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Newton celebrates Juneteenth as ‘a day of freedom and reflection’

Marie-France Noel showing her lifestyle brand, KADOKÉLÉ at Newton’s Juneteenth celebration.Antonia Quinn

Newton celebrated its second Juneteenth this year — a commemoration of the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans. The event was held at Newton North High School and featured Black-owned businesses, community performers, artists, and speakers.

“Juneteenth is a day of freedom and reflection,” said Robert Adams, event organizer and executive committee member of Newton’s Families Organizing for Racial Justice — a group aiming to empower residents to stand up for racial justice and build a network of support for racial equity. “It’s a day to recognize all of the struggles the generations that came before us faced, celebrate our progress, and remain committed to building a better and more equitable future.”

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Newton has an “appetite” for combating racial injustice, Adams said, but the racial reckoning the nation pushed for after George Floyd’s death is not complete.

“It’s important to move forward, while keeping the past in mind,” he said.

Some attendees sat and watched the performances and speeches, while others grabbed a bite to eat from the Kreyol food truck or walked along the perimeter of the school’s pickup and dropoff circle, stopping at tables to browse goods such as jewelry and art.

“Juneteenth is such a special day. I’m really glad to see the community show up,” said Marie-France Noel, founder of lifestyle brand KADOKÉLÉ.

Newton North High School student volunteer Sara Warner-Dorval said she thinks it was important for the government to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday.

“July 4 doesn’t really represent freedom for the Black community, but June 19 is a day all Americans can celebrate,” she said. “I think a lot of people didn’t really understand what Juneteenth was a couple years ago.”

This year’s turnout was good, Warner-Dorval said, though she noted there were few high school students at the event.

Adams said engaging students is one of the Families Organizing for Racial Justice’s key challenges and an area of focus.

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“We have a great relationship with the schools, we’ve worked with various affinity groups, and we have really gone out of our way to expand our work to the greater Boston area.”

Adams said Families Organizing for Racial Justice is looking to collaborate with surrounding communities on projects and expand its reach, so Black students in Newton can connect with other Black students from neighboring cities as well.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when a Union Army officer arrived in Galveston, Texas, about two months after the war ended and notified Black people they had been freed from slavery.

Since President Biden signed Juneteenth into federal law on June 17 of last year, some school districts across the country have acknowledged the holiday for the first time. About half of the states in this country do not recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday.

“To be fair, I never learned about it in school. I had to learn about it from my parents,” Warner-Dorval said. “But I think people know more about Juneteenth now than ever before, and that’s a great thing.”

Antonia Quinn can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.

Musical artist St. Lexxo performs a newly released song at Newton’s Juneteenth celebration. Antonia Quinn
Children in the community paint fences and take turns blowing bubbles while musical artist St. Lexxo performs. Antonia Quinn