POTTSTOWN — When Troy Rivera organized the first Juneteenth Celebration in Pottstown three years ago, it was a modest affair with some vendors, a few games for the kids and a wealth of good intentions.

His effort came soon after he had organized a peaceful march in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers — a march that attracted thousands in Pottstown and he wanted to keep the momentum of a racial reckoning going.

  • Denise Williams, founder of BeRezilient and a primary organizer of...

    Denise Williams, founder of BeRezilient and a primary organizer of this year’s Juneteenth Celebration, had a handy map to show where all the vendors, events, food and other things of importance were located. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

  • David Charles, who heads up the S.T.R.I.V.E. Initiative was one...

    David Charles, who heads up the S.T.R.I.V.E. Initiative was one of the Juneteenth organizers and he was in high spirits on Saturday. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

  • Pottstown Mayor Stephanie Henrick singles out Troy Rivera not only...

    Pottstown Mayor Stephanie Henrick singles out Troy Rivera not only for his efforts to bring this Juneteenth Together, but for organizing the very first one three years ago. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

  • After the reading of a brief history of the Juneteenth...

    After the reading of a brief history of the Juneteenth holiday, balloons were released during Saturday’s community celebration on High Street to honor those who have fought the fight for racial justice in all the years since. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

  • 18-year-old Ava Collier sang

    18-year-old Ava Collier sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” acapella Saturday during the Juneteenth Opening Ceremony. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

Apparently, he was not alone.

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Three years later, and with help from many more people, the Juneteenth celebration in Pottstown has grown into an all-inclusive street festival to rival the monthly car shows and the Pottstown GoFourth! street festival on July 4.

  • The youth and adult 3-on-3 basketball street tournament was run...

    The youth and adult 3-on-3 basketball street tournament was run by local basketball legend Howard Brown’s iBall United organization. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

  • Rising 7th graders Montana Jones, Kyseer Reinert and Hayden Sota,...

    Rising 7th graders Montana Jones, Kyseer Reinert and Hayden Sota, who are involved in the S.T.R.I.V.E. Initiative at Pottstown Middle School, performed their own music during the Juneteenth Celebration Saturday. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

  • The Pottstown area cheerleaders who boosted the spirits of the...

    The Pottstown area cheerleaders who boosted the spirits of the basketball tournament players reached new heights. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

  • A second stage was set up by Rivet Canteen on...

    A second stage was set up by Rivet Canteen on Penn Street to showcase other local performers. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

  • Before the basketball tournament started, local cheerleaders warmed up in...

    Before the basketball tournament started, local cheerleaders warmed up in the shade. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

Hundreds packed High Street, North and South Hanover Street and Smith Family Plaza for the wealth of activities, vendors, programs and performances set up by the organizers.

  • Fred Williams, owner of Urban Gourmet Kitchen, shows off one...

    Fred Williams, owner of Urban Gourmet Kitchen, shows off one of his most essential tools as he prepared food during Saturday’s Juneteenth celebration in Pottstown. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

  • Jason Thomas, owner of Smokin' Jay's Caribbean Barbecue, was working...

    Jason Thomas, owner of Smokin’ Jay’s Caribbean Barbecue, was working hard filling orders Saturday.

  • Bev's Soul Food. which will open soon on West High...

    Bev’s Soul Food. which will open soon on West High Street in Stowe, had a good spot at the corner of High and Hanover Streets Saturday to introduce potential customers to her skills. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

  • In addition to being a member of the event's planning...

    In addition to being a member of the event’s planning committee, Quanzella Butler-Jones was also among the many vendors, The Crafty Notary, who had their wares on display and for sale Saturday. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

  • Anastasia Foreman came all the way from Philadelphia to sell...

    Anastasia Foreman came all the way from Philadelphia to sell her art because she said she did so well at last year’s Juneteenth celebration in Pottstown. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

Under the shade of the plaza’s trees, massages and yoga were part of the health center’s services while vendors displayed and sold their wares.

“This is what it looks like when a community comes together,” said Pottstown Mayor Stephanie Henrick.

All along North and South Hanover Street, the delicious smell from the many food vendors drew people into lines, their mouths watering while they waited for their order to be ready.

  • As soon as they got the bottom, all the kids...

    As soon as they got the bottom, all the kids wanted to get back to the top of the inflatable slide again. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

  • Marie Haigh, right, from Pottstown Community Arts, helped Paul Ingram...

    Marie Haigh, right, from Pottstown Community Arts, helped Paul Ingram from Pottstown, place a heart with a message on the Juneteenth paper mural created to mark the celebration. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

  • The petting zoo was a popular attraction for the little...

    The petting zoo was a popular attraction for the little ones during Saturday’s Juneteenth celebration in Pottstown. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

  • Goats, chickens, bunnies, ducks, turtles, you name it, the petting...

    Goats, chickens, bunnies, ducks, turtles, you name it, the petting zoo at Saturday’s Juneteenth festival had everything for curious kids. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

  • Messiah Johnson of Pottstown, 4, chose Captain America for the...

    Messiah Johnson of Pottstown, 4, chose Captain America for the theme of his painting while younger brother Zion, 3, chose Spider-Man. (Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)

Further down High Street, inflatable slides and bounce houses competed with the petting zoo to see which one would attract more kids.

And the Juneteenth celebration wasn’t finished on Saturday.

After the celebration, organizers have an event planned for the actual date of Juneteenth, which is June 19.

That’s when they planned a Juneteenth Freedom Rise Scholarship Gala to celebrate the students who won this year’s Juneteenth Scholarships.

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It will be held at Rivet Canteen and Assembly, 238 High St., from 6 to 9 p.m.

Tickets are $50 and 50 percent of proceeds will be used to support the family that owns and runs Welcome to the Avenue. Their young daughter has been diagnosed with cancer.

Those interested should “dress to impress and wear your freshest sneakers.”

In addition to music by DJ Thomas Walker, the guest speaker will be Dr. Veirdre Jackson.

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The CEO and founder of Living Strong Consulting, LLC, Jackson is an award-winning author, educator, and entrepreneur who is recognized as a leading educational trainer in trauma-informed practices and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging.

The Pottstown Juneteenth Scholarship has grown from last year’s seven $350 awards to seven $500 awards to be presented this year. As the scholarship grows the scholarship committee’s goal is to be able to give $1,865 to seven students in the community.

To qualify, applicants must identify as African American; reside in the Pottstown or Pottsgrove community; be enrolled (or) plan to be enrolled in an accredited college; have a minimum 3.0 GPA; and demonstrate involvement in community service, volunteer work, or extracurricular activities. While not the sole determining factor, financial need will be taken into consideration during the selection process.

While the scholarship deadline has passed for 2024 look for this scholarship to reopen in April 2025.

Sponsorship opportunities for the Scholarship Gala can be found at www.pottstownjuneteenth.com and tickets to the gala can be obtained online through the Juneteenth Freedom Rise Scholarship Gala Facebook page.

The Juneteenth holiday, sometimes called Freedom Day, has its roots in President Abraham Lincoln’s revered Emancipation Proclamation.

On Jan. 1, 1863, Lincoln announced: “All persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”

But because federal troops never occupied Texas, all those enslaved in the Lone Star State were not freed and did not even know about the proclamation.

As The Washington Post wrote, it was not until June 19, 1865, that “Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger stepped onto a balcony in Galveston, Texas — two months after the Civil War had ended — and announced that more than 250,000 enslaved people in Texas were free.”

The celebration that began there has been spreading ever since.