Just as all the colors of the prism join together to make a rainbow, all the colors of humanity can join together to make a beautiful promise.
And just as the rainbow that briefly made an appearance at Friday’s Juneteenth Charette, sometimes the most beautiful creations come after terrible storms.
The Juneteenth celebration held at the Judicial Center Plaza in Somerset carried on despite a torrential thunderstorm that opened up just as the event was kicking off. By the evening’s end, however, the sky had cleared and the crowd had grown to fill the Plaza.
The event was labeled a charette, a gathering of minds holding an intense discussion on how to solve a large problem. In this case, the problem was racial prejudice and injustice, and dozens of speakers spoke from the heart to come to a better understanding.
One of those speakers was Pastor Eric Barnes, who told the crowd that Juneteenth was a “day of liberation and deliverance.”
He explained that the day recognizes the moment in history, when in 1865 General Gordon Granger came into Galveston, Texas, and informed the slaves remaining there that they were free.
Barnes talked about how, as a young man, he walked around the streets of Somerset, selling newspapers, “enjoying what I thought was a good life.”
Still, he said he saw himself and colleagues oppressed, saw places where he was turned away from that his white friends were allowed to enter.
“The freedom that we enjoy today is far greater than the freedom our ancestors were privy to. I was never beaten by a whip or chain. But I was enslaved and didn’t know it. I must attribute most of the freedom that we enjoy now to the blood, sweat and tears of those who went before us. To the Civil Rights Act, the Affirmative Action ruling, that changed the laws and allowed us to be able to enjoy the freedoms of drinking from a public fountain.”
While there have been battles won, there is still a long way to go.
One young man, Cameron Perkins, described his life in Chicago before moving to the Somerset area in August.
He said he moved here to attend his junior and senior years at Somerset High School.
The school he attended in Chicago was called the number one high school in the country, he said. “But rankings don’t really reveal the true atmosphere. I wasn’t doing well, and, even going further, I was failing.”
His struggles were due to having a different education in his “south side” junior high than the primarily white attended “north side” school.
And while he said he was never personally a target, he saw several incidents of racism while in that Chicago school.
“To be frank, that place was a living hell that put me in a deep state of depression,” Perkins said.
“I haven’t seen almost any racist incidents like that here. The main difference is, up north they like to snake and be resting in the shadows before it’s exposed. Down here, if somebody doesn’t like you, they’ll say that,” he said.
He said that Somerset was inspiring and the fact that the Juneteenth event was planned shocked him.
His aunt, Kathy Townsend, was one of those organizers. She appeared visibly moved by her nephew’s speech and gave him a big hug afterward.
She admitted after the event that she was proud of him sharing his story.
“I asked him one day, ‘Cam, what do you think about being in Somerset?’ He said, ‘Auntie Kathy, I’m free.’
“When he lived in Chicago, he couldn’t go outside. He couldn’t wear Jordans or trendy clothes and stuff, because they’re killing people up there for stuff like that. And his school, he was having to walk through bad neighborhoods and get on public buses and stuff to get to school every morning. And in the afternoon, it was just dangerous for him.”
Townsend said she was pleased with the turnout of the crowd to the event, although she said it wasn’t the threat of bad weather that weighed on her mind.
“With all the rumors and stuff going around, that’s what I was worried about. I wasn’t worried about Somerset stepping up. We always do.”
One of the agenda items that was planned and didn’t take place was going to be the signing of a proclamation by Somerset Mayor Alan Keck formally recognizing June 19 and Juneteenth, but they were beaten to it by Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s own proclamation recognizing Juneteenth as National Freedom Day.
She said she was pleased with the Governor’s actions, and the group decided simply to announce the Governor’s proclamation rather than do one of their own.
One of the event’s other organizers, JaKaye Garth, talked about the announcement on the decision to create a Community Diversity Board, saying to “stay tuned” for more information on that.
She, too, said she was happy to see the size of the crowd
“I’m shocked by the amount of people who came in. I was hoping for a nice crowd, but I wasn’t expecting it, especially after the downpour. Just to see so many people come out, it just goes to prove that this is the start. We have to continue to do things like this and to embrace the diversity we have here in Somerset,” Garth said.
Townsend said of the entire event, “I’m just happy. There’s horrible things going on in the world, and anytime our community comes together and just embraces each other, it’s the best thing ever. They showed up and stood up today. I’m happy.”
Although not a speaker at Friday’s event, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate and Georgetown resident Amy McGrath attended.
After the event, McGrath said she was glad to see people from all walks of life come together and stand in solidarity.
“It’s very moving. It’s very American, and I’m proud of Pulaski County. I’m proud of Somerset. I’m proud of Kentucky.”