Residents of Homer and the surrounding area experienced their first ever celebration of Juneteenth last Friday, complete with food, faith, song, meditation and, in the time of the novel coronavirus pandemic, social distancing.
About 50 people gathered in Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith and Love Park on Pioneer Avenue on Friday to celebrate Juneteenth for the first time in Homer. It was organized by Sierra Moskios, Winter Marshall-Allen, Mina Gherman and others who had participated in the week-long Black Lives Matter protests held in Homer earlier this month. Marshall-Allen, a local teacher, had organized those protests.
She also led much of Friday’s celebration, opening with passages from the Bible before songs of faith were played for the crowd, who were encouraged to sing along and dance, from a safe distance. All who attended were asked to wear face coverings, and a volunteer was present in the park handing out extra masks to anyone who had forgotten theirs.
Juneteenth is a celebration that takes place annually on June 19, to commemorate the date in June 19, 1865 when orders were read in Galveston, Texas that previously enslaved Black people had been freed.While the Emancipation Proclamation which abolished slavery in the United States was formally issued in 1863, slavery continued in several states for another two years. The practice of enslaving Black people continued in Texas until 1865. On June 19 of that year, federal orders were given in Galveston, Texas that all previously enslaved people were free, and June 19 came to be celebrated as Juneteenth, or Jubilee Day.
The event in Homer pulled on the tradition’s ties to religion and sharing food as a community. In the park there was fresh coffee and tea, free food and live music by a local artist.
Marshall-Allen read aloud several Bible verses, including one that is often invoked to describe the idea behind the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” Luke 15: 4-7.
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them,” she read. “Doesn’t he leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together to say, ‘Rejoice with me, I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who do not need to repent.”
Marshall-Allen called for unity in Homer.
“We must be able to find ways to bond in our Christ’s faith and be able to break down these walls that have divided us,” she said. “The gospel of Christ was used in the history of slavery to keep the slave in line, but the truth that was there is what they hung onto. They hung onto the truth that Christ came to deliver and to save, and that he valued every life, and that the least will become first. And that’s what we’re trying to do now.”
Alayne Tetor, the art teacher at Homer High School, led attendees in a guided meditation during the event as well. She said Moskios had initially asked her about getting involved with incorporating social justice education programs at the school. Tetor said she wanted to get involved, and while meditation isn’t necessarily a faith for some, it can be a spiritual practice.
“I think that meditation helps to really focus us in the present, and helps to bring us into reality,” Tetor said.
Also at the event were tables where participants could express themselves through art and learn more about organizations working to ensure racial equality and how to support them. The education table also had a QR code people could scan to start the process of registering to vote.
“I’m convinced that everybody can do their part,” Marshall-Allen said to the small crowd. “I’m convinced because the Lord will show up.”