Rich Howells

Celebrating 1st anniversary, Black Scranton hosts Juneteenth Jubilee at Nay Aug Park on June 19

Celebrating 1st anniversary, Black Scranton hosts Juneteenth Jubilee at Nay Aug Park on June 19
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As Black Lives Matter protests continue in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, and around the world, the Black Scranton Project will host a Juneteenth Jubilee at Nay Aug Park “in our efforts to continue fighting against social injustice.”

“This year’s Juneteenth celebration emphasizes not only the timeless themes of freedom and perseverance, but also recognizes the unprecedented times we are currently living through. In addition, Black Scranton Project turns one, so were are celebrating our org’s first full year as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization,” Black Scranton announced today.

“On June 19, we invite the community come together for a day of celebration, joy, solidarity, and love for black people. Meet us at Nay Aug Park at 4 p.m. where we can dance together in protest. All ethnicities, gender identities, and sexual orientations welcome. This will be a LGBTQIA+ friendly space. This is family friendly event.”

In 2019, Governor Tom Wolf designated June 19 as “Juneteenth National Freedom Day” in Pennsylvania. As a press release from the governor’s office explained, “Juneteenth, a portmanteau of June and nineteenth, recognizes news of the Emancipation Proclamation reaching the furthest point in the South, Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865. Slaves were previously unaware they had been made free nearly two years earlier until Union soldiers reached them after the conclusion of the Civil War.”

“While Independence Day marks the conception of a free nation, Juneteenth is a celebration of the fulfillment of this ideal through the Emancipation Proclamation,” Wolf said, referring to President Abraham Lincoln’s executive order issued on Sept. 22, 1862 and effective on Jan. 1, 1863 that proclaimed the freedom of all enslaved African Americans.

“In honoring this day, I encourage all Pennsylvanians to reflect on the struggles and sacrifices our forefathers made to give us freedom, while realizing the importance of continuing to build a nation that truly reflects the self-evident truth that all people are created equal.”

Black Scranton celebrated Juneteenth last year with a brunch at Terra Preta Prime in downtown Scranton. With the heightened focus on issues of racism, inequality, and police brutality this year following the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the local group seems to be making its 2020 event at Nay Aug Park (500 Arthur Ave., Scranton) much larger.

“This event is hosted by the Black Scranton Project as our call-to-action to support, stand with, and be a united voice in support of our black community. From Ferguson, Missouri, to St. Paul, Minnesota, and from Oakland to New York City, the Black Lives Matter movement has helped raise public awareness of police violence against black people. But what does the Black Lives Matter movement mean to our community? How are marginalized communities healing from all this on-going trauma? And how can non-POC play a role in the fight against injustice, racism, and inequality? Meet us at Nay Aug where we can dance together in protest,” the Facebook event page states.

St. John’s University adjunct professor Glynis M. Johns started Black Scranton in 2018 as an archival project documenting the often overlooked African American heritage and culture of the Scranton area. It has grown into an activist group and cultural hub that hosts art and educational events at the Scranton Cultural Center, The Marketplace at Steamtown, and other venues; keeps a black business directory; and meets with officials like Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti to represent and amplify the voices of people of color in the community.

Last week, Black Scranton participated in the NEPA Gives campaign with 174 other local nonprofit organizations and raised $10,110, the 15th highest amount. This money from 99 different donors will go towards a black community center.

“Nowhere in Scranton or Lackawanna County exists a historical archive pertaining the contributions, heritage, culture, or legacy of the African American community that resides within city limits. This reflects a larger problem: despite the passage of time, African Americans are still a marginalized group in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Even if one’s birth certificate indicates residency, that does not necessarily grant membership or belonging into the cultural arena of the community. The assumption that black people are not native to Scranton but ‘from elsewhere’ is a deceptive ideology that not only causes feelings of isolation, but also perpetuates the idea that Black Scrantonians have failed to contribute anything to the city they call home,” Johns said on the NEPA Gives page.

“However, as my prior research has illustrated, there is a rich history of African American involvement in social, political, and economic development in Scranton. With this background, the need for a special collection highlighting African Americans who have been residents of and contributors to Scranton, Pennsylvania for more than 150 years is more than clear. With the help of NEPA Gives, we would like to create the Local Heritage Initiative – Black Scranton Project’s Community Center.”

Learn more about the Black Scranton Project in a 2019 interview with Johns in Episode 93 of the NEPA Scene Podcast:

Photo of Glynis M. Johns by Rich Howells/NEPA Scene