BEVERLY — Beverly Middle School students Joshua Bolarinwa and Teliah Alford said there is not much diversity at their school. So when they found out there would be a Juneteenth celebration in their hometown on Wednesday, they wanted to be there to deliver a message.
“We want people to know about other cultures and other backgrounds,” Alford said.
The two eighth-graders were the final speakers in the first-ever “Recognizing Juneteenth” event in Beverly. About 100 people attended the hour-long ceremony outside City Hall, which featured the raising of the Juneteenth flag and the singing of the Black National Anthem.
The ceremony is one of seven being held this year by the North Shore Juneteenth Association, which formed in 2017. Nicole McClain, the president and founder of the association who lives in Lynn, said she was impressed by the turnout in Beverly.
“Beverly really represented today,” she said.
The celebration marked the Juneteenth holiday, which commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States and honors African American freedom and culture. It is recognized as a holiday in 48 states, and on Tuesday the U.S. Senate voted to make it a federal holiday.
Andre Morgan, the director of opportunity, access and equity for the Beverly Public Schools, said in remarks to the crowd that it was important for everyone to mark the Juneteenth holiday.
“Although the day is specific to the Black experience in this country, the day should be celebrated by all races, backgrounds and experiences because the end of slavery was a moral milestone, a victory for all humanity,” Morgan said.
Abu Toppin, the city’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion, said the history of Juneteenth — which marks the day on June 19, 1865, when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned of their freedom more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation — has largely been “omitted, ignored or flat-out dismissed.”
“We are here to share in the recognition of this history,” Toppin said. “The more we know of each other, the more we can collectively understand each other.”
Melissa Griswold, who lives in Wenham, came to the event with her husband, Aaron, and their four children. She said she was excited to learn that a nearby community was celebrating the holiday and felt it was important for her children to be exposed to it.
“Especially in light of everything that’s happened over the past couple of years, knowing there are people in town who want to learn about a history that’s largely been stifled is great,” Griswold said. “For me, it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of it. It’s something that you don’t see often.”
After holding only two Juneteenth events last year due to the pandemic, McClain said celebrations this year had already been held in Wakefield and Lynn, with more scheduled in Everett, Peabody and Marblehead later this week, and in Salem on Monday.
The Juneteenth flag will be flown outside Peabody City Hall in a ceremony Thursday at 3 p.m., while a similar ceremony is slated for Abbot Hall in Marblehead Friday at 5 p.m., and Salem will fly the flag at Riley Plaza in a ceremony Monday at 2 p.m.
“The popularity of the holiday has really increased,” said McClain.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.