image

Local activists held a Freedom Fest celebration Friday after their planned Juneteenth commemoration was canceled at the last minute.

On July 4th, 1827 New York became the first state to commit to the complete abolition of slavery by legislation.

197 years later, Saratoga Black Lives Matters is celebrating the state’s Emancipation Day. Attendees from across the Capital Region listen to live music, eat free food, and shop from 40 local vendors.

“This is like my first time ever like crocheting anything for like people to buy or wear that aren’t gifts,” said Khan.

Selwa Khan is selling hand-made scrunchies and keychain charms to support a Palestinian family trying to flee to Egypt. One of the event’s organizers asked Khan if she would want a table.

“I had exactly one scrunchie crocheted at the time that they asked me, and that was like a week ago. So, we’re doing better. And I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is so cool,’ and I feel like this is the best space to really do that because I’ve been seeing so many people that I’ve been interacting with online who have been supporting, I’m a college student, supporting our [Students for Justice and Peace] work. I’m also from Schenectady, so I’ve been speaking at the Schenectady city council meetings for a ceasefire resolution,” said Khan.

In May, Saratoga BLM helped organize two events to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Saratoga BLM’s Lex Figuereo was issued two appearance tickets for violating a 2005 city code that requires groups to attain demonstration declarations prior to organizing a rally. The New York Attorney General called reports of the tickets troubling after its previous probe of the city’s treatment of demonstrators during 2020 and 2021 rallies.

“Inhale. And release,” said Holt.

Alicia Holt has found a quiet corner and is running breathwork exercises.

“Knowing the work that Saratoga BLM does, and knowing the labor that they put in, I was definitely excited to offer a space where people could just come and be and not have to think about all of the systems and problems that they’re fighting against,” said Holt.

Just two weeks prior, Saratoga BLM had its hands full planning a “Juneteenth kick-back” event at the Frederick Allen Elks Lodge.

An anonymous complaint to the state liquor authority about the private club holding a public event where alcohol would be served caused the lodge to back off from hosting the event.

In a statement, the lodge said there was an implied threat that it was being closely watched, saying “we are greatly saddened by the lack of transparency about the complaint, the impact to our young Black community seeking a safe place to celebrate (ironically) Freedom.”

Liza Mullin and friends celebrated the positive energy the organizers put into the second gathering.

“Because I feel like for an event to be—such a big event especially down in Saratoga with Saratoga BLM to be cancelled like that, it’s nice that they came up together and decided to do something more and to turn out. Even again, it’s very important and it’s very connecting. And I love seeing all the little—even the vendors themselves, they connect with each other not only with the customers and the sellers, but the vendors are all talking to vendors. It’s very ‘unity’ here,” said Mullen.

Niko Sikelianos and his 21-month-old daughter are taking a break from tearing up the dance floor.

“It’s absolutely beautiful. And as I try to explain to her this is a good chance to see our culture. It is, it is a beautiful thing to have all these people come out and it’s all smiles. It’s magic,” said Sikelianos.

Samira Sangare is a Saratoga BLM organizer.

“People need to remember that we started off doing protests and community events. We are very much known for our direct actions and protesting, but the core of Saratoga BLM is having these events with music and free food and poetry. Because free food is what brings community in. If you see—that’s what we do, we feed the community. We have our free fridge et cetera,” said Sangare.

Sangare says the large turnout is evidence of continued local support, while some city residents criticize the group for recent cease-fire demonstrations and years of disruptive city council meetings.