At Appleton's 10th Juneteenth celebration, a reminder that 'the struggle for freedom continues for Black people' (2024)

At Appleton's 10th Juneteenth celebration, a reminder that 'the struggle for freedom continues for Black people' (1)

APPLETON - At 12 years old, Tamir Rice wasinto "kiddie things," his mother, Samaria, remembered.

He played with Legos, ate cheese pizza, loved coloring and riding his bike. He was the glue that kept the family together, Samaria said— and she knew every bit of his funny, loving character.

That's why on Nov. 22, 2014, when a white Cleveland police officer shot and killed the boy after finding Tamir playing with a toy gun, her first thought was, "No, not my kid."

Tamir would be a high school graduate turning 18 next week, Rice told viewers virtually on Friday as part of African Heritage Inc.'s 10th annual Juneteenth event in Appleton.

The coronavirus pandemic, which has effectively canceled most in-person events and large gatherings as public health officials hope tominimize transmission of the virus, also took Juneteenth online this year for Fox Valley residents.

Juneteenth celebrates the day in 1865 when the last enslaved Black Americans were emancipated in Galveston, Texas. Though President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation more than two years earlier, white Texans ignored the law until federal troops arrived in Galveston to share the news that the Civil War had ended and all enslaved people were freed.

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This year's Juneteenth has taken on special significance amidwaves of protests across the nation and the world condemning police brutality against Black people, after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of 46-year-old George Floyd for nearly nine minutes, ultimately killing him.

"Juneteenth has a double-sided emotional thing going on," said La'Neice Littleton, a post-doctoral fellow at Clemson University and another panelist at Appleton's virtual event. "Yes, it's a celebration of freedom. But it also forces you to confront the irony of racism in America."

Rice's story reflects a bigger problem that Americans grapple with, said Keith L. Brown, also known asMr. I'M POSSIBLE, emcee of the day's events: viewing Black boys not through a lens of childhood innocence, but as older and less innocent, or even as adults.

"At 12 years old ... he wasn't an adult," Brown said. "He was a boy. A little boy."

Samaria spoke on Friday about the work she's done to remember her son's legacy and shape the futures of other children growing up in his community.

The Tamir Rice Foundation and Tamir Rice Afrocentric Cultural Center in Cleveland are meant to give other kids opportunities to engage in after-school programs aboutarts and culture. Tamir benefited from several such programs during his childhood, she said.

Along with the ACLU of Ohio, she also created the Tamir Rice Safety Handbook, which advises Black parents and children on what to do when approached by the police. An officer is legally allowed to ask the child's name, address and phone number, for example, she explained— but at that point, a parent should be called to the scene. And an officer should not escalate their voice when approaching children, she added.

"I think the authorities should have a better sense of how to come to somebody's child," Samaria said. "I'm still seeing police mishandling children. That's disturbing to me."

Though the landscape of race relations and police violence in the U.S. currently casts a sobering light, Juneteenth is still a celebration of freedom, and the day's lineup reflected that, even virtually. The event kicked off with music from rapper Lizzie G and D.J. Lady Chi, followed by sessions on kid activism, African American literature, building Black wealth and others.

This year markedAppleton's 10th Juneteenth celebration. Mayor Jake Woodford signed the proclamation designating the holiday earlier this month. In the past, in-person celebrations have included food, drumming, dancing, traveling museum exhibits and even a visit from longtime Democratic congressman and civil rights advocate John Lewis in 2015.

Although Juneteenth festivities in the state are not new(those in Milwaukee date back to 1971)this year was also the first year its flag flew over the Capitol building in Madison. Wisconsin first formally recognized the holiday in 2009, joining 46 other states and the District of Columbia in celebration today. It is not a federally designated holiday.

The protests, rallies and marches surrounding this year's Juneteenth— and the tragic killings that ignitedthem— are a reminder that "even in freedom, the struggle for freedom continues for Black people," Littleton said Friday.

But the day still exists to center Black voices in the historical narrative and find joy in the freedom that finally came hundreds of years ago on June 19.

Contact Madeline Heim at 920-996-7266 or mheim@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter at @madeline_heim.

At Appleton's 10th Juneteenth celebration, a reminder that 'the struggle for freedom continues for Black people' (2024)

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