SPRINGBORO, Ohio — The first-ever Juneteenth Jubilee in North Park will be about healing, organizer Craig Salmon-Gilmore said Friday night. There’s a lot of it to do.
First, the reason for the holiday: Healing from the crack down the center of United States history. The enslavement of Black people in North America began before the U.S. declared independence and continued in some form until June 19, 1865, when Union generals arrived in Galveston, Texas, with long-delayed news of their victory over the Confederacy. This year will be the first that date — June 19 — is a recognized federal holiday.
And there’s healing from the many wounds of 2020, which brought a pandemic rolling over the country at the same time as a widespread movement for racial justice.
Salmon-Gilmore, a traveling salesman, spent the year haunted by the death of George Floyd, a Black man murdered by a Minneapolis police officer during an attempted arrest. He was afraid for a long time to leave home, he said.
When he did, he found other frightened people outside.
“When I stepped out, I realized there was a lot of discord and disunity in our community, and… not necessarily distrust, but there were a lot of competing voices and confusion,” he said Friday. “And one of the ways to bring people together is really just having conversation."
He went to City Hall looking for partners. Their race didn’t matter; he wanted allies who were ready to write history and find ways to understand one another better.
He found a group of about 100 like-minded people, but he envisioned a bigger event with more participants.
“I shared that with a couple of people and they looked at me like, ‘OK, big fella. Calm down now,’” he said. “But they got beside me and supported the vision."
The fruit of that vision is the Juneteenth Jubilee, which has city support, sponsors and free marketing from a private company. Attendees can play three-on-three basketball at the Y, get a tour of Springboro’s 27 Underground Railroad safehouses and attend a festival in the park with more than 30 vendors.
One of those vendors: The Warren County Health District, which will bring COVID-19 vaccine doses to offer anyone in attendance. Reaching the Black community is especially important for health workers, said district director Duane Stansbury.
“We know that the African-American community has not been getting the COVID vaccine at the same rates as other groups in Warren County and across the state,” he said.
Although Black Americans were more likely to become seriously ill or die of COVID-19 than other groups, some polls show they also have an elevated level of vaccine hesitancy.
In a poll conducted by the Commonwealth Fund and African-American Research Collaborative, Black respondents were most worried about discrimination from medical professionals and said it made them less likely to get a vaccine. The same study found nearly a third of its 12,000 respondents — all of whom were Black, Latino or Native American — were unwilling to vaccinate their children for fear of negative side effects.
“We know that kids are still getting this, unfortunately,” said Dr. Mary Carol Burkhardy of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “In most cases, kids have slightly more mild symptoms, which is a great thing, but we don't know which kids are going to get more severe illness, end up hospitalized. Because of that, I think we have to be cautious."
Salmon-Gilmore agrees and said he was dismayed to see racial vaccine disparities.
He hopes encouraging people to get vaccinated at the Juneteenth Jubilee can provide a double dose of healing and hope for the future.
The Juneteenth Jubilee begins Saturday in North Park at noon.