Although Juneteenth isn’t an official holiday, marches, rallies, protests and celebrations are taking place across South Los Angeles to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.
President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all slaves in the southern states should be freed in 1863, but slave owners in Texas enslaved Black people until this date in 1865.
Black Americans typically use Juneteenth to reflect on their history and rejoice in the liberation of their ancestors. This year, during a period of civil unrest and heightened awareness of racial injustice in America, prompts demonstrations of resistance in various ways.
Brittany Batchelder, Kelli Rasmus and Chuck Allen led over 100 hikers in a Freedom Hike at Kenneth Hahn Park in Baldwin Hills. The hike was organized by their community-oriented businesses. They hiked to the highest point of the park: the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Tree Grove and monument.
Batchelder, actress and co-founder of Mpact Entertainment with Rasmus, celebrated Juneteenth regularly in her hometown in Houston and was compelled to honor the tradition when she moved to Los Angeles. “I don’t think we realize how many people loved it until we really put it out there because the response was incredible,” she told Annenberg Media.
The mantra “Health is Wealth” guided the hike, which also consisted of a prayer, ancestral tribute and wellness shot.
“I’ve been going around LA, specifically the black community and promoting the idea of wellness and building up a strong immune system,” Allen, owner of Juice by Chuck, told Annenberg Media. “If you want to perform well in life, or anything that you do, one of the main things that you need to do is feel good and have energy, your body has to be functioning properly.”
Allen plans to add the Freedom Hike as an annual stop on his “Health is Wealth” Tour.
The Freedom Hike was dance instructor Ronnell Martin’s first Juneteenth celebration. tHe emphasized the importance of mental wellness and self care for Black people during this time.
“With everything going on, you got COVID and you got... Black Lives Matter. I’m like ‘my people dying,’” Martin said. “That was definitely a way to just go and walk. Walk. Be quiet, listen to music, whatever you have to do to relax your mind...being healthy is something that we need to do more of, frankly, because of the communities that we live in, and the food and businesses that they put out here for us... It’s terrible,” he told Annenberg Media.
After the hike, Martin attended another festival just 3 miles away. Leimert Park Rising x Pray For The Hood, the 11th Annual Juneteeth Heritage Rally, kicked off in Leimert Park Village with live music, dancing, food and art that both celebrated liberation and commemorated the recent losses in the Black community.
In addition to highlighting drum circles, local restaurants and art sellers, the festival honored notable members of the community.
Martin noted an altar at the festival memorializing members of the Black community who have passed, highlighting Juneteenth not only as a celebration of liberation but also of life. The altar had photos of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, Nipsey Hussle, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others. The memorial was adorned with candles, flowers and signs from recent protests.
Mereba, a performer at the event, was happy to see smiles despite recent loss in the community.
“It’s an act of resistance for us to just be gathering to celebrate and unite with each other. There’s different ways to resist, you know, and I think that this is a beautiful display of resistance,” she told Annenberg Media.
Less than a mile from the event, Black Lives Matter LA organized a Freedom March and Rally beginning at the intersection of Obama and Martin Luther King Blvd. Organizers requested the event be “Black-only,” asking non-Black allies to attend other demonstrations.
Protests have also taken place across the county including in Downtown Los Angeles, Culver City, Boyle Heights, Venice and Santa Monica.
“It’s a crazy story that people didn’t know that they were free, who were free. And I think that that could be a metaphor for a lot of us now,” Mereba said. “They’re free, and they’re in control in a lot of ways in their life, and I think it’s a good message to still be remembering and teaching one another.”
Batchelder hopes that the themes of this year’s celebration will continue to drive change.
“We’re stronger together, and I just think that love and unity and peace is truly the answer to all of this,” Batcheleder said. “I just think the more that we come together, the more that we can find, the more that we keep making this noise. Maybe we can really start creating the change you want to see in the world.”