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Laura Austin Photo / Praise dancer Shirley Blaxon

Juneteenth to be celebrated at RC Community Garden

By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer– 

All are invited to join your friends and neighbors to honor and celebrate Juneteenth from 10 am until 12:30 pm at the Ridgecrest Community Garden, 231 W Haloid Avenue. Last year there were over 200 attendees and this year’s celebration will be even bigger. There will be interactive workshops, activities, amazing food, music, and a Praise Dance performance.

Praise Dancer Shirley Blaxon began Praise Dancing while in high school in Southern California. She continued for 30 years in a career that included teaching, having her own dance company called “Miss Shirley’s Entertainment Dance Company,” and performing in Hollywood.  She tells us, “The thing that I love about the dancing is God moves through me and it’s not something that I just go and makeup. ‘Let’s do  this count, this count.’ He actually just guides me on the dancing, the song. It is just automatic.” Blaxon released a single in 2013 with two of her songs. They can be heard on all music platforms and the music video is on YouTube. Search for “Miss Shirley the Beauty.”

Tyrone Ledford, President and Founder of Ridgecrest Community Garden, is aware that folks don’t really understand the holiday. He says, “Someone posed a question, and they asked, ‘Why do we celebrate Juneteenth or why does anyone outside of Texas celebrate Juneteenth?’” He explains, “Juneteenth is considered the second Independence Day. We know the Fourth of July is our first Independence Day, which was the United States’ independence from Great Britain. But Juneteenth represents the civil war that was going on between the free states and the Confederacy, the South, which Texas was included in. People may not be aware that in 1863 was the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th amendment, and that Proclamation was the freedom of slaves.” He goes on to tell us that Texas did not follow the 13th Amendment, and there were 250 slaves who were not freed.  Freed slaves and White supporters marched to Texas to free those slaves. They accomplished this on June 19, 1865.

Folks began celebrating Juneteenth in 1866 and it became a federal holiday on June 19, 2021. “There is still a lot of stigma behind Juneteenth where people don’t understand exactly what it is.” Many think it is just a Black holiday. “We try to get people to understand is it represents freedom. It represents allies, unity, love and community because it wasn’t just Black people who were fighting for freedom. It was people who believe that everyone should be free.”

Following June 19, 1865, there was a period of time from 1865-1877 referred to as “The Great Hope” and also referred to as “The Restoration.” “This was the point of time when Black people were trying to establish our own communities, build our own schools, run for office,  build our own community,” says Ledford. Then came the Jim Crow period, “Between 1890 and 1910, ten of the eleven former Confederate states, beginning with Mississippi, passed new constitutions or amendments that effectively disenfranchised most Black people and tens of thousands of poor White people through a combination of poll taxes, literacy\and comprehension tests, and residency and record-keeping requirements,”  from Wikipedia.

Then we had the Civil Rights Movement. Ledford points out that assimilation is difficult for Black people because of the obvious color of their skin. Other ethnic groups can kind of blend and get ahead; it may have gone underground and not be quite so obvious, but the struggle continues. At one time 14% of farmland was owned by Black farmers.  Today 0.5% of farmland in America is Black-owned.

Education and fun will be important at the celebration. “We’re going to be hosting other workshops such as making essential oil sprays, a lot of it which ties into Black agriculture. We’re going to be doing a workshop on the history of Juneteenth, like what we’re talking about now, but a little bit more in-depth though and what Juneteenth is and the importance of it also signifying the importance and the value of having community gardens.”

On June 9, 2023, The News Review published “Ridgecrest Community Garden celebrates Juneteenth.”  In that story, we went in-depth about the ins and outs of the garden. Ledford told us, “If you want to learn about gardening, we have our open hours of operation every Saturday from 9 am to 11 am. People who come in learn a lot. We do a lot of work around here. We do weeding, planting, and a lot of garden work, and free-flowing conversations happen. You can ask any questions. I’m usually there, or our plot coordinator or someone from our team is usually there to answer all of your questions. They learn about pretty much everything that we do here. I teach them a lot of strategies and techniques that they can take back home. They leave with produce. They leave with cuttings if they want to start something themselves. It is that type of community that happens here.”