Boston Kicks Off Juneteenth Celebrations With Nubian Square Event

Nubian Square's 'One Night in Boston' event Friday served as a preview to Saturday's Juneteenth commemoration

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Some of Massachusetts top political leaders gathered with activists and local residents Friday to celebrate the country's newest federal holiday, Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston acting Mayor Kim Janey, a Democrat, were among those who came together to mark the holiday in Nubian Square in the city's Roxbury neighborhood, which is the traditional center of Black life in Boston.

At the "One Night in Boston" event -- which served as a preview to Saturday's Juneteenth commemoration -- Baker and Janey discussed the cultural work that lies ahead for the region.

“The work to make sure we have great schools for all of our kids in Boston. Safe playgrounds," Janey said. "Making sure that we’re dealing with environmental justice issues that too often disproportionately impact communities of color.”

When it comes to environmental justice, Rev. Mariama White-Hammond works to make sure equity is included.

“Affordable housing and making sure we make it possible for the residents who love this city to be able to remain is really important,” the city's chief of environment said.

Friday night's gathering brought together people of different ages and races, not just honoring the end of slavery, but the joys of Black culture -- a subject that is explored in author Thaddeus Miles' book.

“Being able to celebrate the innovations, the excellence, the creativity and the joy of being Black versus having to always talk about the trauma and the pain of being black,” Mile said.

Pain transitioning to joy might look like Juneteenth becoming a state holiday last year, or even a national holiday this year. But leaders believe with that joy should come recognition of what all remains.

“Make sure that we reflect. Make sure that we celebrate. That we come together as a community, as family but also that we put in the work,” Janey said.

Earlier in the day as she and other city residents helped raise a Juneteenth flag over Boston City Hall, Janey -- the first Black Bostonian to hold the city's top political office -- said Black residents of the city have been celebrating the holiday for years, but welcomed the federal action.

"It means that there is a recognition of the inequality that has been here in our country over a number of years, decades, and centuries and that people are willing to do that tough work and that we're going to reflect on that and make sure that we're rolling up our sleeves to tackle what remains,'' Janey told reporters.

Among those participating in the flag-raising ceremony was Lt. Col. Enoch Woodhouse, who is one of the last surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the primarily Black military pilots and airmen who fought in World War II.

"There are some areas that are not going to accept it,'' the 94-year-old Woodhouse said. "But that's why I'm happy to be a Bostonian.''

Baker last July signed legislation officially making June 19 a state holiday after protests gripped the nation following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The move came more than a decade after the state's only Black governor, Deval Patrick, signed the state's first proclamation commemorating Juneteenth in Massachusetts.

NBC10 Boston/The Associated Press
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