Staff photo / Daniel Newman
The True Diversity dance team of Warren entertains the crowd at the annual Juneteenth festival at Quinby Park in Warren on Saturday. The festival is sponsored by the Community Concerned Citizens II neighborhood organization.

WARREN — More than 100 people visited Quinby Park throughout the day Saturday to attend the annual Juneteenth celebration hosted by Community Concerned Citizens II.

The multigenerational organization began its 22nd annual Juneteenth celebration Friday night, and Saturday’s festivities kicked off with an 11 a.m. parade starting at Grace AME Church and continued with the festival.

“It’s a celebration of freedom for black people and black awareness,” said David Ruffin, treasurer and former president of Community Concerned Citizens II.

“It’s very important and Ms. Franklin brought it into our light and made us aware of it. And since then, we’ve been trying to promote that within the whole community to make them aware of how important this day is for us as African Americans.”

Mary Ann Franklin, 97, known as Ms. Franklin to the Warren community, founded the annual celebration.

Juneteenth, officially Juneteenth National Independence Day, is celebrated annually to commemorate the ending of slavery in the United States. It was on June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger ordered the final enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas at the end of the American Civil War.

“We try to make it real, and we don’t try to make it all about ‘fantastic’ stuff,” Ruffin said. “We try to have sort of a family picnic.”

During the event’s early years, Ruffin added, “Every person that came to us, we had to explain what Juneteenth was. And with them making it a national holiday now, people are starting to take notice of what it is, and still there are really quite a few people who really aren’t aware.”

Franklin and Ruffin said each year, the celebration consists of music, fun and food.

“We’d like to see this grow and receive more participation,” Ruffin said. “We want to make it a community event so we can bring more cohesiveness to our community.”

ACTIVITY

Betsy Everman and Graver Diggs, Co-CEOs of the Trumbull County Youth Organization, guided young Trumbull County Panthers members through the Saturday parade and dance performances for the event.

“The importance for us is getting our kids out and involved in the community,” Everman said. “It’s very important that we get our kids involved with civic engagement and keep them involved in what’s going on, also the education of Juneteenth and how special that is with it now being a national holiday. So, we not only take that opportunity to engage our children in physical activities but also historical, and sharing information that is pertinent to them.”

Diggs emphasized that the group is focused on letting its children know about the “true history,” of African American culture and people.

“This parade and park setting is really, really good for the city. And we will just continue to help it grow,” Diggs said.

About 40 kids from the organization, including football players, dancers and cheerleaders, attended the events.

Cheer coordinator Rashanda Allen led the dance and cheer performances, featuring ninth-grade twirler Delaney Alexander.

Sandra Dowell, owner of ReadyGoLashes Boutique and a vendor during the festival, said the event and reason behind it will continue to bring her back.

“That’s what drew me,” Dowell said. “We don’t get much acknowledgement, and that was something that I really wanted to get involved with and that’s why I’m here today.”

LOCAL LEADERS

Warren City Councilwoman-at Large Helen Rucker said although the story of Juneteenth began with the freeing of Gavelston, Texas slaves, now the nation has started to embrace it.

“In Warren, it’s important to us because it’s a day of love and unity,” Rucker said. “This organization has worked for the last few years to bring this to us and it keeps growing and growing. You’ll see throughout the day, a lot of people coming down here and loving and hugging. It’s a day to talk about both our past and the future.

“As we highlight things from the ballot and issues in our cities, states, and nationally, every last one of us are all in the same boat together. Our average income is below $30,000 per year, so for the betterment of communities like this, all over Warren, we don’t have ‘ghettos.’ We just have one community, or city, so when we try to benefit neighborhoods like this one, we try to touch every last person in the city.”

Rucker also mentioned that groups reaching out more consistently to the youth, and investing in the youth, will along the way teach them how to be good citizens.

Trumbull County commissioner candidate Tony Bernard attended the parade and festival, he explained, because the community coming together to celebrate is important because of the presence of diversity.

“We have a lot of different ethnicities and heritages in the county, and we need to let everybody know that we all support everybody and come together because it’s important to understand every background,” Bernard said.

Trumbull County NAACP President Annette McCoy said the celebration of the last group of free slaves relates to today’s voting rules.

“In 2024, we’re pushing out here to ‘get out and vote,’” McCoy said. “The communication on how important it is that people fought for our rights, and we have a lot to fight for, shows in our community the unity that is important. Not only with the black community, but it’s unification for all communities. And I think that is what needs to be stressed across the world today.”

McCoy concluded that while there may be separation, Juneteenth celebrates unification, and eventually “will extend for 365 days in how we are going to get there.”

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