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Juneteenth 2023: Western Massachusetts residents mark the day

Cities and towns across western Massachusetts commemorated Juneteenth Monday with events including a Black small business and artist vendor fair at the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke.

Juneteenth, a day marking the emancipation of enslaved people, became a national holiday in 2021.

Chelvanaya Gabriel is an artist and Holyoke resident. They participated in the vendor fair and reflected on what the day signifies for many Black Americans.

"Juneteenth is complicated, of course, but what it means to me is celebrating being with my QTBIPOC [Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color] family and celebrating the ways in which we are free. And also remembering the ways in which we are not, the ways in which we haven't been historically," they said.

With her jewelry displayed at a booth on the museum lawn Trudy Monson, a lifelong Holyoke resident, discussed her family's history with enslavement.

"My dad was actually born in Marion, Alabama, on the plantation his grandfather was a slave on. We never knew that until we were almost teenagers. He never really shared it. We didn't talk about it," she said.

 Trudy Monson, of Holyoke, sells her jewelry during the Juneteenth celebration at the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, Mass. on June 19, 2023.
Karen Brown
Trudy Monson, of Holyoke, sells her jewelry during the Juneteenth celebration at the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, Mass. on June 19, 2023.

Monson said her father ended up becoming a teacher at John J. Lynch Middle School in Holyoke and then a professor at Holyoke Community College.

"Education was really important to him," she said, adding that Juneteenth is an opportunity for people to get educated on the history of enslavement in America.

"It's slow, but they're learning. It took me a while before I learned about it, so I'm hoping by doing stuff like this, other people will learn about it also," she said referring to Juneteenth events in the region.

Danielle Winters an artist, musician and art teacher in Springfield, had several of her art pieces for sale at the vendor fair. She said her work is inspired by her experience as a young, Black, queer person.

"All of it for me comes from a place of existing in this matrix sort of world where they tell us that things are different from day one of slavery, when it's the exact same, just a different coat of paint," she said. "I deal a lot with feeling like... I'm kind of alone in the matrix. So it's really nice to have events like this and connect with other Black people who are having similar experiences and just find community, so you can stay sane."

Other activities ranging from a concert at Symphony Hall in Springfield and a walking tour organized by the David Ruggels Center in the Florence were held in the region.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.

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