The afternoon of June 19, beneath a shade canopy erected at Mountain View's Pioneer Park, about 30 people gathered to celebrate what was, for many attendees, their first Juneteenth.
Juneteenth celebrates the freeing of African American slaves by Union soldiers on June 19, 1865 – two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been written – and has taken on heightened significance this year. The annual celebration follows weeks of protests and civil unrest over the killing of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer, raising questions about systemic racism and the disproportionate use of force on people of color.
During the Mountain View event, a diverse group of people walked from table to table, speaking to discussion leaders tasked with providing information about the history of Juneteenth, the Black Lives Matter movement, and some of the goals of the movement, like what people mean when they say they want to "defund" the police.
Meanwhile, people noshed on free pizza and listened to a playlist celebrating Black musicians.
The event was organized by Justice Vanguard, a group of about 75 people who are in the process of forming an official nonprofit to promote awareness and education around issues that affect Black lives locally, according to leader Kenan Moos of Los Altos.
Moos said that this year's Juneteenth presented an opportunity to promote education and awareness about the holiday in the community.
"At the end of the day it's a celebration, with good vibes and people being happy and talking. I think of it as the Black 4th of July," said Kiyoshi Taylor, a Los Altos High School graduate who is also part of Justice Vanguard.
In his experience growing up in the fairly small Black community in the Mountain View area, Juneteenth was normally marked with a barbecue or perhaps some remarks in church.
Maya Acharya said she had joined the organization because, after growing up on the Peninsula, attending Los Altos High School and then Stanford University, she's come to care deeply about the area – and feel frustrated with its flaws. The whole country reached a breaking point in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing last month and she said she felt the Justice Vanguard was a local, Black-led organization that would help her connect with the community and get involved.
For others, Juneteenth is a new celebration. K'ronnna Harmon, who grew up in Mountain View, led the Black Student Union at Los Altos High School and revived the same organization at Foothill College, which she now leads, said she only learned about Juneteenth about three years ago. Last year she helped organize the first Juneteenth celebration at Foothill College, which was received well. She felt she had to educate herself on the topic because it wasn't something she learned about in school.
She said that she's hoping Juneteenth will become a national holiday.
The history of Juneteenth was new to Briena Brown, who is a Mountain View High School graduate and San Jose State University student. The 4th of July holiday that many Americans equate with a celebration of freedom, she said, celebrates a time, in 1776, when many U.S. residents were not free. Slavery was in effect and would remain so for many years to come.
Four white high school students, who attend various public and private schools in the area, attended because they saw a flyer in downtown Los Altos and wanted to learn more attending recent protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. They're talking about their own privileges, reflecting, and having conversations with family members, they said.
As high school juniors, they just learned about U.S. history, but hadn't learned about Juneteenth.
As U.S. history was presented to them, said Esme Wilson, slavery happened, then Jim Crow laws happened, but things are better now. Olivia Kite added that they hadn't learned about how racism continues to persist in America, like how people of color are disproportionately incarcerated in the U.S.
Charlotte Lindsay said they're trying to get caught up. Amelia Luhrs said she's been watching documentaries on the topic relating to Black history. The things she's learning from those, she said, "should just be common knowledge."
In a flyer, Moos and the Justice Vanguard shared a number of resources, links and recommendations offering guidance on ways to support Black shops and restaurants, how to support the political goals of the movement and what to read and watch to learn more about Black history and experiences.
Access more information at theblackhub.org.
Kevin Forestieri contributed to this report.