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Juneteenth officially becomes a civic holiday in City of Buffalo

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Beginning in 2021, the City of Buffalo will recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, during which city government employees will get a paid day off. Mayor Byron Brown made it official Friday morning, while marking Juneteenth 2020 in MLK Park.

Juneteenth marks the formal end of slavery in the United States. Although slavery was abolished by President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, it took more than two years for that order to be thoroughly enforced. The final slaves were freed on June 19, 1865, when Union troops enforced the proclamation in Galveston, Texas.

"Certainly, Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom. It is a celebration of Black love. It is a celebration of love. We have to value each other," said Mayor Brown. "And as we declare today, together, that in 2021 Juneteenth will become a holiday for City of Buffalo employees. It also is a day of reflection for all of those employees. Reflection, on what each and every one of us can do to fight racial injustice, a reflection on what every institution in Buffalo can do, what every institution in this nation can do to end racial injustice."

Buffalo has hosted a Juneteenth Festival every year for the past 45 years. The COVID pandemic, however, has led organizers to move all activities online. Mayor Brown and other speakers say there are really three pandemics happening this Juneteenth: COVID, racism and economic struggle.

More Juneteenth Festival activities are planned throughout the year, and organizers say this includes growing multigenerational education online. Jomo Akono, executive vice president of the Buffalo Juneteenth Committee, says board members would joke among themselves about what would happen if the city were to shut down its schools. That was before the arrival of coronavirus and the stay-at-home orders which closed classrooms since mid-March.

"The Juneteenth festival is going to be looking for partners to make sure that we educate our elders, our millennials, and our young people on how to use technology in the 21st century, so that if education stops in a public system, we as a community can still have access to information, and we can teach our elders how to get on the Facebook, and the Twitter," he said. "These are things that can take place but it also creates an intergenerational educational process, which maybe might not have been created. We always talk about (how) young people need to go to school. But what about creating a culture where we're always learning from the cradle to the grave? After 401 years, many people are just now finding out what really happened to us."

Juneteenth Committee president Marcus Brown recalled the frustration during his years as a teacher explaining Independence Day to children, that while it was a celebration of American freedom his own people were in bondage. Common Council member Ulysses Wingo, meanwhile, suggested Juneteenth isn't as much a holiday but rather the day when the work of Black America truly began to prove their worth.

"Let's prove that Black Lives Matter," Wingo said. "Let's prove that Black Lives Matter. First, stop killing each other. Second, by encouraging our white folks and our white family and all of our white allies to show that they are hearing us, that they know and acknowledge our pain that we've gone through."

Wingo added that such work also continues by responding to the current U.S. Census and by registering to vote. 

Mayor Brown, meanwhile, acknowledged his support for making Juneteenth a national holiday.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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