Montgomery County Celebrates 25th Annual Juneteenth Event in Germantown

Langston Hughes II, pictured playing saxophone, performs with his bandmates at the 25th annual Montgomery County Juneteenth event Saturday at the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown.

Thousands of county residents and visitors gathered in and around the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown as the county held its 25th annual Juneteenth event on Saturday.

Dozens of vendors lined the brick sidewalks, selling everything from African artwork to energizing tea. Local bands entertained attendees of the BlackRock outdoor stage, and dozens of people enjoyed the facilities inside, ranging from an art exhibit by local artist Alonzo Davis to films celebrating the culture black, dance performances by several local groups and other attractions.

Juneteenth — which was only celebrated at multiple events all weekend — is a federal holiday that recognizes the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.

The County Human Rights Office, along with BlackRock, helped organize the event along with dozens of other partners. Germantown resident Fiona Thomas worked as the volunteer coordinator for the event and said she helped lead about 100 volunteers for the county event.

Jim Stowe, director of the Office of Human Rights, said in an interview that the event has grown significantly since the county began hosting Juneteenth. He was housed in various locations around the county, Stowe added.

Saturday’s event was different from previous years as county officials and other partners worked to include more businesses and partners, including the county library system, historical society, American Film Institute and many other organizations.

“We want everyone to take ownership of this holiday, not just us in the coordinating positions,” Stowe said.

Lynn Arndt, CEO of BlackRock, said the preparation for Saturday’s effort was extensive.

Arndt added that BlackRock sits in the middle of Germantown, one of the most diverse regions in the country. So it’s imperative that the Juneteenth event at BlackRock reflects that diversity not just in Germantown, but for Montgomery County and the entire region, Arndt said.

“In the bigger picture, we’re making a statement about the significance of the date…I think what’s really important is that in this space, on this lawn, on this date, we bring the community together and c is what I try to do every day here,” Arndt said.

“A lot of organizations say they want to reflect their community,” she added. “And unless you’re actually doing things like that, you’re not reflecting that, you’re not.”

Stowe said he hopes Montgomery County can continue to champion its diversity at events like Saturday’s. He added that some communities may struggle to reflect on the nation’s past and the struggles that Juneteenth reflects.

There have been recent challenges, Stowe noted — the murder of George Floyd, the recent mass shootings around the country, among other incidents. But he added that he has seen older and younger generations come together to champion diversity and inclusiveness in the county.

Bad news often fills our minds, Stowe said. But events like Saturday at BlackRock can show us at our best, he added.

Thomas, standing in the volunteer headquarters room on the second floor of BlackRock, agreed. Each time Juneteenth arrives, she thinks of the strength with which her ancestors and others fought for freedom and sees the holiday as an opportunity for all cultures and ethnicities to celebrate those efforts.

There’s always room to grow, Thomas said – but Saturday’s event marked how much has been achieved.

“[It’s] how far we have come, and [how] we still have a lot to do,” said Thomas. “There is a lot going on in the world – not just African Americans, but all culturally and minority. We still have a long way to go. And I just can’t wait for the country to recognize more minorities, open more doors for us, and celebrate everything and everything that we’ve brought to this country.

June 19 events were also held in Kensington and Macedona Baptist Church by the Bethesda African Cemetery Coaltion.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at [email protected]

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