TEXARKANA, Ark. — The Scholars and an enterprising young student member of the educational non-profit are organizing a Juneteenth celebration and parade for downtown on Saturday, June 19.
The Scholars have planned a fun-filled, family-oriented Juneteenth celebration focusing on African history, culture and heritage to happen on Front Street downtown from noon to 7 p.m.
Festivities include food and craft vendors, speakers, a three-on-three basketball tournament, spades and domino tournaments, music, a parade of professionals, bounce houses and video game truck. All of that follows a 10 a.m. parade.
The Scholars students will showcase products they sell as part of their entrepreneurship program. Rhonda Dolberry and Chiquita Burks of The Scholars say this Juneteenth celebration is part of their "Keeping History Alive" series of annual events.
About the basketball contest, Burks said first place is $1,200 with cash prizes for second ($600) and third place ($300). The spades and domino competitions also have cash prizes: $200 for first place, $100 for second, $50 for third.
"And then we'll have the best sweet potato pie contest," Dolberry said. "Only one grand prize — there can be only one winner. The winner of that is $250 for the best sweet potato pie."
Business professionals will be introduced through the day, Burks explained. "We'll introduce new businesses each hour," she said.
Political speakers, such as the Texarkana mayors with a joint proclamation and candidates for office, will attend. Speakers will discuss the historical reason why Juneteenth is recognized.
"This celebration is not just entertaining. It will be educational," Dolberry said, noting that although the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863 some slaves didn't hear the news until two-and-a-half years later.
The holiday is celebrated on the anniversary of the announcement proclaiming slaves were free in Texas.
"We know that Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when Union soldiers of Army major general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced that slavery had been abolished," Dolberry said.
Andrea Smith's son Ayden Howard, only 12 years old, is the parade organizer. Setup begins at 9 a.m. A cash prize will be awarded to the float with the most votes.
"His vision was to offer an opportunity for advertisement for different businesses, as well as just kind of some community involvement for individuals or organizations," Smith said of her son's inspiration. It's a chance to celebrate with one another, she said.
They've been spreading the word via social media. Smith said her son has been sending her all over town to distribute registration forms. The parade travels from one end of Front Street to the other.
Smith said of Ayden's involvement, "He wanted to give a platform where people could talk to each other and interact to grow their businesses or even just grow their relationships within the community."
Parade registration is $25. Anyone interested in participating should call 903-402-5225 or email [email protected] Businesses, schools, churches, organizations, clubs and individuals are encouraged to participate.
Ayden is also one of The Scholars. "He had wanted to do this parade last year," Dolberry said, "but because of COVID it changed a lot of things."
Burks said mobile units from the Veterans Administration (to assist veterans with any concerns they are having) and CHRISTUS St. Michael (for COVID-19 vaccinations) will attend. Vendors include food trucks, retailers and informational booths.
Dolberry said the city of Texarkana, Texas, will showcase food with its mobile kitchen as part of its cultural foods program. Two deejays, DJ Hollygrove and Rodney Thrower, will provide music. Line dancing is also on tap.
"It's important for the city in that we are offering this, inviting everybody to come together," Dolberry said. "It's a way for us older people who know about Juneteenth to educate and help spread the word to those people who don't know."
The Scholars aim to make the Juneteenth celebration bigger and better every year.
(More info, including vendor space and sponsorship registration: TheScholarsTXK.org, or call Sherry Watson at 903-244-1403. People can register for the basketball, spades, domino and sweet potato pie contests at the website. For vendor booth information, contact Krystal Hughes at 903-556-6241 or Gary Watson at 903-293-0436.)