By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer

The Anacostia community in Washington has a reputation that dwarfs its place in Black America’s legacy. Although great Black leaders such as Frederick Douglass were said to have walked the Anacostia streets, contemporary images of the historic area are those of what represent the vestiges of institutional racism that are being protested around the world.

Fear was replaced by hope in D.C. ‘s Ward 8 community as America began acknowledging Juneteenth en masse during a peaceful demonstration and rally to kick off celebrations in Southeast, Washington.  A diverse group of approximately 250 people launched remembrances of the day that Texas slaves finally learned of their freedom two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Anacostia community celebrated Juneteenth with a rally that offered hope in the time of struggle. (Photo by Mark Gray)

Organizers of the event were able to stage the rally in just over two weeks after being motivated in part by the recent police shootings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks.  The group chose to celebrate in Ward 8 because of its unique place in Black American history and to quell the impression of being one of the most dangerous communities in the nation’s capital. 

“We are the epicenter of the things that are affecting right now,” Sharon Wise, founder of the Change Makers Movement said to the {AFRO}.  “Crime, unemployment, health care inequality and mental health issues are hurting us. But we felt that there wasn’t a better place to celebrate this new movement than here because Ward 8 Matters.”

The Juneteenth Peaceful March and Rally saw generations of residents of ward 8 and the surrounding areas – including Prince George’s County – and bonded generations who were committed to social justice reform and community pride.  With spoken word, chants and remembrances of those who lost lives in confrontations with police, the relatively small but vocal group grew in rebellious spirit and knowledge of what Juneteenth represents.

“I really wasn’t too aware about what Juneteenth was all about until recently,  said Chuck, a resident of Capitol Heights, MD.  “It’s kind of jacked up that it took that long for to get that message.  I feel like this is something that should’ve been taught in school, but I’ve learned a lot by doing my own research and now realize why we should be celebrating this day.”

Many parents from the area used their vacation days from teleworking to mark an unofficial day to recognize it’s historic significance as the debate continues on Capitol Hill to make June 19 a federal holiday.  It was also a day for some of them to begin restoring hope for a very young group of elementary aged kids who’ve reassessed dreams to work in law enforcement for the future.

“I’m here for my daughter whose dream of becoming a police officer was shattered after seeing , said Asailon, a Chicago native and resident of Anacostia.  “You now have children who are scared to chase their dreams after thinking police are supposed to protect and serve, but that code of blue they live by is as dangerous as the mafia or the KKK.” 

Despite continued challenges, as demonstrations continue around the globe, generational divides have closed dramatically. Elders, commonly referred to as “O.G.s” or “big homies” understand their responsibility to pass a civil rights torch to a fearless new generation of activists who are being groomed by those whose passions were incited by events from the past century which haven’t fully been resolved.