‘We’re very community-oriented’: Lawrence celebrates Juneteenth with parade, street party

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Lawrence resident and community advocate Sheryl Sanders said her mother used to say, “You cannot have a sense of self unless you put yourself into the service of others.”

“Since we were little bitty, we were in service to the community and everything,” Sanders said, her sister Denene Turner, sitting across from her and nodding in agreement.

“We picked occupations that, you know, you’re not gonna make any money, but it’s fulfilling.”

Sanders has lived in Lawrence for 25 years and has worked for the Lawrence Community Shelter for 10. She and her family members — several, including her, representing local nonprofits — came out to the community Juneteenth celebration on Saturday in downtown Lawrence.

Maya Hodison/Lawrence Times Sheryl Sanders, at right, and her sister Denene Turner

“It’s about everybody,” Sanders said. “Everybody could just come out and enjoy this. And it’s not just an all-Black thing. I think people are realizing that, and I like that.”

Local vendors were set up in South Park, selling food, art, jewelry and more. Organizations were stationed to share resources and volunteering opportunities.

On stage, community members were honored and musicians performed throughout the day. An Underground Railroad tour, exchanges of oral histories and a kids corner rounded out the day.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Phyllis Wilson, at center

Lawrence resident Phyllis Wilson could be seen dancing to live music on the sidewalks as she browsed local vendor stands, her energy reflecting a celebration of Black liberation.

What she loves most about Lawrence is the interconnectedness.

“We’re very community-oriented,” Wilson said. “People are just really involved in the city, creating a positive, bright future for our city. The importance of today is to bring awareness and to celebrate where we’re from — not only that but the vendors out here need that support, that type of community. And we learn a lot from history, and it keeps our culture rich.”

Albert Ballard and his wife Barbara Ballard, Kansas state representative, came to Lawrence in 1980.

Albert, a retired military officer who spent 20 years in active duty, has witnessed Lawrence evolve over the years — notably, many of the streets have changed, he said and laughed.

Maya Hodison/Lawrence Times Albert Ballard

“My last year being stationed was at Fort Riley,” Albert said. “And my wife at that time was going to K-State, and she’d decided to follow me for 10 years, so I told her when she finished I’d follow her for 10 years and then we’ll settle wherever.”

Being at the Juneteenth celebration Saturday reminded him of history teaching enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 were the last to hear of their liberation, which officially enacted the Emancipation Proclamation. He said although Black Americans still feel the impacts of systemic racism, they should dare to dream.

“During slavery time, the slaves had no voice,” Albert said. “But now the Blacks have the power to actually make their own way. They have an opportunity to go to school, they have an opportunity to pursue any career that they want to. So there have been many opportunities open, and so all they have to do is to prepare in order to take the different positions open.”

Sanders said in reality, the current social and political climate can be disheartening. But that just calls for more togetherness, she said.

“I don’t understand that we have these kinds of celebrations, and in the same vein, politicians are saying that our history doesn’t matter — that nothing about us matters,” Sanders said. “That really bothers me. So you come here and you see all this, and it’s bittersweet because tomorrow we’ll look at the news, and it’ll be ‘This has happened’ or ‘that’s happened.’”

Nonetheless, in celebration of Juneteenth, generations intermingled Saturday.

Maya Hodison/Lawrence Times Amiriah Akins, second from the right, and her group of friends

Amiriah Akins, of Topeka, came out to the event Saturday with her group of friends, a mixture of Lawrence and Topeka high school students.

“It’s really fun. I got to see my best friend and hang out with my sister and my family, so I’m having a good time,” Akins said. “I think that for us, (Juneteenth) means that we all come together as a family to celebrate one another and just to represent that Black community.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Lawrence middle schooler Tay’Jah Franklin, who competed as Miss Lawrence in the National American Miss Pageant in November 2023, speaks during the 2024 Lawrence Juneteenth celebration.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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Gray coneflower, Ratibida pinnata, is a long blooming native perennial whose name refers to the gray cone under the brown disk florets, here being visited by a bumblebee interested in their sweet nectar.

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