Americans nationwide will celebrate the country’s freedom on July 4th but a lesser-known Independence Day will also be celebrated this upcoming weekend.

The 27th annual Juneteenth Festival will be celebrated at Virginia Avenue Park this Saturday, a festival commemorating the Juneteenth holiday, which commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States. The festival will feature music, dancing, food and more activities, under the theme ‘Unity for a Purpose’.

While the city hosts the event, the annual Juneteenth Festival has perpetually been spearheaded by 78-year old Laverne Ross.

Ross has worked tirelessly on giving the holiday a higher profile for years, first hearing of the event as a toddler. Her grandfather, a former slave himself, told the story of his emancipation to Laverne’s father who in turn passed the story down to her.

When she first heard the story at four-years-old, Laverne says she didn’t fully grasp the gravity of the situation. However, as she grew older, she realized the importance of Juneteenth and raising awareness of the holiday.

“My grandfather wanted to make sure I never forgot what the 19th of June meant to the African American people,” Ross said. “There’s a lack of understanding and knowledge of what Juneteenth is or what the name is, so I had to make it known. 

“I wanted to have it in the form of a festival where we celebrate freedom and acknowledged what our slave ancestors fought for and what we’re accomplishing now. Seemed like something people of all colors needed to know. I had to make sure I spread the word here in Santa Monica.”

The first go of the Juneteenth was a small celebration held at the Third Street Promenade nearly three decades ago. Ross says it was a small, sparsely populated celebration but now, with the help of her Juneteenth Committee and Virginia Avenue Park, the event has grown to the large, uniting festival it is today.

Ross ultimately wants to see the holiday become nationally recognized, idealizing parades held throughout the country. For now, however, Ross will settle for the impact she and her Juneteenth Festival can have locally.

“It’s all about unity for a purpose and we have all come together in unity over the years,” Ross said. “More and more ethnicities and communities from far out— Pico, Mid City, Malibu, South Bay — have come together since this first started. We bring people together and educate folks on important history. Hopefully this year we’ll have even more.”

The 27th annual Juneteenth Festival takes place Saturday, June 15 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Virginia Avenue Park. For more information, visit Santa Monica’s Virginia Avenue Park Facebook page (@vapark) or call 310-458-8688

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