image

ANDERSON — As Juneteenth becomes entrenched as a federal holiday, its underlying themes of celebrating freedom and advancing the cause of racial equality have grown in prominence, local advocates said during a pair of events Saturday.

“Juneteenth is also referred to as Freedom Day, and so culturally it’s something that we want to embody here,” said Sherry Peak, executive director of the Anderson Impact Center.

The center’s fourth annual Dan’s Fish Fry fundraiser attracted hundreds of local residents who lined up to purchase meals either to carry out or share with friends at tables set up in the center’s common area.

Several vendors set up tables inside and outside the building to share their merchandise and services with those attending. In addition to vendor tables, there was music, a health fair and a voter registration table. The Madison County Health Department’s mobile unit was also on hand providing free blood pressure checks and other services.

“There are a lot of other activities going on, but I’m so glad this is taking place right here,” said Jessica Woodall, a board member at the Anderson Impact Center. “Each year it has grown bigger and bigger.”

Peak said funds from the sale of the meals will go toward programming and services offered by the center, which, she added, fits in well with the spirit of the holiday.

“This is a celebration,” she said. “It’s not just about the food, but we’re also providing education about what Juneteenth is. It’s about education, it’s about community, it’s about fun, it’s about fellowship, it’s about good food, which is all part of what we like to do here.”

Less than two miles away, an all-day neighborhood block party brought hundreds to Anderson Preparatory Academy’s elementary school campus for games, trivia, music, a softball tournament and picnic staples.

The annual Family & Friends Reunion, organized by the Anderson Community Rejuvenation Committee, was intended to bring residents together and remind them that the values they have in common outnumber their differences.

“This is a family and friends reunion,” said Willy Turner, founder of the Anderson Community Rejuvenation Committee. “We want people to come out and have a good time.”

For the representatives of several local nonprofits who set up booths at the event, the day was also about reaffirming a sense of shared involvement and common goals in the community.

“Any time we get an opportunity to collaborate with other organizations, especially those close to where we have our five-and-dime and where we have our own ministry as well, we want to take advantage of it,” said Jennifer Beaumont, executive director of the Mercy Table, a local community services organization. “That’s what makes it important to us, to let people know we’re here and that we’re available to be a help and a hand to others.”

Beaumont said that as Juneteenth — which became a federal holiday in 2021 — becomes more mainstream, opportunities to educate people about topics related to social justice, racism and other issues will continue to present themselves.

“I feel like we need to be more specific about what (racism) is,” she said, “because I feel like people are not actually getting the education or necessarily knowing what it really is.”