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Charleston will be full of free opportunities to celebrate Juneteenth this weekend.

The events will kickoff with the first Juneteenth festival hosted by the city of Charleston from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at the North Charleston Community Center. The event will include live music, vendors, bouncy houses, a gaming truck and crafts, according to an event flyer.

The festival will feature guest speakers Pastors William Lipscomb, Damon Hamby and Shannon Robinson, with performances from local artists and choirs.

Additionally, the free event will host a panel discussion titled “Connecting the D.O.T.T.S., Discussions on Teaching Today’s Students.” The discussion will highlight the effects of mental health, environment and politics in the school system and ways to better connect the community and school system, according to Corey Lowery, program coordinator for the North Charleston Community Center.

Afterward, the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs will host the annual West Virginia Juneteenth Celebration in person for the first time in three years from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the south lawns of the Capitol Complex. The event is sponsored by FestivALL and the Martin Luther King Jr. State Holiday Commission.

“This summer is going to be big in Charleston,” said Mackenzie Spencer, executive director of FestivALL. “You know, I don’t know that when COVID first started that any of us really anticipated just how big the return of in-person events would be once we could do that, but it’s really been nice to see the progression there and to see so many people stepping up and wanting to put on great events in our community.”

The event will feature local musicians and poets, area organizations, DJ Big L, food and informational vendors, and award-winning comedian Crystal Powell as the emcee. It also will include performances by headlining bands Hi-5, Ruff Endz and Surface.

Spencer emphasized the importance of local artists at community events like this, as they were deprived of their usual performance or showcase opportunities during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Those opportunities weren’t afforded to them because it was unsafe, and so, seeing so much local talent on the docket is really exciting for us,” Spencer said.

The Partnership of African American Churches will offer COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters during the event.

Jill Upson, executive director of the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs, recommends bringing a lawn chair to the Capitol event for those wishing to stay the entire time. She said there will be four inflatables for children to play in while their parents are enjoying the live music.

Upson said the celebration will be a great opportunity for those new to the holiday to learn more about its history and cultural significance.

“A lot of people think that this is a new holiday, and they don’t realize this was the oldest African American holiday there is,” Upson said.

Although Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday just last year by President Joe Biden, it has been celebrated by many for years, dating back to its origin on June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, bringing news of freedom for enslaved Black people — more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

On Monday, Gov. Jim Justice issued a proclamation establishing Juneteenth as a state holiday and declaring its observance to occur on Friday, June 17, this year since its usual date, June 19, falls on a Sunday and the proceeding Monday is already being observed for West Virginia Day. He further relieved all public state employees from work on Friday, according to the proclamation.

The proclamation does not include private businesses, local governments or anyone working for an entity not employed by the state; however, the courts and county commissions may observe Friday as a legal holiday if they choose.

Reach Jules Ogden at jogden@hd

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