This Saturday, Santa Monicans are invited to the annual Juneteenth Celebration in Virginia Ave. Park.

Santa Monica has recognized Juneteenth since 1993 thanks to the efforts of longtime resident Laverene Ross.

Ross was born in Texas and after enduring harsh conditions for most of her childhood, the family moved to Santa Monica in 1957 where she attended Santa Monica High School. She said that as a new California resident, she was disappointed to learn that the local community didn’t have a Juneteenth celebration.

The holiday had been popular across the south during her childhood and recognizes the last African American slaves being told of their freedom.

“The historic traditional day commemorated the arrival of U.S. Army General Gordon Granger along with 2,000 army soldiers. Granger announced General Order No. 3 via the Emancipation Proclamation,” she said.

The news was brought to about 250,000 remaining slaves in the southern states two and a half years after their freedom had been passed into law.

Ross said the celebration continued within her social circle despite the lack of official recognition.

“Since arriving in Santa Monica, my family has always managed to plan a Juneteenth Celebration in either our backyard, a picnic in the park or with family and friends,” she said.

However, Ross felt the community should have a greater presence and she approached the City with a plan to bring the vent into the public sphere.

Ross secured initial funding for the festival, found a non-profit partner and gathered the support of local residents. The first event was themed “40 acres and a mule” and it has become a tradition for Santa Monica.

City Hall describes this year’s event as a “jubilant celebration of justice and liberty in commemoration of the announcement of the emancipation of enslaved African Americans who lived in the former Confederacy – two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.”

The free event will be held at Virginia Ave. Park and hosted by KJLH Radio’s Bigg PWee.

There will be several entertainers including: Chazz Ross Drum Circle, reggae by Island Rhythms Production, the celebrated Gerald C. Rivers – The Voice of Dr. King performing one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speeches, the Tatiana Zamir Dance Troupe, soul and R&B by the Cal Bennett Ensemble, and joyful blues by artist The Reverend Shawn Amos, presented in partnership with The Broad Stage.

Family-friendly activities include crafts, face painting, and games for kids. New this year will be a King’s Court celebrating fathers will feature ping pong, chess, and other games.

Several vendors will also be part of the event selling cultural arts and food.

The event will be held on Saturday, June 16, from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. at Virginia Avenue Park, 2200 Virginia Ave. Find more information about this free community event visit smgov.net/vapark or call 310-458-8688.