It’s taken a long time, but the Juneteenth holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States is finally showing substantial growth in Vallejo.

Also called Emancipation Day or Juneteenth Independence Day, the Vallejo celebration now features an annual parade (the second) along with the 34th annual festival, including 80 vendors, eight food trucks, 30 merchandise vendors, four bands playing music and thousands of attendees.

So when the Juneteenth Committee’s Vice President Loretta Gaddies is asked when she’d finally be able to sit down and have a sigh of relief she doesn’t hesitate with her answer.

“When it’s over,” Gaddies, said with a laugh.

All kidding aside, Gaddies is proud of what the Juneteenth holiday has become in Vallejo, and hopes the parade can eventually become as big as the city’s Fourth of July parade.

“The parade is great because it allows us for all our organizations to walk with pride and the community can show what they do,” Gaddies said. “We get to see who is in Vallejo and what they’re doing in Vallejo.”

Soaring Eagles Leadership Academy — which features kids as young as 3 to full-grown adults — stopped in the middle of Virginia Street near Provisions and the Empress Theatre during the parade to give a martial arts demonstration, with a few kids along with Jones breaking pieces of wood in half.

“I love that Juneteenth is now a national federal holiday so I can get my family to come out and participate with us,” Jones said. “We show our equality and diversity of our school along with our kids showing discipline by staying in our formation. So we learn discipline. We just want to show we’re not just martial arts, but we’re also teaching leadership and teaching our children how to be good leaders.”

Jones is thrilled to see the Juneteenth holiday in Vallejo grow.

“When I was younger we always had an event, but that was kind of taken over by the Pirate Festival and we were put out by MLK and City Hall,” Jones said. “But now we’re back on the main waterfront and we also have a parade so I’m excited about the growth in Vallejo and hopefully we keep moving forward from here.”

Members of the Vallejo High School football team pass in front of the Empress Theatre during the Vallejo Juneteenth parade on Virginia Street on Saturday. (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)
Members of the Vallejo High School football team pass in front of the Empress Theatre during the Vallejo Juneteenth parade on Virginia Street on Saturday. (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)

Mike Wilson III had his Vallejo High School football team participate in the parade.

“We take pride in being in stuff with the City of Vallejo, especially Juneteenth,” Wilson said. “We try and have conversations about Juneteenth all this week. This is big time what the city is doing. Juneteenth is a nice event and we enjoyed being part of it.”

The emcee for the parade was Cortez Quinn, who said he had a “wonderful time announcing all the groups.”

“I loved showing off all the beautiful groups in the African-American Community of Vallejo,” Quinn said. “Today it was all about celebrating and educating.”

Morgan Ridgle, President of the African-American Parent Network, said it was important to educate youth on the holiday.

“I would say as soon as a kid can comprehend,” Ridgle said, when asked at what age the education of Juneteenth should begin. “As soon as they understand words and start saying words and daily affirmations and realize that their skin and Black is beautiful. It’s never too early to start teaching children about their culture and where they come from. A message we have with our kids at African-American Parent Network is that “it takes a village to raise a child.” That’s our main motto and we stick with it.”

Members of the African Parent Network steppers perform during the Vallejo Juneteenth parade on Virginia Street on Saturday. (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)
Members of the African Parent Network steppers perform during the Vallejo Juneteenth parade on Virginia Street on Saturday. (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)

The festival featured four bands playing the main stage — 2nd Planet, West Coast Blues Society All-Stars, Melodious and Top Shelf to close out the day. Local dignitaries such as Vallejo Mayor Robert McConnell, Vallejo City Councilmembers JR Matulac, Charles Palmares, Cristina Arriola, Solano County Supervisors Monica Brown and Erin Hannigan, state Sen. Bill Dodd were all on hand in the festival’s early hours.

Vallejo Mayor candidates Pippin Dew and Andrea Sorce had booths, while the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum was also represented. A Juneteenth Flag unveiling will take place at the museum on Tuesday at noon.

Meanwhile Ridgle was proud to represent the African-American Parent Network with a booth.

“I am excited about seeing the culture and the community coming together today,” Ridgle said. “I loved the exciting performances from the step team, the dancers, everyone. With people leaving today I want them thinking, ‘Together we stand, if we’re not united we fall.’ This is a great community event to celebrate what our ancestors and all what they went through. We fought for so long to get our freedom and this is a great day to celebrate that and be free.

“I take huge pride in Vallejo stepping up with Juneteenth because I don’t think all things are celebrated,” Ridgle continued. “Any opportunity that we have to show our culture and roots, we take advantage of that. It’s extremely important not just with our adults but also our children. For each one, teach one.”

The NAACP Vallejo Branch No. 1081 was represented with a booth featuring Vice President Muriel Martin and Chair of the Religious Affairs, Christine Brown.

“What we want to do is represent the Vallejo NAACP and we want to partner with all the other organizations in awareness of what Juneteenth is and the celebration of what Juneteenth is,” Martin said. “We want unity in the community. Hand in hand, brother and sister, working together.”

“I’m looking forward to the people,” Brown said. “We want more and more people to come out and celebrate what Juneteenth is about.”