PS/MS 156 celebrates freedom, history with Juneteenth

Organizers and students celebrate Juneteenth at the playground at PS/MS 156. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Ivan Pereira

For black Americans, the Juneteenth celebration is a day to remember their freedom and unity after years of slavery in the United States.

A party in Laurelton took the idea behind the holiday one step further Saturday by generating a new sense of community in southeast Queens. The PTA of PS/MS 156 invited dozens of students, parents and neighborhood residents to its all-day Juneteenth party at the school’s playground at 229-02 137th Ave.

The Rev. Kermitt Williams, vice president of the PTA who co-coordinated the first-annual event with PTA President Lijia Brown, said he was happy with the turnout.

“This was a great tool to bring unity to the community,” he said.

The entire playground had many activities and events for people of all ages. A live disc jockey was blaring tunes, a face painter was on hand to add some color to the faces of young partygoers and everyone was fed well with a barbecue lunch.

Several business vendors from the area were on hand to show off their goods as well. Theresa Stahling, a school supporter, said she enjoyed having fun in the sun with her fellow neighborhood residents.

“The PTA is always doing good for this school,” she said.

But the party was not all about fun and games as the children were taught a valuable lesson about the historical facets of Juneteenth.

The holiday, widely celebrated in the South and as an official state holiday in Texas, honors the day when Texas slaves were emancipated in 1865. Although President Abraham Lincoln officially issued the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, Confederate leaders in the Southern state refused to adhere to the law.

The slaves were freed after the Union took over the state June 18 and June 19 in 1865.

Principal Noreen Little said the party helped her students understand the holiday better because they were able to learn with their parents and grandparents.

“It was such a multi-generational group,” she said of the event.

State Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica), who joined the festivities, agreed.

“Schools have always been about community,” she said. “We have a lot of community volunteers … and this is important for them to come out and have fun.”

Williams said he would like to continue the Juneteenth celebration at the school next year and bring in more residents.

“This will definitely be annual. It’ll be a time to advance the consciousness of unity.”

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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