Hakeem Croom, program coordinator at Sacramento State's Martin Luther King Jr. Center, explains the significance of Juneteenth. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)
By Cynthia Hubert
Juneteenth, a celebration of the end of slavery in the United States, has taken on even greater significance this year as calls for racial justice resound across the country.
Sacramento State is playing a key role in this year’s regional Juneteenth Festival, which is online as a concession to coronavirus concerns.
The free festival, which features virtual workshops, exhibition booths, video conferences, entertainment and more, continues through Sunday, June 28, on the Juneteenth website.
Recent events around the country, most pointedly the killing of unarmed Black people by police officers, “clearly show that black lives are still under attack socially, economically, mentally and physically,” said Rick Warren, an events planner and founder of the festival.
“Juneteenth is a time to remember, to honor and to prepare for a better and more unified future,” he said. “Now more than ever we have to honor the meaning and legacy of Juneteenth.”
Marcellene Watson-Derbigny, Sac State associate vice president for Student Retention and Academic Success, said the festival represents an opportunity for African Americans to access tools to “ensure equality of opportunity in our communities and to promote progress and success.”
Since its inception 26 years ago, the annual festival has been held in parks and various other indoor and outdoor venues. Warren said he hopes people will embrace the virtual celebration, and that it will reach people from far beyond the Sacramento region.
“By going virtual, the event will add new attractions, multiply attendance, host seminars, create business connections, and will allow attendees to enjoy the essence of the African American culture on any device at any time,” Warren said.
Participants are attending a virtual jobs fair, learning about Black history, and obtaining information about home ownership and small-business loans, among other resources.
Entertainment includes a hair show, a fashion show, cooking demonstrations, and concerts.
“Zoomteenth” community forums address issues such as health care, economic empowerment, social justice, and voting and the census.
Sac State is one of the main sponsors of the event. President Robert S. Nelsen welcomes participants in a video, and students and faculty organized workshops and other presentations.
“Sac State’s participation is crucial because the University represents the educational apex of Sacramento,” Warren said.
Among other features, a team of students from Sac State’s MLK Center have organized an online forum featuring Black leaders in the region, said Hakeem Croom, the center’s coordinator. Other speakers discuss the black experience at Sac State.
The University has implemented various efforts to recruit, retain and graduate more Black students. During the past year, Croom said, Sac State has created a Black Scholar Leader Coalition to foster community and collaboration among African American students. Virtual summer programs will focus on issues such as mental wellness, identity, community, and career development.
Croom and his colleagues are working toward building “a better sense of belonging and community” for black students, he said.
African Americans “sometimes feel invisible” on a campus where they represent less than 6 percent of the student population, Croom said.
“From a cultural standpoint, I want these students to know that we love them and welcome them,” he said. “When you do that, you create a different energy vibe, and it’s transferable.
“We’re making strides and doing what we can to create a community that’s all about inclusive excellence and equity.”
Croom said he hopes students and others will take advantage of the Juneteenth Festival, which “is a special holiday and a special part of our history.”
“I really hope it plants some seeds, and that folks will dig more deeply into African American history and how we got to where we are today,” he said. “I want them to take what they learn and use it as a springboard into action to help combat racial injustice.”