Themes of past, present resound at Juneteenth event

June 24, 2019

HIGH POINT — As children played in the splash park and families in lawn chairs listened to tunes spun by a DJ at the Carl Chavis Memorial Branch YMCA, it was hard to tell that the Sunday gathering had serious overtones.

The early evening Juneteenth Celebration was just that — a chance to have fun in the near-perfect early summer weather — as one of many observances across the country that commemorates the abolition of slavery after the Civil War.

“We want people just to come out, enjoy themselves and feel safe,” said branch Executive Director Carlvena Foster. “The theme of course is, with Juneteenth, that’s the emancipation of actually, when the slaves were freed. While we aren’t slaves this day and time, we still seem to be under some bondage with this violence that’s going on. It’s holding us down as a community and as a people.”

Foster, a member of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners who’s running for High Point mayor this year, said she hopes community activities like those on Sunday will help counteract the street violence that’s plagued the city in recent months.

“Juneteenth is the perfect opportunity, because it’s time to celebrate fun, fellowship and how far we have actually come as a people, and to keep the message out here about what’s going on in our community and how we as a community should come together to help address the problems,” she said.

Guilford County Board of Education member Khem Irby told the Juneteenth crowd that Foster “did the right thing. She was the only (commissioner) that stood up for us,” by voting against the county budget last week because it didn’t fully fund the school district’s request for a $10 million operational budget increase.

“I’m going to ask you to do me a favor,” Irby told the crowd. “I’m going to ask you to please send emails to the county commissioners that voted not to fully fund the school board’s budget. They need to hear from black and brown people. That’s who they really need to hear from.”

Irby said the county’s decision to give the schools an operating increase of $4 million instead of the requested $10 million would mean that the district won’t be able to give pay raises to bus drivers and food service workers.

“If we continue to allow (commissioners) to do business as usual, our children will not get the education they’re supposed to have,” Irby said. “If we continue to pay our tax dollars and our dollars are not going to the things we need to have done in our community and we continue not to say anything, then so be it. Then the chips will fall. You will continue to get failing schools. You will continue to see teachers go to other counties because they’re paying better.”