By Josh Bootsma
LANSING, Ill. (June 21, 2021) – Near the same land traveled by freedom-seekers over 150 years ago, a group of freedom-appreciators gathered Saturday to celebrate the freeing of enslaved people in America.
This year marked the Sand Ridge Nature Center’s eighth annual Juneteenth event, a daylong celebration featuring an opening ceremony, storytelling, an Underground Railroad presentation, a dancing program, and other free events.
Remembering freedom on Juneteenth
“We honor the children, women, and men who endured or perished under slavery, those who escaped slavery, and those who fought to end this troubling period in our country’s history. We stand here today to reflect on that history and remind ourselves that freedom was only the first step toward justice,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who spoke at the opening ceremony on Saturday morning.
Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, the date that Union soldiers marched into Galveston, Texas and declared the thousands of enslaved people in the state were free. The date has been celebrated around the country for years, but only recently was formally recognized as a holiday.
“Commemorating the past makes a statement about the future. Honoring Black history on Juneteenth is one symbol of our work toward equity,” Preckwinkle said.
Among the speakers at Saturday morning’s event were Sand Ridge Nature Center Director Stephen DeFalco; Forest Preserves of Cook County General Superintendent Arnold Randall; Cook County Commissioners Stanley Moore, Donna Miller, Brandon Johnson, and Frank Aguilar; State Representative and Calumet City Mayor Thaddeus Jones; and Calumet City Alderman DeJuan Gardner. The event drew a crowd of over 50 people.
“We need to make sure our youth are educated,” Commissioner Miller said, praising Illinois’ efforts to include more Juneteenth-related learning in schools. “It takes all of us to educate all of us, so each one teach one. Grab a young person and educate them on Juneteenth.”
Quaintance Larkin, parishioner of Mt. Zion Ministries in Lansing, sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” with Talia Warr, parishioner of St. Sabina Church in Chicago. A video of the performance is below:
Lansing Community Coalition members Elvis Slaughter and Michelle Ford were both present at the event, and expressed a desire to do more programming in Lansing on Juneteenth.
Lansing resident Len Cox also attended the ceremony and is supportive of Juneteenth being a federal and state holiday. “To me, this is just as important — more important, even — than other holidays,” he said.
A food drive was also available to local residents at the event, a collaboration between Top Box Foods and the Calumet City-Lansing chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi.
Sand Ridge Nature Center is located at 15891 Paxton Avenue, South Holland, IL.
- Illinois names Juneteenth as official state holiday (June 17, 2021)