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In Harlem, Hundreds Gathered for a Juneteenth Celebration Like No Other

This Juneteenth looked rather different in New York than it had in years past. The day—which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S.—goes back more than 150 years; yet seldom has it had so much visibility. After last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, Governor Andrew Cuomo made Juneteenth a holiday within the state (as Texas and Pennsylvania had done some time before), remarking that it was “a day that is especially relevant in this moment in history”; and just last week, President Biden passed a bill to recognize June 19 as a holiday federally.

With skies blue, temperatures high, and masking restrictions mostly lifted, the atmosphere in the city this weekend was ripe for both solidarity and celebration; and all manner of events were planned to mark the occasion. One was a sprawling march-slash-5K-slash-barbecue in Upper Manhattan, organized by a network of community associations, running groups, and creatives including the stylist Gabriel Garmon. After sounding the call for an especially moving demonstration in honor of George Floyd last summer, Garmon helped to plan an afternoon on Saturday that married performance and political engagement, art and activism.

The Juneteenth March began on Edgecombe and 168th Street in Washington Heights with remarks from Manhattan District Attorney candidate Alvin Bragg and City Council candidates Johanna Garcia and Corey Ortega. It then proceeded along the perimeters of Highbridge Park, Jackie Robinson Park, and St. Nicholas Park before concluding in Morningside Park, where the Marching Cobras Drumline and Danceline performed and figures including mayoral candidate Andrew Yang and City Council candidates William Allen, Brian Benjamin, and Ben Kallos spoke about healthcare and wellness. Ending the day was a screening of Summer of Soul—a new documentary by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson—in Marcus Garvey Park.

Attracting more than 30 volunteers and hundreds of attendees (several of whom are pictured below), the march was a rousing success; but for Garmon, the fight for equality is a year-round effort. Among the changes that he and his cohort would still like to see are voting rights protections, reparations, and better education around the history of American race relations. “I didn’t learn about Juneteenth until I was 18 or 19 years old—like, we didn’t learn about that in school,” he says. “I didn’t know about it until I did my own research.”

More than anything, however, he wants national conversations around race and racial justice to keep going. “Just, let’s talk about it,” Garmon says. “I know it’s an uncomfortable conversation, but it needs to be talked about.”

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