Juneteenth is now a federal holiday commemorating this date in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas were told they were free. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports.  Credit: Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp; A.J. Singh

This story was reported by Maureen Mullarkey, Nicholas Spangler, Nicolas Villamil and Nayden Villorente. It was written by Spangler.

On Juneteenth, the anniversary of slavery's end in the United States, Long Islanders celebrated at churches, parks and even a hospital. On this young holiday, they celebrated as suburbanites have for generations, with festivals and shared meals, in gatherings of family and neighbors both large and small.   

“We wanted to show what community looks like and how we want to celebrate Juneteenth,” said Tijuana Fulford at First Baptist Church in Riverhead, one of many commemorations held Wednesday to mark the federal holiday first recognized in the United States in 2021.

Fulford, founder of The Butterfly Effect Project, a nonprofit serving girls with enrichment and life skills programs, put on a feast with her group’s young members. More than 35 vendors and Butterfly members set up tables in the parking lot and yard of First Baptist, where the group is based. Guests strolled table to table, enticed by the smell of banana pudding, fried chicken and lima beans.

There were dance performances and hair-braiding. People played Connect Four and cornhole.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Long Islanders celebrated the Juneteenth holiday Wednesday at churches, parks and even a hospital.
  • The federal holiday was first recognized in the United States in 2021.
  • Juneteenth marks the date, June 19, 1865, when a Union general told enslaved Black residents of Galveston, Texas, they were free.
Kristine Goree owner of Natural Native Hair Visions in Southhampton...

Kristine Goree owner of Natural Native Hair Visions in Southhampton braiding hair at The Butterfly Effect Project “Juneteenth: A Celebration of Community” at the First Baptist Church of Riverhead on Wednesday. Credit: A.J.Singh

Juneteenth marks the date, June 19, 1865, when a Union general told enslaved Black residents of Galveston, Texas, they were free, more than two months after the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and about 2 ½ years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

A day of liberation

First Baptist Assistant Pastor Rev. Cynthia Liggon said it was fitting to hold a Juneteenth celebration at church. The church as an institution, she said, had been foundational to many Black people's lives since the time of Emancipation. “I want to do those things that are goal-oriented, deliberate and intentional and targeted at specific populations, so that they have everything they need to be fully emancipated,” she said.

Fulford said the day was for everyone. “Every person has been liberated from something, no matter who you are,” she said. “Each person has played a part in our history. There is no Black history, it’s our history.”

At Joy Fest in West Hempstead's Hempstead Lake Park, Long Islanders lined up for ice cream, face painting, rides on the park carousel and the festival's first-ever father-child basketball game. “Joy allows us to continue to feel the hope,” said Assemb. Taylor Darling (D-Hempstead), one of the event organizers. “It allows us to progress forward and not fixate on the trauma and turmoil that has come with having to build a foundation of a country on slavery.”

Wednesday's event was the first time Joy Fest was held on Juneteenth. For some attendees, the history of the day had powerful personal resonance.

“A lot of us have forgotten what our ancestors have had to go through and their unwavering commitment to freedom [and] putting everything on the line to escape slavery,” said Rhonda Taylor, of Freeport.

Phyllis Tinsley, of West Hempstead, said she was a descendant of enslaved people. “My mother would tell us stories about what had happened to her family,” she said. “We need to make sure that we know our history, and that this doesn't happen again.”

Seeking freedom from a disease

At the Shine The Light Runway Fashion Show at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Glen Oaks, organizers said they hoped to draw attention to sickle cell disease, which affects more than 100,000 Americans, most of them Black.

Sydney Glover walks down the runway as sickle cell patients...

Sydney Glover walks down the runway as sickle cell patients celebrate Juneteenth by participating in a fashion show at Cohen Children's Medical Center on Wednesday in Glen Oaks. Credit: Howard Schnapp

“It means the world to us,” said organizer Sharine Holness, of Roosevelt. “I hope to show everyone these kids are more than just sickle cell.”

Holness has watched three of her four children struggle with the disease, she said. She has also seen them energized and motivated by an appreciation for fashion, especially the annual Met Gala, an inspiration for Shine the Light. At the Shine show, models in gowns or suits walked a red carpet in front of cheering spectators.

Holness’ oldest daughter, Jennifer, 20, appeared in the show alongside her twin siblings, Kayla and Vernon, who are both 19. Jennifer was the oldest participant in the show, with children as young as 3 also joining in.

A student at Nassau Community College with hopes of becoming a medical assistant, Jennifer Holness said her nurses, who “are like family” to her, had inspired her to become a fashion designer.

About one in 13 Black or African American babies are born with the sickle cell trait. The condition can cause pain so acute it requires hospitalization. “These patients go through a lot,” said Blandine Alexandre, a hospital nurse who works with sickle cell patients and led planning for the fashion show. “We wanted to shine a light on their beauty, their handsomeness, and everything about them.”

NewsdayTV's Elisa DiStefano and Newsday food writer Marie Elena Martinez take a look at the hottest places to dine on Long Island this summer.  Credit: Randee Daddona; Newsday / A.J. Singh

A taste of summer on Long Island NewsdayTV's Elisa DiStefano and Newsday food writer Marie Elena Martinez take a look at the hottest places to dine on Long Island this summer. 

NewsdayTV's Elisa DiStefano and Newsday food writer Marie Elena Martinez take a look at the hottest places to dine on Long Island this summer.  Credit: Randee Daddona; Newsday / A.J. Singh

A taste of summer on Long Island NewsdayTV's Elisa DiStefano and Newsday food writer Marie Elena Martinez take a look at the hottest places to dine on Long Island this summer. 

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