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LAKELAND — Six members of Lakeland’s African-American community stepped forward one-by-one Monday morning, together building the case for why Lakeland should recognize a pivotal date in Black history as a city employee holiday.

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Harlem Turner, president of Lakeland’s Rose Heights Elk Lodge, made his second plea to Lakeland commissioners within the past three months to recognize Juneteenth as an official city holiday. This would close down City Hall, giving many employees a paid day off and allowing them to join in the community celebrations.

“Why can’t we have Juneteenth? It’s not for race, it’s for everybody,” Turner said. “Why can’t we do what’s right?”

Mayor Bill Mutz asked whether other commissioners would support City Attorney Palmer Davis drafting a resolution proposing Juneteenth, or June 19, as an official holiday to be voted on at a future commission meeting.

Commissioner Stephanie Madden said that several people had reached out to her asking the city observe federal or state holidays it currently doesn’t. Election Day and Presidents Day were cited as examples.

Madden suggested an additional Flex Holiday would allow employees to take one day off that was important to them based on race, religion, ethnicity or military status.

Her idea gained backing, as the commission appeared ready to direct City Manager Shawn Sherrouse to conduct an exploratory employee survey of what potential federal or state holidays they would like to take off, if one were to be added to the city’s list of 10 recognized holidays.

“We’ve been slaves, and we’ve been fighting all our lives,” Turner said. “You have the audacity to holler back about Juneteenth because it means nothing to you. It means something to us.”

Tension in the commission chamber was obvious as Virginia Robinson, a Paul A. Diggs community resident and overseer of the “Save Our Children” campaign, stepped forward.

“Think of the Fourth of July. That’s what Juneteenth is to people who look like me,” she said. “That’s when we became free Americans. That’s when we began the road to equality. That’s our beginning.”

Robinson said her great-grandfather shared stories of his father growing up as a slave when she was a child. She doesn’t know her family history prior to that.

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If an employee survey was done, Robinson pointed out the majority of the city’s staff aren’t African-American and, as a result, likely wouldn’t elect to recognize Juneteenth over other federal and state holidays.

“The greatest desire is from the African-American community, so they probably won’t choose it,” she said.

Madden told Turner if the city’s Black, or African-American community was so passionate about Juneteenth being an official city holiday, she needed to hear that.

So one by one, each of the Black citizens at the commission meeting came forward to express their support.

“Do you want us to pack this with people to come in here and voice their opinion?” said Veronica Roundtree, vice president of the Lakeland NAACP branch.

Kenneth Glover, Polk County’s first Black prosecutor and former Lakeland NAACP president, stepped forward to speak on behalf of all the organization and civic associations he’s help found over the years. Glover argued recognizing Juneteenth is important for future generations.

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“Juneteenth is dear to the hearts of us,” he said. “This is educational too, so they won’t repeat those things that happened to a race of people in the past.”

Recognizing Juneteenth as a city holiday, Glover said, would be officially recognizing the contributions African Americans have made.

These personal statements seemed to result in a turning of the commission’s hearts. The mayor called off an employee survey, rather asking for a resolution to be drafted to be voted at a future commission meeting.

“This has been very helpful for me,” Madden said. “I’d like to hear from more people, I want their story. I want to hear where they are coming from.”

Madden said the personal stories of Lakelanders who believe the city should recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday can be used to justify the cost of the city shutting down for a day.

Residents who want to share their thoughts can send an email to citycommission@lakelandgov.net to reach all commissioners.

“If it’s dear to your heart, let’s do that right thing,” Glover said.

Sara-Megan Walsh can be reached at swalsh@theledger.com or 863=802-7545. Follow on X @SaraWalshFl.