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San Diego Union-Tribune, June 2003

Good Time Is Had in Memorial Park: Juneteenth marked with dance, food, music

San Diego Union-Tribune (June 22, 2003)
By Ray Huard

Children from Nativity Prep Academy performed a hip-hop routine yesterday at a Juneteenth celebration at Memorial Park in Logan Heights. (Nelvin Cepeda/Union-Tribune)

Logan Heights—Twelve-year-old Jennifer Damian could hardly contain herself after scampering up a rock-climbing wall and dancing to hip hop music at Memorial Park in Logan Heights yesterday.

“It’s really fun and exciting,” Jennifer said, as friends circled around giggling and shouting out what they liked best about the day’s Juneteenth celebrations.

“Dancing” is what made tile day for Elizabeth Salinas. She and Jennifer were among 18 students from the nearby Nativity Prep Academy who performed hip-hop dance routines as part of San Diego’s Juneteenth celebrations.

“It’s great because it lets us perform and stuff and it’s a community thing,” Elizabeth said.

The Juneteenth holiday was declared after June 19, 1865, when slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned President Lincoln had ended slavery two years earlier. Until then, Texas leaders had refused to acknowledge the Emancipation Proclamation.

Community activist Maxine Wilson started the Juneteenth celebrations in San Diego five years ago. A native of Beaumont, Texas, Wilson said Juneteenth was a time for big-time partying in the South and she wanted to bring some of that exuberance to San Diego.

“I just decided there were a lot of people out here from the South, they knew about the 19th of June, I thought we should celebrate,” Wilson said. ’’To have a good time, eat, listen to the music and energy, that’s what the 19th of June is all about.”

There was no lack of energy in Memorial Park with children darting from food stands to a rock-climbing wall with a quick stop to pick up a free animal balloon from Blinky the Clown.

“I’m loving it,” said Kisha Allen, who came to watch her 11-year-old son, Dante, dance with the Troop Nativity Prep hip-hop group from Nativity Prep Academy. Peggy Ledbetter, a master teacher at Brooklyn Head Start, was using the event to recruit students for her free child-care program. Too many working parents need child care but don’t realize it’s available so close to home, Ledbetter said. With the program’s five-year-olds moving on to kindergarten, “we’re going to have plenty of space,” she said.

Curtis Kirkland, 12, a sixth grader at Nativity Prep, was beyond the Head Start age but said the Juneteenth Party was just what he was looking for this weekend. He said he’s moving into the neighborhood soon and “I want to meet new friends.”

Robert Grimes said it was great to see people celebrate Juneteenth in his community. “As an African-American, Juneteenth has a lot of meaning to me,” Grimes said. But he wasn’t so sure whether many of the children understood it. Nativity Prep student, eleven-year-old Pedro Valdez, could tell him. ’’They freed the slaves and they paid them to work and they (slaves) got a real home,” Pedro said.

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