SARATOGA SPRINGS – The sparse crowd in the early goings of Saratoga Black Lives Matter’s Juneteenth celebration Monday was largely due to the fact that many members of the movement were in Albany to be part of the reaction following a police officer-involved shooting.
“There are a lot of organizations that are trying to split their time between being there for that and then coming here as well,” said Chandler Hickenbottom, a Saratoga BLM organizer. “So we expect people to start trickling in eventually, but the shooting just happened a couple of hours ago, so it’s pretty crazy right now.”
The fact that organizers had to split their time between advocacy in response to the Albany incident – in which Albany Police reported that police shot a man after an Albany Police officer was stabbed – and celebration on Monday proves that when it comes to racial justice, more progress is still needed, Hickenbottom said.
In fact, that message was echoed by many people at Saratoga BLM’s Juneteenth celebration at Saratoga Spa State Park.
“It’s important that we not only be celebrating the work that we’ve done toward Black liberation and towards liberation for everybody, but also be working together to continue that, because there is still a lot of work to be done,” said Natalya Lakhtakia, who is a member of the Saratoga Springs City School District ‘s Board of Education, but who said she was at Monday’s event as a member of the public. “I think it’s important that any sort of accomplishments that we make don’t mean the work is done.”
Monday marked the first time that many Americans had the day off from work and school in honor of Juneteenth, which was officially made into a federal holiday for the first time last year when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.
But this year’s Juneteenth celebrations also come just more than a month after a deadly mass shooting at a Tops Friendly Markets store in Buffalo specifically targeted Black people. In fact, several Saratoga BLM organizers attended Buffalo Juneteenth festivities over the weekend, which was part of the reason the group decided to hold local festivities on Monday rather than Sunday, said T.J. Sangare, an organizer, as he finished wrapping picnic tables in red, green and gold tablecloths – the colors representing Pan-Africanist ideology.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Gen. Gordon Granger marched into Galveston, Texas, and read a declaration announcing that all the slaves who continued to be held in bondage were free, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.
This year was Saratoga BLM’s second-annual Juneteenth celebration. It featured live music, poetry, speakers and a voter registration drive, among other elements. Organizers anticipated a turnout of about 100 people, though only a couple dozen were at the pavilion about 40 minutes after the scheduled start.
The event was co-sponsored by Planned Parenthood of Greater New York. Many of Planned Parenthood’s patients are part of oft-marginalized groups – whether they identify as persons of color, LGBTQ+ or another identity – so it is important to spread a message of unity and inclusion, said Nicole Margiasso, director of Organizing with Planned Parenthood of Greater New York.
“Sometimes, what it looks like to serve our patients is to show up in other ways in the community,” Margiasso said. “We stand in solidarity with our Black community members and their fight for racial justice. All of these rights intersect with each other, so if we are going to stand for one we really have to stand for them all.”
Benjamin Samaniuk, 14, of Niskayuna, said he’s glad Black history is finally starting to get more attention.
“African-American culture is often overlooked, and it’s so important,” he said. “People learn to coexist with other cultures more when they are introduced to other cultures at a younger age.”
Members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation were setting up a tent at which visitors could use stencils to decorate tote bags in the shape of luminaries and leaders like Malcolm X and Harriet Tubman, said Chris Garramone, an organizer with the group.
But beyond a party favor, Garramone hoped attendees would come away with a calling.
“Through events like this, the community comes together and sees the strength that they have by coming together for a common cause,” Garramone said. “That’s to celebrate one of the greatest events in United States history – the overthrowing of slavery – and the recognition that the job is not done.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.