Across Boston Friday, Juneteenth celebrations attracted crowds of celebrants and protesters demanding racial justice amid a pandemic that has staggered communities of color and a global uprising against police killings of Black Americans.
Joy was in the air as crowds gathered to celebrate the day commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Long celebrated by Black Americans, the holiday has drawn broader attention this year as the country reckons with deep issues of racial injustice.
At Ronan Park in Dorchester, people gathered for a rally hosted by Mass Action Against Police Brutality, taking seats on a grassy hill or snacking on free vegan empanadas.
The gathering had the feeling of a music festival, as the crowd listened to live performances and speakers. Two recently graduated MassArt students handed out block-printed patches emblazoned with the rallying cries “Defund the Police” and “#BLM.”
“I think it shows the sense of community that happens at these rallies,” said Laura Lewis, 26, after getting a patch. Lewis had biked from Cambridge as part of a fund-raiser for the Movement for Black Lives and Black Trans Advocacy Coalition.
Carla Sheffield, the mother of Burrell Ramsey-White, a 26-year-old Black man who was killed by Boston police in 2012, spoke to the crowd in between musical performances, telling them “enough is enough.”
“When I saw George Floyd call out for his mother, I felt my son calling for me,” Sheffield said, her voice breaking. She said her 16-year-old daughter is scared to go outside, fearing the police.
In Franklin Park, Jedaya Barboza and Josue Joseph organized an event called “Breaking the Chains” for their friends and acquaintances who wanted a joyful, spiritual Juneteenth.
They set up just before 4 p.m., equipped with yoga mats, a charcoal grill, and plenty of water. Barboza grew up celebrating Juneteenth in Franklin Park.
“We just want to enjoy the day,” said Jerry Napoleon, who came from Brockton to join Barboza and Joseph in setting up. He said the day was a bright spot amid a heavy time. “We need joy, too. . . . We all need to be centered and work on ourselves. We can’t lose ourselves.”
As the group trickled in over the late afternoon, there were hugs socially distant greetings, laughter, and discussions about freedom. Many in the group were of Haitian descent and had not celebrated Juneteenth as children.
“I wish I grew up celebrating it,” said Makeda Nicolas, who grew up in Mattapan but moved to Dorchester a few years ago. “When I moved to Dorchester, I got educated [on Juneteenth]. Every year, I learn more.”
Nearby, the Boston Latin Academy Black Student Union and Alumni network gathered for its first Juneteenth celebration, enjoying music, food and fellowship.
Kaylah Tshitenge, a Boston Latin Academy rising junior, said she grew up celebrating the day with her family. “It’s our Independence Day,” Tshitenge said.
Gathered around a tent, the upbeat crowd was dotted with teens and young adults wearing custom T-shirts that read, “Melanin Made.”
A short distance away in Grove Hall, a small crowd gathered on the median of Blue Hill Avenue in the withering heat, holding protest signs as passing drivers honked their support. One sign read simply, “Enough.”
The crowd chanted, “No justice, no peace!”
At a Black Lives Matter rally in Town Field Park in Dorchester, hundreds stood socially distanced or sat in the shade.
DotHouse Health distributed masks and hand sanitizer, and the Dorchester Art Project ran an art-making table, where attendees spray-painted Black Lives Matter signs.
“Making a protest sign is art,” said Emma Leavitt, the director of the community-focused gallery.
“This is something everyone wants to be a part of,” said Joel Richards, one of the organizers of the event, which included about 20 community groups. He said the gathering would be a rally, not a march, so that participants would be able to spend time in community with each other.
Nearby, attendees gathered around an art installation created by Darren Wells, his granddaughter Ariana Peralta, and other local artists.
A huge sculpture of a black-and-white head was emblazoned with the words “Mask up!” on one side and “Speak out!” on the other.
“We have to protect our health even though we’re coming out to fight for things like this,” said Peralta, who is 20 and a student at Northeastern University. But, she added, “we don’t want a mask to be a muzzle.”
At one point, a small group holding signs that said, “Supporting the Police is Gracious not Racist” was drowned out by hundreds chanting, “Black Lives Matter” as drums and a tambourine provided percussion. Police escorted one man from the pro-police group away.
“He was being racist, and this is a Black Lives Matter protest,” said Claudia Tavares, 36, of Brockton. She stood on a rock holding a sign that said “Breaking every chain since 1865.”
At the University of Massachusetts Boston, the campus NAACP group led attendees in creating a memorial of cardboard tombstones for Black people killed by police violence. City Council President Kim Janey addressed a group of about 25 young people, thanking them for their activism.
“Young people are always the fuel of any movement,” Janey said.
Hours earlier, Governor Charlie Baker told reporters during a State House briefing that his office had issued a proclamation declaring Friday to be Juneteenth in Massachusetts.
The holiday, Baker said, provides “a chance for us to recommit ourselves to building a more equal and just society. This year as we engage in a national conversation around racial injustice, recognizing this holiday is more important than ever.”
Baker’s words were echoed by Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who raised a Juneteenth flag at City Hall Friday and last week declared racism a public health crisis in Boston. He also discussed the holiday in a video address Friday.
“It’s a day when we commemorate the end of slavery in the United States,” Walsh said. “One hundred and fifty-five years ago, our nation took a step forward out of darkness and towards greater equality and deeper humanity. Black Americans led the way, resisting slavery, demanding freedom, and calling our nation to justice. ... That legacy continues today, and the fight for freedom and equality continues today.”
Also on Friday, Boston Globe Editorial Page editor Bina Venkataraman interviewed Ibram Kendi, author of “The Black Campus Movement” and “How to Be an Antiracist,” about how to build an antiracist movement and his appointment to lead a new antiracism research center at Boston University.
Kendi noted the school’s connection to Martin Luther King Jr. and other critical thinkers — and the city’s role as a cradle of the 19th-century abolitionist movement.
The city’s reputation on matters of race didn’t faze him, he said — reminding listeners that even when Boston was home to leading abolitionists, there were also virulent opponents in the city.
“As someone who’s lived in Philadelphia, in Providence, Rhode Island, in Washington, D.C., who grew up in New York City, I haven’t really lived in a place where I didn’t experience anti-Black racism,” he said.
Dasia Moore is the Globe Magazine's staff writer. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @daijmoore. Danny McDonald can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him @Danny__McDonald. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @jeremycfox. Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com.