Juneteenth

About 20 years ago, I consulted to Clifford Robinson, founder of Juneteenth.com. So, when June 19th suddenly became a federal holiday, I was happy for Clifford. I was happy for anyone who felt “seen” or “centered” or “redeemed” or “triumphant.”

But I was also feeling some type of way. I didn’t quite know why until I saw this:

@CandiceBenbow nailed it.

Still, I wanted to know first-hand if the Juneteenth vibe felt any different now that the holiday had gained white recognition. So, I headed to Oakland for the afternoon.

First stop was the home of Jilchristina Vest at the corner of Center St. and Dr. Huey P. Newton Way, painted on one side with a mural of the women of the Black Panther Party and its first floor converted into the just-opened Black Panther Party Mini-Museum@The Mural.

That event was festive and low-key. A block party featured a DJ, a food truck, and horseback rides. It was a 15-minute wait to get into the museum, which at 1,000 square feet, and still in pandemic days, accommodates just seven or eight people at a time.

I was glad to Venmo the suggested $15 donation on my way in, and even happier I had done so on the way out. Some of the sights seen:

Jil asked us to limit our museum time to 30 minutes. I could have stayed longer, not that there was a lot more content to consume, but because the space echoed with what the Panthers meant to their community. Before leaving, I chatted briefly with Jil and signed her guestbook.

Next stop was the official Juneteenth celebration at Lake Merritt Amphitheatre. I never made it. Traffic and parking was so prohibitive that I parked a mile and a half away and walked downhill to the lake. I passed a UPS truck blaring “What’s a Telephone Bill?”

“Hey, man!” I yelled over the bass. “I am loving that Bootsy!” Dreads in the brown uni lugging a package across the street fired me a raised fist.

When I hit Grand Avenue, the exhaled smoke scent thickened. So did the sidewalk traffic and roar of backfiring motorcycles and 808s booming out of cherry ’64s.

I took a lap through and around the vendor tents near the Lake Merritt Pergola. I saw scant sign of Juneteenth or its historical significance. Instead, I saw this.

My other obligations that Saturday kept me from staying. Maybe that’s a good thing because two hours later and two blocks away:

So, by Sunday morning, I had my answer. “Official” Juneteenth celebration vibe may have changed. Otherwise, same old shit.

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