They came from across Long Island to celebrate the end of slavery in America. And they came to raise awareness about the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Happy Juneteenth!” yelled a marcher, smiling, as vehicles honked to support the group of about 40, who started at Island Cinemas in Mastic and ended at the corner of William Floyd Parkway and Montauk Highway in the Applebee’s shopping center parking lot.
On this day, there was no tension between marchers and police, some of whom were on bicycles and some blocking main thoroughfares to allow marchers to cross. One officer bumped fists with a march who carried a large speaker that blasted music.
Angel Williams, of Riverhead, carries both a sense of pride about the significance of June 19, or Juneteenth — which marks the anniversary of when enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free in 1865 — and a passion to wipe out racial discrimination.
“I have a black father, a black brother, black uncles, cousins. I am black. We have not been given the same rights, and enough is enough. We want everything that was stolen from us.”
“This is our Independence Day,” Williams said.
“Juneteenth is a celebration of what we have accomplished so far. We have a long way to go,” Sunshine DeBoard, 32, of Coram, announced into a megaphone. DeBoard was among the organizers of the march and a dance performance as part of a new nonprofit, Just Us Making Progress, or JUMP.
“Today is a celebration of life and freedom,” DeBoard said.
More than 100 people arrived to the event by 4 p.m.
The day was a collaboration with another new group, the Empowered Black Society, whose founding members include local residents who protested following the death of George Floyd. The latter group brought a number of black-owned businesses to the event to promote their wares.
Suffolk Legis. Rudy Sunderman was also in attendance, which did not go unnoticed by Jay Bell, 25, of Mastic. Bell said he’d like to see Juneteeth become more widely celebrated on Long Island, and he was encouraged to see young children playing — some curious youngsters got a first-hand look at a police officer’s sunglasses and radio — and “gaining valuable knowledge.”
He said Sunderman’s presence showed that “consistency is key.”
See some photos from the event: