she takes hope that as Juneteenth enters more into the hometown mainstream, more residents from every corner will host their own events as well.

“Whether you have a business or not, my hope is more people could come or host personal celebrations,” she said.

“Even though we’ve encountered barriers to suppress or not help us move along as a people, attempts by certain places to suppress that piece of our history, we just want to make sure that people know the history of our ancestors and forefathers that did all they could do to move us along,” said Gray-Thorn. “It means a lot for our young people to know what happened. Not only to know the devastation that happened, but to know the freedom, the acclimation of a new freeness, of a release.”

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