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State College Gathers For Second-Ever Juneteenth Celebration

Matt DiSanto

Hundreds of State College community members gathered downtown Saturday to celebrate Juneteenth just two days after it became a nationally recognized holiday.

At Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza, borough residents sang, danced, and recited poems to recognize Juneteenth, which celebrates that day in 1865 when a quarter million Black slaves in Galveston, Texas, were finally freed. This weekend’s festivities, organized by State College’s NAACP chapter, marked the borough’s second Juneteenth celebration.

NAACP President Lorraine Jones spoke and described Juneteenth’s origins. Jones said she hopes it will one day become an even larger celebration across the country.

“Soon, the day will come [when] in unison, we all will say, ‘Forever and ever, all Americans will celebrate Juneteenth, the freedom holiday!'” Jones said.

Later, community members recited both original works and poems from well-known authors like Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes. Most of their themes centered around freedom, liberation, and love.

Alyssa Stanford, a rising junior at Penn State, performed a passage from Margaret Walker’s “For My People.” Although the poem was published in 1989, Stanford said its message still rings true today.

“Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a bloody peace be written in the sky,” Stanford recited. “Let a second generation full of courage issue forth. Let a people loving freedom come to growth.”

Saturday’s event, titled “Remembering Our Freedom, Empowering Our Future,” also placed a heavy emphasis on youth and education. The majority of the afternoon’s speakers were students from Penn State and State College Area High School.

Jones later took the stage again and provided new details for a scholarship created in honor of Osaze Osagie, a Black man shot and killed by State College police in March 2019. The award aims to support racially underrepresented high schoolers who serve the community and are heading to college with financial need.

“By providing access to college degrees for our emerging young leaders, we can empower the next generation and create an equitable and inclusive society and lift up our entire community,” Jones said.

The scholarship in Osagie’s name will be awarded over the summer to aid students for the 2021-22 school year. The fund is supported by donations collected through Centre Foundation.

In her closing remarks, local activist Leslie Laing encouraged community members to continue honoring the past while striving toward a more equitable future.

“Our struggle continues, but we rise. Our collective success has not been free nor easy, but we rise,” Laing said. “So beyond today, let’s remember our freedom and empower our future together. Creatively, reimagine our world as a just world as we have all proclaimed it to be.”