LARGO — Members of the Greater Ridgecrest community will place the spotlight on the past, present and future Saturday, June 22, when they come together for the 12th annual Juneteenth Celebration at the YMCA of the Suncoast in Largo.
Juneteenth, which is officially observed on June 19, commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. The holiday’s name is a combination of June and nineteenth, marking the day in 1865 when those enslaved in Galveston, Texas, received word of their freedom — 2½ years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Vernon Bryant, an organizer of the Largo event, said the celebration will feature a fish fry and entertainment, but the true purpose is to focus on the history of both the U.S. and Ridgecrest, a community off Ulmerton Road.
“It’s a community celebration,” said Bryant, a board member of the Friends of Ridgecrest. “For the Ridgecrest community, which has a lot of historical African-American roots, it’s one of those opportunities to really celebrate part of the African-American culture.”
Discussing those roots and the history of Juneteenth will be keynote speaker Zed Atkinson, president of the Upper Pinellas NAACP.
But, while the event highlights African American culture, Bryant said the event is open to everyone and not just residents of Ridgecrest.
He added that focus will also be placed on the future of the community by honoring local college and high school students.
“So a little bit of it is celebrating the culture and unity,” said Bryant, the former director of the Greater Ridgecrest YMCA and current director of the Florida Botanical Gardens. “But we also, for many years, recognize all of the graduates in our community.”
The older generations haven’t been forgotten, however, because Bryant said they will be honoring long-term residents as well.
Full day of fun
The event will kick off at 9 a.m. when the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club will convene at the YMCA before riding through the community, announcing Juneteenth with a roar of engines.
Bryant said the YMCA also will open up the pool for free, line dance classes will be offered, a fish fry will benefit the Friends of Ridgecrest, and the Largo Library bookmobile will be onsite, along with several vendors, churches and nonprofits that will be engaging the community to talk about the services they offer.
Bryant said he is also thrilled about a special announcement from Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco counties, which will be honoring the Friends of Ridgecrest’s effort in the community by naming the group as a sponsor of a new home in the community.
Habitat has put an emphasis on the Greater Ridgecrest area in the past two years, building close to 30 homes.
“We’re really excited about that because Habitat’s way of doing things is so much like how the community was originally founded,” said Bryant, who volunteers at many Habitat’s sites. “Because it was about people coming out to the community, building homes so they can have a better life for themselves and their families. And then bringing in and encouraging their friends and relatives to come and also be a part of the community. So the community has a rich history, and this is part of the celebration of the history of that community.”