Marblehead holds third annual Juneteenth celebration

Town officials, students, and residents came out to the Abbot Hall lawn on Wednesday evening for Marblehead’s third annual Juneteenth ceremony and flag raising. The celebration was put together by the North Shore Juneteenth Association and the town’s Task Force Against Discrimination.

Juneteenth, which was recognized as a federal holiday in June 2021, commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. The holiday was first celebrated in Texas in 1865 and is also recognized as “Freedom Day,” “Emancipation Day,” and “Juneteenth National Independence Day.” The celebrations in Marblehead took place five days prior to the actual holiday, which is June 19. 

Just before the flag raising, Rev. Dr. Andre Bennett of Lynn’s Zion Baptist Church delivered a powerful and emotional reflection. Bennett’s profound voice and message echoed up and down Washington Street and Tucker Street as he drew in attendees with his words.

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until the killing of Black men, Black mother’s son, is as important as the killing of white men, white mother’s son. Until it’s OK for me to drive through Marblehead without my heart at the tip of my tongue, fearing that I might be pulled over because I am driving somewhere very few people look like me,” Bennett shouted to the crowd, receiving applause and cheer. “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”

Toward the end of his reflection, Bennett said that he has a love for the people of Marblehead, stating his appreciation for erecting the Juneteenth flag and establishing a racial justice committee, but challenged the town to create more change within the government.

“Don’t invite me to the space where the decision is being made, but keep me away from the table where the decision is being made. Just like you raise the flag, I want to see some color on your city government. I want to see some diversity in your local government. I want to see some diversity in your town hall,” he exclaimed, receiving an ovation from the crowd. 

“I want to see some diversity where decisions are being made, because love without power is sentimental and anemic,” he continued with a raised voice, referencing the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

After Bennett’s reflection, Taylor Crowell performed a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is recognized as the Black national anthem. Those in attendance looked upward as student representatives from the Lynn English ROTC raised the flag with Crowell’s voice filling the air. 

Select Board member Jackie Belf-Becker provided a welcome at the beginning of the ceremony. In her speech, she addressed the rise in violent hate crimes and said that everyone in attendance can do their part to be an ally.

“The FBI has reported a surge in hate crimes targeting Black Americans. The reality that Black Americans continue to face personal and systemic racism in their daily lives is something that each and every individual here can work to stop,” Belf-Becker said. 

“Please use this upcoming federal holiday on June 19 as a time to reflect, learn, and to take action to help ensure liberty and justice for all Americans,” she added. 

North Shore Juneteenth Association founder and President Nicole McClain gave her remarks after Belf-Becker. McClain is a National Guard Army Veteran who was deployed in Iraq twice in 2004 and 2008. 

“We are here today to celebrate not only the freedom of Black Americans, but Black Americans themselves,” said McClain. “Juneteenth is a time to take a look at the complex experiences that we have lived through. The realization that we have lived and continue to thrive.”

Also at the event was Greg Coles, who performed African drumming and storytelling, educating the crowd on the history of African drum and its importance. 

Veterans Middle School student Damilola Graciella Olabisi also presented a poem, and 11 students from Marblehead High School shared their visions of what a world with justice looks like to them.