Getting The East Bay Regional Parks District To Officially Recognize Juneteenth

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In June of 2020, Deonta Allen and community painted "Black Lives Matter" in bold bright yellow letters on the street in downtown Richmond, CA. Here he is, in a crouched position, posing in front of the finished painting.
In June of 2020, Deonta Allen and community painted "Black Lives Matter" in bold bright yellow letters on the street in downtown Richmond, CA. Here he is, in a crouched position, posing in front of the finished painting.  (R.D.López/ Shots From Richmond)

As I write this, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin stands trial for the death of George Floyd. At the same time, the community is reeling after the death of a 20-year-old African American man named Daunte Wright, who was shot by police during a traffic stop in Minneapolis on Sunday.

Last year, when people across the country took to the streets to protest systemic racism that led to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others, the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD), like many other organizations, drafted a Board resolution and issued a statement of solidarity.

Among other things, the EBRPD declared that it has "an obligation to condemn racism and uphold the Constitution of the United States" (a bit of a contradiction, as some point out, given the blatantly racist ideas historically intertwined in the U.S. Constitution). Nonetheless, the EBRPD's resolution pledged to discuss and implement a "plan to address systemic racial injustice within the Park District organization and in its parks."

And now, the District's employees are holding it accountable.

Deonta Allen, who works for the EBRPD, is a part of the Juneteenth Committee, itself an extension of the organization's Diversity Committee. The group has amassed over 1,200 signatures on a Change.org petition urging the EBRPD to acknowledge Juneteenth, which falls each year on June 19, as an official holiday for its staff.

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The petition calls for free public admission to parks on June 19, and also for the District to develop cultural educational sessions, thereby honoring the resolution and statement that the EBRPD issued last June.

Allen, an artist from Richmond, says he's "just trying to point out to the Park District that we want Juneteenth to be held in significance as other prominent holidays in our American culture," such as the Fourth of July.

Juneteenth, the day enslaved Black Americans in Texas and other western states were notified of their freedom a year and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, is increasingly celebrated in many states, including California.

Allen believes the EBRPD, which manages 73 parks and over 125,000 acres across Alameda and Contra Costa counties, is enough of a leader in the community that it could influence other agencies to acknowledge the holiday.

In addition to the online petition, Allen and the Juneteenth Committee urge people to either virtually attend or submit an email to be read at the next EBRPD board meeting on April 20 at 1pm.

"The idea of Juneteenth is that, on that day, we want people to–for one—celebrate," Allen says. "We're celebrating freedom. We're also reflecting on the past, what we've been through. And from there, we're taking action. That's the final step."