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Juneteenth 2021: On Long Island, a time for reflection, a time for hope

Communities throughout Long Island are preparing Saturday to

Communities throughout Long Island are preparing Saturday to honor Juneteenth, which the federal government on Thursday declared a national holiday. Newsday's Faith Jessie reports. Credit: Newsday studio

A Fire Island coalition formed last summer to support LGBTQ people of color in Cherry Grove. A Commack woman's one-year journey from Juneteenth and Black history neophyte to racial justice advocate. Historic allies in the fight for civil rights celebrating the day together for the first time in Long Beach.

On Saturday, Long Islanders will mark a Juneteenth like few others over the past 155 years — as a federal holiday, and after a year of historic racial unrest — with parades and pageants, but also discussions about the ongoing quest for equality.

"Juneteenth Fire Island"

Out in Fire Island's Cherry Grove, miles from where the summer of unrest turned Long Island residential streets into marching routes, they were paying attention amid the ocean breezes and beach houses.

Whenever Tomik Dash left Brooklyn for a summer trip to the barrier island hamlet, a popular spot for the LGBTQ community, he would see few others who looked like him.

"I don’t see a lot of myself out there," said Dash, 37, who is Black, "and when I talk to Black people out there, it’s a lot of the same also."

Sparked by the marches and rallies for racial equality after George Floyd's death, Dash and others formed the Black and Brown Equity Coalition to promote a sense of community for Blacks and other people of color who either live on Fire Island or vacation there.

On Saturday, the coalition will hold its first Juneteenth celebration in the hamlet. Dash said this represents a new opportunity for a more inclusive and racially diverse Cherry Grove.

"Black Lives Matter has come to the forefront of everyone’s attention," he said, "and I think it’s important to know if you’re saying Black Lives Matter, you also need to be talking about LGBTQ Black lives that are included under that umbrella."

The event, billed as "Juneteenth Fire Island," will include a "Beach Solidarity March," a "Progress Pride Parade," and a celebration of Black drag artistry. The coalition will also hold forums on unconscious bias, diversity, and inclusivity, as well as on subtle and often indirect discrimination toward Black and brown people.

Tim Tareco, the coalition’s vice president, said he has been "surprised by the level of bias" and sometimes "outright racism" happening in the community.

"The broader mission of ours is, yes, to educate," said Tareco, 52, who is white and has owned a home in the hamlet since 2018, after renting since 2013. "The word coalition in our name is very intentional and working with different organizations is super important to us."

A Yearlong Journey

At a high school where the majority of students were white like her, Olivia De Sonne Ammaccapane never learned about Juneteenth.

In the spring of 2020, the Commack native still knew nothing about it.

But like Dash and so many others, the death of Floyd, a Black man killed by a Minneapolis cop in late May of last year, shocked her to the point where she started asking questions — about slavery, about how she could get involved, and, after conversations with friends, about Juneteenth.

Soon, De Sonne Ammaccapane, 23, said, she learned Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when Black residents of Galveston, Texas, were finally free, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation outlawed slavery. She learned about Fred Hampton, the storied leader of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers until his death in 1969 during a raid by Chicago cops. She marched in a Black Lives Matter rally, one of many that took place on Long Island last summer.

Sometimes, a year can make all the difference.

De Sonne Ammaccapane is now a member of Long Island Advocates for Police Accountability, a group she helped start over the past year that is focused on implementing police reform on the Island. If anything, she said, "the events of the last year show that Juneteenth is still relevant, and will probably be as relevant for many more decades to come, unfortunately."

Together again, for the first time

A Juneteenth event Wednesday at the Long Beach Martin Luther King Center was both a celebration and a reminder of past partnerships that bypassed racial barriers in pursuit of civil rights.

The center collaborated with the Barry and Florence Friedberg Jewish Community Center in Oceanside, which has a branch in Long Beach, for a Juneteenth gathering, which was held early to avoid conflicts with similar events Saturday on the Long Island. It featured cultural dancing and speeches from young people.

It was all very familiar but also new, said James Hodge, board chairman of the MLK Center.

"With Martin Luther King working a lot with the Jewish community, we have always done programs with the Jewish community," Hodge said, "but this is a major collaboration, the first collaboration on Juneteenth."

Roni Kleinman, executive director of the Friedberg JCC, said events like Wednesday's serve as a reminder that Juneteenth is "not just Black history, it’s American history, too. It’s world history."

It's also a way to renew old bonds, trade stories of struggle, and revisit shared commitments.

"If they don’t see us working together, then they’ll say ‘OK, we hear love, but we don’t literally see it,’ " Hodge said. "So if we can bring [different groups] together and talk about how … we are so similar in a lot of ways, but we have our history that we’ve been through, and we need to talk about it because we can get through it together."

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