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Belmont celebrates Juneteenth with a parade

Vince Hill Junteenth event organizer and Elements of Empowerment Inc. officer waves to the crowd. Photo by Monique Floyd Photography

By Delta Sanders

It was a Belmont Juneteenth Celebration like none before. There was no gathering in Stowe Park. There was no drum circle, no face painter, no tie dye T-shirt station, and no cultural food vendor.

However, there was an unprecedented acknowledgment and recognition of Juneteenth, as many celebrated it for the very first time.

In recent weeks, several people have learned that Juneteenth is the celebration of the abolishment of slavery in the United States, specifically the June 19, 1865 reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, Texas.

Elements of Empowerment, Inc. worked with the City of Belmont to convert their traditional cultural festival to a virtual format.

The Belmont Juneteenth Celebration Parade was a central piece of the virtual event.

Main Street, Belmont was the center stage for the parade, complete with Belmont Police and Fire Department escorts.

The Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club of Charlotte led Elements of Empowerment, Inc., sponsors, partners, vendors, and other participants in a regal procession that ended just after crossing Wilkinson Boulevard.

Along the way, the downtown crowd and Belmont residents expressed excitement and pleasure as the caravan passed by.

“I was very impressed and at the same time humbled by the pouring out of support shown today during our parade,” said Vince Hill, co-founder of Elements of Empowerment, Inc.  “Many thanks to all who participated and those who waved from the street.”

Keisha Byrd, who drove in the parade,  echoed his sentiment. “I was in awe of the business owners who came out to the sidewalk as we passed by and the residents who waved and greeted us from their porches and driveways,”  said Byrd.

Duane Patterson, who also drove in the parade, took notice of the many vehicle spectators who happily paused to honor the motorcade. 

The moment that police and fire vehicles blocked Wilkinson Boulevard, historic reality became apparent to those participating in the parade.

Six-lanes of traffic were halted while the Juneteenth Celebration Parade crossed to the other side.

Gene Sanders got caught up in that moment. “I didn’t want it to end,” he said.

Throughout the planning and execution of the revamped event, Elements of Empowerment, Inc. received significant support from their “nearest” and dearest sponsoring partners.

 “The City of Belmont truly contributed on all levels,” Delta Sanders said. “I enjoyed working with Cassidy Lackey on the fine details.” 

She added- “Belmont Abbey College Athletic Department had a large presence in the parade.  The Abbey Players joined the parade lineup after producing a Juneteenth video that features Director Simon Donoghue.”

 “The Abbey Players were honored to take part in the 2020 Belmont Juneteenth Celebration,” Margaret Petry Smith commented. “From the car parade to all of the creative and fun online components, it was truly a meaningful way to commemorate this important anniversary.  We were especially moved to be asked to film a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, highlighting and reaffirming its historical significance.”

Looking forward, Vince Hill remarked- “I am so proud of our relationship with the City of Belmont and Belmont Abbey College and The Abbey Players. We can only anticipate the success we will experience with our 2021 Juneteenth event,  jazz concert, and our reading series.”

The history of Juneteenth

Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day, is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.  Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston , Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. These days, Juneteenth  celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures.  

Belmont has a tradition of recognizing Juneteenth. The Juneteenth idea was introduced by former Belmont city councilwoman Anna Young. From there city council recruited a group of volunteers to help develop the event. The first Belmont Juneteenth celebration was in 2012.