PALMDALE — It took four organizers just four months to produce the first Juneteenth celebration at the Ponticlán Square, a day-long event on Saturday that brought out dozens of locals to enjoy a live band, soulful singers and some 50 vendor booths, featuring sororities, clothes, food and drinks — and a booth dedicated to collecting signatures for the recall of three members of the Antelope Valley Union High School District board of trustees.
The theme of this Juneteenth celebration, the first of several taking place in the Antelope Valley, was “Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow.” The programming slate included cultural awareness workshops focusing on contemporary issues facing African-Americans, such as health, education, business and farming.
Littlerock councilwoman and nonprofit founder Waunette Cullors co-organized the event with James Brooks, who oversaw the entertainment portion; Glynnis Mason; and Jessie Smith.
Cullors said there was some difficulty in attracting sponsors, and even despite not breaking even, she was optimistic the success of this year’s event would pave the way for the next year.
“You sometimes have to step out to make it happen,” Cullors said. “In the future we hope to attract sponsors that want to align with our mission in the community.”
The gathering functioned as a bazaar for small businesses and entrepreneurs to show off their products and services and interact with attendees.
Ayorkor Abban, who has lived in the area six years after moving from New Jersey, had a booth with African fabric. Alongside her in the booth, Habiba Salifu, who has lived in the Antelope Valley for more than 20 years, laid out items from her nascent jewelry business, EthnicRhythms.
“Now that I retired this year, I can get started doing this full time,” said Salifu, who is originally from Ghana and had worked at Rite-Aid for nearly two decades.
The two small business owners said Juneteenth represented “black liberation and empowerment” and the opportunity to showcase the culture authentically and creating stronger bonds within the community.
“The more they get to know us, that’s where the friendship begins,” Salifu said.
Sitting at a table in a booth promoting an online hemp business, Alphonso White, of Lancaster, said community events like this Juneteenth were an invaluable networking tool with a “family feel.”
“It gives you a chance to network with all types of people,” White said. “You might run into anybody.”
White, a student at Antelope Valley College, said he attended a Juneteenth event at the school last year. Its significance is that it “gives people a chance to learn about their heritage and have pride about themselves.”
Juneteenth became a celebrated occasion when slaves in Texas discovered that they were free from colonial slavery two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This discovery took place around June 19, 1865, and the historical day is now celebrated as “Juneteenth” worldwide.
State Assemblyman Tom Lackey addressed the crowd during the day-long event and state Sen. Scott Wilk dropped by as well. The organizers were also presented with a Congressional proclamation from U.S. Rep. Katie Hill.
“Celebrating Juneteenth in the city of Palmdale this year provides an unprecedented opportunity to reach people we ordinarily would not reach, and share the rich and rewarding history of African Americans celebrating this worldwide event,” Cullors said.