One year after becoming a federal holiday, Santa Monica is gearing up for its 30th annual Juneteenth celebration with a weekend of community festivities followed by the closing of city services on Monday.

At the center of the celebrations is Saturday’s Juneteenth festival, which will take place in Virginia Avenue Park from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. and feature a range of musical performances, poetry, speakers, panels, and dances across two stages. The event is free, family friendly and will also include a local vendor marketplace, food trucks and children’s craft area.

The longstanding and rich Juneteenth celebration in Santa Monica is thanks to 65 year local resident LaVerne Ross, who in 1992 successfully convinced City Council to establish a Juneteenth event.

Ross has celebrated Juneteenth her entire life as she was been born in Texas where her parents worked as sharecroppers and her paternal grandfather was a former slave. 

“I never knew when there wasn’t a Juneteenth; I knew Juneteenth in 1944 when I was only three or four years old,” said Ross, while participating in the Juneteenth Proclamation in a June 14 City Council meeting.

Ross moved to Santa Monica in 1957 and continued celebrating the holiday with her family before making it her mission to share it with and have it be recognized by the local community. 

The holiday marks the anniversary of June 19, 1865, when more than two years after the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation, general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston Texas and declared the enslaved people of Texas to be free. 

It is the oldest national celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery, but for the first 150 or so years of its history, it was largely only recognized by Black Americans. Over the years greater awareness has been brought to the holiday through community activists and leaders like Ross and in 2021, following the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, President Biden signed Juneteenth into law as a federal holiday.

In March 2022, Santa Monica City Council designated Juneteenth as an official City holiday. As the holiday falls on a Sunday this year, the City will observe Juneteenth on Monday with the closing of all city facilities and canceling of city programs. 

“This is certainly history making that the City of Santa Monica just recognized this entire week as Juneteenth week,” said Ross, later adding, “so the 19th of June has now found its rightful place in history. Thank you all for supporting me. Thank you very much.”

Ross will speak at the Juneteenth Festival on the main stage on Saturday. The line up also features a traditional drum call with Chazz Ross, local favorite Black Party Band, invocation by the Interfaith Council, Grammy award winning singer-songwriter Dee Dee Bridgewater, jazz saxophonist Mike Phillips, pop/R&B band KLYMAZZ, and dancer Theresa Smith.

Over at the smaller community stage there will be a reading of original texts written by Divine Variations Impact Tem, two panel discussions organized by the Committee for Racial Justice, and a series of original works by the Santa Monica Repertory Theater.

Also on Saturday, Heal the Bay in partnership with Black Surfers Collective will be hosting the 10th annual Nick Gabaldón Day celebration on the Bay Street Beach. This day celebrates former Santa Monica resident Nick Gabaldón who is one of the first documented surfers of Black and Mexican American descent. This event will feature free surf lessons, a history lesson from historian Alison Rose Jefferson, children’s story time and documentary screenings. 

On Sunday at Calvary Baptist Church (corner of 20th and Broadway in Santa Monica), the Committee for racial justice will be holding another Juneteenth event featuring a speech on “Teaching the Truth” from Ben Drati, Superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. 

Clara@smdp.com