Local families gathered on the lawn at Solvang Park Saturday to celebrate the second Juneteenth community event, held in person this year with music, dancing and food.
The importance of the day was made official when President Joe Biden signed legislation into law last week establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day. The federal holiday commemorates the emancipation of the last enslaved African Americans in 1865.
"June 19th marks the 158th anniversary of the true end of slavery," said Valerie Kissell, CEO of Santa Ynez Valley People Helping People, an event sponsor. "It is a day to celebrate, promote awareness and move forward towards lasting change."
The event featured lively entertainment by Afro-Brazilian troupe Banda Alegria of the Brazilian Cultural Arts Center of Santa Barbara, who performed a maculelê stick fighting dance and a Capoeira martial arts demonstration.
Capoeira was developed by enslaved Africans in Brazil who disguised the fighting technique as a vibrant dance which was used to gain skills to fight for freedom.
Local youth also performed, including members of the Santa Ynez Valley Jazz Band, Jayla Rose who sang "Stand by Me" and Laila Prudhomme who danced to "Lift Every Voice."
The Solvang celebration was conceived of in 2020 by then 7-year-old Madi Wilson, creator of Madi’s Treasure Box, a nonprofit that produces "World Changer" products to promote literacy and inclusion in schools and libraries across America.
Madi's mother, Vashti Wilson — CEO of Madi’s Treasure Box and an Air Force combat veteran — said her daughter didn't necessarily articulate her desire to organize a community event of the like but, instead, shared a dream of "everyone loving each other."
"Our vision was one of jubilation," Wilson explained. "We wanted to honor the sacrifices of our ancestors while building relationships and community in joy. It is only through shared experiences that necessary conversations and lasting change can occur."
She noted that Juneteenth is not just Black history; rather, it is American history.
"The day commemorates freedom and triumph for our ancestors and is a wonderful opportunity for the community to come together,” Wilson said.