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Juneteenth: A celebration of freedom and history

Juneteenth is a day to commemorate the freedom of African Americans from slavery in the country. On Saturday, June 15, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Barker Park, the community is invited to join in Juneteenth: a celebration of "Heritage, Healing and Hope."

"We also use this holiday to highlight the rich Black history in this town. We try to do both. Wasco has a rich black history unlike any small town in this area in Kern County," New Generation Church Assistant Pastor Marcus Ballard, one of the event organizers, said.

"It points back starting with churches like True Light Missionary Baptist Church, which is over 100 years old, and Black farming when many Blacks migrated from the south to this area to work in the farms and the fields and eventually start their own farming companies. There were many Black businesses, too, like hair salons, restaurants and cafes, grocery stores, clothing stores, lodging and boarding houses and barbershops. Black history runs deep in Wasco and should be celebrated."

It is the third annual event. Ballard said it was inspired by community leaders coming together "with the understanding that we have an obligation to keeping that Black history alive and well, and also that we have a responsibility to educate the next generation when it comes to African American history."

The event aims to address critical social issues and promote awareness. "When you educate people on their history, this helps with their identity, which also encourages them to go out and educate others on topics of ethnicity and race. When we started this event, racial tension was a huge issue in this country, so we are using this event where hopefully this education will help alleviate some of that racial tension."

"The biggest thing we want to stress is that even though we highlight the Black history, we want people to know that all are invited. Freedom for one particular group of people also represents freedom for all of us, which should always be celebrated in this country."

The event is organized by the three main Black churches in town: True Light Missionary Baptist Church, Apostolic Faith Temple Church, Macedonia Church of God in Christ, and a host of educators and other community leaders in Wasco.

There will be a program of singing and poetry, a main speaker, radio host and community activist Jovan Dangerfield, community awards highlighting members who have been faithful for 50-plus years to the city of Wasco and an essay contest on the theme of healing and hope.

Many food options will include barbecue, tri-tip, fish and desserts. "The food is always my favorite. We have many good foods out there." Vendors also will sell traditional African clothing and jewelry, plus many other vendors.

Community organizations will host information booths. "We want to give them a chance to showcase what they do and the services that they render."

This year, there will be a Little Miss Juneteenth and Miss Juneteenth Pageant, open to all ages and offering cash prizes. For more information, call Yolanda at 661-340-2443.

Ballard said it's always a good time. "We've had some amazing Wasco alum speakers who have come to speak. At the talent showcase, people are always impressed by the singing, the dancing and the poetry displayed at the event. But the food is just always the best. It is just incredible to see all the food vendors that show up."

The festival has grown over the years. "We started small at South Gate Park on 15th St. and have grown in leadership. We have a great group of leaders. We started with four, and now we are at 12. Also, our program has evolved. Now we have singing. We are adding the beauty pageant. We had never had that before, along with the essay contest. Our vendors our growing. Even vendors from Bakersfield are joining, which has grown over the years. We're grateful for the community's support for the last three years and the Wasco Recreation and Parks District. They have always been so helpful to us and have supported us in this endeavor."

Vendor and food vendor applications are still being accepted. For more information, contact Marcus Ballard at 805-636-8931. The event will be held at Barker Park, 1250 Poplar Ave.


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