By Neshmia Alam
DAVIS, CA — On June 5, 2022, Yolo County held its Juneteenth Holiday Celebration, an event meant to commemorate the date of June 19, 1865, when enslaved peoples in Galveston, Texas (the last state in the Confederacy that had institutionalized slavery) were freed. The county holds its celebration prior to the actual holiday in respect of other festivities.
The event comes after President Biden announced Juneteenth to be a federal holiday in 2021, making this year’s Juneteenth the second to be a national day of observance.
Held on the UC Davis campus in the Conference Center and Shrem Museum of Art, members from all communities were welcome and given free entry to participate in a variety of performances, talks, and exhibitions.
The theme for this year’s celebration was Sankofa: The Road to Freedom. Sankofa is a word originating from Ghana which means “to go back and to get.” The event mirrored this word’s meaning by encouraging people to go back into history and remember the impact of slavery on not just African Americans, but the United States as a whole.
Performances included a Legacy Fashion Show from JTL Productions, “Drumming to the Same Beat” from Grant Highschool’s Drumlines, and work from the Elite Epsilon Xi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Steppers.
Talks were held for the purpose of being both educational and art-focused. Some talks discussed the history of Juneteenth as a holiday, such as the “Why Juneteenth?” speakout. Others spoke about the history of Black individuals from a broader view, such as the Distortion of African History, given by Chloe Scott, Miquela Savage, and Zeinub Musa which discussed how African history has been hidden and reshaped, even from members of the African community.
Other guest speakers included the Vice Mayor of Davis, Lucas Frerichs, and UC Davis’ Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Renetta Garrison Tull.
Presentations on art were often given by artists themselves. Artists such as Shonna McDaniels, David Smith, Arthur Wright, Marsha Carter, and Tori Hunter all spoke about their art and inspirations from the African American community.
Students also got involved in the sharing of African art. UC Davis art students gave a presentation called “Let Your Voices Be Heard Through Art,” emphasizing the importance of art when sharing history, culture, and personal experiences.
Khristel Johnson, a quilter, also spoke about her work. Throughout the Juneteenth Holiday Celebration, approximately a dozen quilts created by Johnson with a variety of themes were displayed in the Shrem Museum of Art. Many covered how slavery, emancipation, and the fight for civil rights are integral to American history.
Johnson has been showing her work at Juneteenth celebrations for four years. Although she usually works within the Bay Area, she still comes to Yolo County to participate in its event. She feels that this event is so important because it allows “the community at large to understand our history, our shared history.” She emphasized that the history of oppression against the Black community is “all part of American history, even though some people might think it’s a subset.”
Johnson also praised the event’s director, Sandy Holman, for her “level of commitment to the community.”
Holman works with The Culture C.O.-O.P, which is a promoter of systematic change in order to challenge oppression in America. She directed the committee which planned the Juneteenth Holiday Celebration.
Other committee members included Library Regional Manager Scott Love, Davis’ Human Relations Commission Chair NJ Mvondo, UC Davis Director of Campus & Community Engagement Dr. Vicki Gomez, Program Analyst Mariana Galindo-Vega, Librarians Ruby Buentello, Katrina Laws-Ewals, and Joan Tuss, and Library Assistants Huda Abdelnur and Stephany Cortes Alvarado.
For members of the community who missed the event, wished to revisit it, or would like access to exclusive interviews, the entirety of the program was recorded and will be uploaded at yolojuneteeth.org on this year’s Juneteenth, June 19, 2022.