Binghamton celebrates with food, education and entertainment

As a child, Tanyah Barnes celebrated Juneteenth at small festivals organized by the black community in her hometown of Tampa, Florida.

After moving to the Southern Tier for a position at Binghamton University, Barnes became an active volunteer with local civic organizations, most notably the Broome-Tioga NAACP, which sponsors Binghamton’s annual June celebration.

This was Barnes’ first year on the Binghamton Juneteenth committee and she estimated the event drew over 500 people to Columbus Park.

“There are a lot more people here than in 2019,” Barnes said.

While Barnes attributes the social isolation of 2020 – the celebration of Juneteenth did not take place last year due to COVID-19 – as a factor in this year’s high turnout, the recent designation of Juneteenth as a day state and federal holidays may also have brought new people to the party.

Governor Andrew Cuomo passed a law declaring Juneteenth a public holiday in New York State in 2020, while President Joe Biden made it a federal holiday on Thursday.

“But this is not a new holiday,” Barnes said. “We’ve been doing Juneteenth here for years.”

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Dance at the Binghamton Juneteenth Community Celebration in Columbus Park on Saturday June 19, 2021.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas, nearly two and a half years after its publication by President Abraham Lincoln.

Barnes said she had “mixed feelings” about Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday.

“I know there have been black activists and policy makers who have been fighting for a long time to have the Juneteenth recognized and I am personally happy to see it recognized as a national holiday,” said Barnes. “But I also want to see the other policy changes that the black community has called for.”

Among the political changes Barnes deems necessary for the black community are the Voter Rights Bill, Criminal Justice Reform and Reparations.

JB Rollins held the grill for the Elks United and Broome-Tioga NAACP at the Binghamton Annual June Celebration at Columbus Park on Saturday, June 19, 2021. The two organizations jointly provide free food for the celebration each year.

“There has to be the re-establishment of policies that would really create equity in the black community,” Barnes said. “There have been generations and generations of generational wealth, education and health care gap.”

The free event kicked off with the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” – the black national anthem – and an afternoon of educational events, entertainment and a basketball tournament. Vendors, food and community services were also provided.

United Elks and Broome-Tioga NAACP member JB Rollins flipped burgers and hot dogs on a flaming grill. The two groups jointly provided free food for the crowd.

“We do it every year,” Rollins said.

Carroll Street Park is referred to by some as Assata Shakur Park, and references to the name have been included in promotions for the event.

Shakur was convicted in New Jersey of murdering a police officer, but escaped prison in 1979 and is one of the FBI’s most wanted people. She was granted political asylum in Cuba, but many activists use her conviction and activism as part of their calls for black justice.

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