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The Power of Community: Reflections on 33 Years of the Santa Cruz Juneteenth Celebration
AdvocacyEventsEqualityGrantee Spotlight
byMercedes LewisonJune 1, 2024

As the Santa Cruz Juneteenth celebration marks its 33rd year, it stands as a testament to the local Black community's enduring spirit and vibrant culture. Juneteenth, a national holiday celebrated on June 19th, commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. It marks the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas were informed of their freedom, over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Ana Elizabeth and her brother David Clayton of Sure Thing Productions have been at the helm of this beloved event for the past twenty-plus years. This year's festival will take place on Saturday, June 15th, from 12 to 5pm at the London Nelson Community Center.

"It’s like a gift to our community to be able to keep Juneteenth going," Ana reflects, underscoring the dedication and love that have fueled the event's longevity.

Personal and Artistic Journey

For Ana, Juneteenth has been a pivotal part of her personal and artistic journey. "Our participation in Juneteenth started as being a community member with my four children, who were all performing. We went from being active participants to producing the event," she shares. This transition from participant to organizer spotlights the celebration's organic growth and deep roots in the community.

Ana's journey is marked by moments of resilience and realization. She recalls a turning point when, after a few years of low engagement, she decided to focus on what she personally and creatively wanted to see in the celebration. "I realized I was trying to program for what I thought I heard the community wanted. When I turned the corner and produced what I wanted to see in a festival, it surprisingly became a more joyful experience for everyone. We saw an increase in engagement from this time onwards to today, where it is very much a collaborative community-led and informed event."

"Juneteenth has provided a space for different aspects of the Black community to come together, whether it's spiritual, religious, physical, or cultural."

Community Impact and Memorable Moments

Juneteenth in Santa Cruz is more than just a celebration. It’s a throughline for various community initiatives." Juneteenth has often been the biggest fundraiser for local churches, enabling them to offer scholarships for camps and support other programs," Ana notes, emphasizing the event's significant role in supporting local causes.

One of Ana's most poignant stories is about a performer who found his footing and creative direction in Santa Cruz through Juneteenth. "A performer who was experiencing houselessness when he first arrived told me that Juneteenth was the first place he felt welcomed, seen, and supported, which helped him establish himself in the community," she recounts. This artist is still in Santa Cruz and working successfully in his musical career. This story exemplifies the festival's impact on individuals, providing not just a stage and an audience but also sparking an authentic sense of belonging.

Fostering Connections and Growth

Juneteenth has always been a space for connection and solidarity within the Black community. "Juneteenth has provided a space for different aspects of the Black community to come together, whether it's spiritual, religious, physical, or cultural," Ana explains. This inclusive environment is crucial for cultivating unity, interconnectedness, and support.

The event's success has also attracted increasing support and involvement. "We’ve had more people decide to invest in the event, not just with money, but also with their energy and creativity. This momentum, in turn, helped draw in more people who wanted to be a part of celebrating Black Joy and Liberation," says Ana, reflecting on the growing community engagement.

Looking to the Future

As Ana and David look to the future, their vision for the Santa Cruz Juneteenth celebration focuses on succession and sustainability. They hope to see younger community members take on leadership roles to evolve the event while staying true to its roots.

Ana envisions the festival as a space where the rich history of African Americans in Santa Cruz is continuously explored and celebrated. "Our goal is to bring younger people into leadership who will bring their own ideas and make their own mark, ensuring Juneteenth stays alive and evolves into the future," Ana shares. She dreams of a future where the threads of Juneteenth’s impact extend further, fostering a deeper appreciation and increased visibility for Black culture and arts in Santa Cruz County.

Despite its success, there’s still a need for greater awareness and education about Juneteenth. "There is an ongoing need for the wider community to educate themselves about Juneteenth. Many people would come to the festival not knowing its significance, attracted by the free music and food," Ana points out, highlighting an ongoing challenge around the importance of understanding the historical context of this National holiday.

"It’s like a gift to our community to be able to keep Juneteenth going."

Gratitude and Support

Ana expresses deep gratitude for the support through grants from Arts Council Santa Cruz County and the partnership with the London Nelson Community Center and the City of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Department.

As the Santa Cruz Juneteenth celebration continues to grow and evolve, shaped by the community that it serves, it remains a powerful symbol of Black culture, artistic excellence and community spirit. With a foundation built on love, dedication, and a deep sense of responsibility, Juneteenth in Santa Cruz is poised to inspire and unite for many years to come.

To Learn More About Juneteenth

Visit the website for more information.

Event Details

  • Date: Saturday, June 15th, 2024

  • Time: 12pm - 5pm

  • Location: London Nelson Community Center

Juneteenth Parade

  • Date: Saturday, June 15th, 2024

  • Time: 12pm

  • Meeting Point: 809 Center St, Santa Cruz