Valley marks Juneteenth - ‘People around the world are seeing what people in our backyards refuse to see’
“They didn’t educate me in Allentown High School about Black people,” said Disley Mendez, past president of the Black Student Union at William Allen. “They said we were slaves and that Martin Luther King came in and saved the day. They didn’t tell me we were descended from kings and queens.”
The recent high school graduate spoke at Resurrected Life Church in Allentown as a crowd of about 125 gathered on the North Ninth Street campus of the church to celebrate Juneteenth.
Originally scheduled for the previous week, the event was postponed due to threatening weather.
Juneteenth memorializes the date of June 19, 1865, when, months after the end of the Civil War, news came to slaves in Texas that they were free. The date now seems on track to gain status as a legally recognized holiday.
The crowd, a mix of Black, Latino and white men and women and children, were mostly wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
“We stand at this place at this time to declare: We done dying! We done dying! We done dying!” extolled Pastor Dr. Greg Edwards of the Resurrected Life Church in resonant tones, his voice reaching out to the farthest attendee.
He led the crowd in a call and response chorus recounting the lengthy list of those who have died at the hands of police departments around the country. He ended his litany of names with 23-year old Elijah McClain, the young man who died Aug. 24, 2019, shortly after being in the custody of Aurora, Colorado, police.
“For too long, justice has meant Just Them!” Edwards said.
He said Allentown is 71 percent people of color.
“The city must have a reckoning with its racist past and be accountable for its toxic present,” Edwards said. “People around the world are seeing what people in our backyards refuse to see: Black lives matter.”