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Juneteenth In Columbus: 'There's Movement, There's A Spirit'

Patricia Lyons is head of the local Association of Black Social Workers.
Nick Evans
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WOSU
Patricia Lyons is head of the local Association of Black Social Workers.

At Bicentennial Park on Friday night, a group of Black men and women who work in the criminal justice system capped off a day of Juneteenth commemorations, while a more raucous affair took place at the Ohio Statehouse steps.

Ohio members of the National Association Of Blacks In Criminal Justice gathered near the banks of the Sciotto to celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the end of slavery, and talk about their role in furthering equity.

Patricia Lyons, who heads up the local Association of Black Social Workers, says this year is different.

“Unfortunately, the reason why it feels different is not a good reason,” Lyons says. “But at the same time, absolutely, there’s movement, there’s a spirit. Equity, equality and the issue of racism is really on the forefront.”

Lyons says the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, at the hands of the police charged with protecting him, has made the need for criminal justice reform impossible to ignore.

“It has landed right at our doorsteps,” Lyons says. “Whether you wanted to pay attention, whether you wanted to be involved, and I think this Juneteenth this year, there’s more emphasis on the education and brotherhood, sisterhood and really developing what is the messaging, and how are we going to make this change and what are we going to do.”

Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Monica Hawkins senses a new urgency to the moment as well—comparing it Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights activism. Hawkins describes the progress she hopes to celebrate next Juneteenth.

“We’ve made some progress with regards to racial equities and justice and fairness, and people being treated and afforded the equal rights that our founding fathers designed for all of us to participate in,” Hawkins says.

Meanwhile, at the Statehouse, Juneteenth took the form of an impromptu block party, with cars blocking off High Street. A DJ set up a tent in front of the Statehouse and someone brought a grill—there were even fireworks at dusk.

Patrick Ngene
Credit Nick Evans / WOSU
/
WOSU
Patrick Ngene

Patrick Ngene stood off to the side with a friend, joking about the single, small grill trying to feed more than 100 people dancing near the steps. Compared to recent demonstrations, Ngene said the evening had a sense of unity.

“I feel like there’s more light shined on Juneteenth this year, unfortunately, due to the tension,” Ngene said. “But it’s definitely a good thing that a lot of positive is coming out of it.”

Another Juneteenth celebration took place earlier in the day, attracting hundreds to Mayme Moore Park on the East Side. Also on Friday, Mayor Andrew Ginther signed a proclamation recognizing June 19 as Juneteenth, while the Franklin County Commission said it would replace Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a paid holiday.