Juneteenth in CapNY: 4 Changemakers Paving the Way

Photo of girl at Juneteenth celebration

“Juneteenth is important because it is the beginning of our history.”

– Lashawn Hawkins, Founder of the I Can Breathe and I Will Speak organization in Fulton County New York

CapNY Celebrations


June 19th. Many Americans know that date as Juneteenth, a federal holiday that acknowledges and commemorates the legal ending of slavery in the United States of America. For Black Americans across the country, Juneteenth is our independence day as we honor the end of suffering for those who endured the hardships of slavery. Juneteenth became a federal holiday in the United States June 17, 2021, after President Biden signed it into a federal law. On Juneteenth weekend, organizations throughout CapNY hosted events where people can get together and celebrate the holiday.

Amplifying Voices in Albany

In Albany, there were many events celebrating the holiday. The Underground Railroad Education Center, a nonprofit in Albany located on Livingston Avenue, hosted the JuneTEENth Freedom Day Celebration. The celebration was put together by the center’s Young Abolitionist Leadership group, who planned the event, invited numerous vendors including Allie B’s Kitchen, and held activities and presentations for the community.

When asked about the event, cofounder of the center Paul Stewart stated, “Juneteenth is important to this organization because it celebrates the freedom of the African American people in the United States. I am delighted that the young people from the Young Abolitionist Group stepped up and did the work for this event. It had such a great turnout.”

The Underground Railroad Education Center’s mission is to rediscover the full complex history around the Underground Railroad and share it with the community. The center focuses not only on the routes that were taken with the railroad but also the journey of people who made those choices to take the route. Since the nonprofit was established in 2003, the center was able to uncover the railroad’s relationship with other places outside of America including places like Britain, Mexico, and Canada. “This is important work and we need to do this. We need to act on this,” says Stewart.

In addition to this event, families in Albany were able to participate in the Juneteenth celebration held at Ten Broeck Mansion. Located in Arbor Hill, the second oldest neighborhood in Albany, Ten Broeck Mansion held an arts and garden program that honored the holiday by sharing the history of African plants. These plants were then planted into the Mansion’s community garden. “There is such a rich beautiful history associated with these plants that not many know about. Having the opportunity to share this on Juneteenth is very special and important for us to do,” says executive Director of Ten Broeck Mansion, Kathryn Kosto.

Kosto further states, “Ten Broeck Mansion is part of a neighborhood with a lot of children and seniors. We love having the opportunities to give back to them. To make the museum more welcoming. We get the best reviews from our families who come to our events, they’ll invite others to come and join in on the fun.”

The nonprofit focuses on the initiative of sharing the history of Ten Broeck with the Arbor Hill neighborhood and the Capital Region. Ten Broeck Mansion offers many ways for everyone in the community to get involved. They host a free teen camp that supports the arts in the form of making movies, they hold free tours of the mansion where the share the history of it and will be hosting free children’s programs in the summer. “We are trying to be more inclusive and serve the needs of the community. We do a lot, but I still feel there is more we can do,” Kosto states.

Giving Back in Gloversville

Not directly in CapNY, but just adjacent to the west, in Gloversville, the I Can Breathe and I Will Speak nonprofit held an event at a local café. Lashawn Hawkins, founder of the organization states, “I knew nothing was going to happen here for Juneteenth, there is such a lack of education or care about it here. It being now a federal holiday, I knew we needed to bring more awareness and celebrate.”

At the event, Hawkins screened a documentary about the organization and had support from the mayor in Gloversville and the Gloversville Police Department. I Can Breathe and I Will Speak is a nonprofit that was created to bridge the gap between community and law enforcement, ultimately strengthening the relationship the people have with one another.

Peaceful Protesting

Hawkins, the founder of the organization, made it her personal goal to give back to the young people in her area after having her own difficult time in Gloversville. “Gloversville and Fulton County was the most racist place I’ve ever been when I first moved here. It was non- inclusive, and I knew I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know how then.” When social injustices began to arise during 2020, including the unjust murder of George Floyd, Hawkins went out to protest peacefully. “Young people reached out to protest with me, but me being a mother, I knew I didn’t want to lead them that way. So, I chose to start the nonprofit instead, “she says.

Facebook Message

Since creating the nonprofit, Hawkins has given back to her community in many ways. She hosted a job fair, held a back-to-school event for people in need of supplies, and organized a Halloween event during the pandemic where the nonprofit would go to registered houses and deliver candy to kids safely, so that they can still enjoy the Halloween experience. She even put together a “Christmas Eve Car Sleigh” where parents can register how many kids they had, and she would bring toys to the families on Christmas Eve to give to their kids. When asked what motivates her Hawkins states, “The future of the Children here in my community. The kids.”

Creating Supportive Spaces in Saratoga

The Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation celebrated Juneteenth with a “Summer Stroll” event over Juneteenth weekend. The Summer Strolls series is an event that happens every Sunday in the summer season and is hosted by the foundation; this event invites community members to take walking tours around historical areas in Saratoga. On Juneteenth, the foundation hosted a special stroll, led by author Carol Daggs who was able to share more history about the holiday and its relationship with Saratoga.

Membership and program director Nicole Babie believes Juneteenth is important to the foundation stating, “Juneteenth brings important conversations that this country needs to have. The history of Slavery, it can get swept under the rug but that’s important to talk about and recognize.”

Sunday Summer Stroll spotlights Brandtville community for Juneteenth (WRGB), Credit: CBS 6
Sunday Summer Stroll spotlights Brandtville community for Juneteenth (WRGB), Credit: CBS 6

The foundation works to strengthen the voices of the community. They hold black history month programs and women’s history month programs. The foundation also uses the history of the buildings in Saratoga to help the community learn and build together with one another. “What drives me everyday is being able to tell the stories of Saratoga Springs that people find both relatable and interesting. We are so much more than the racecourse and there is so much history here and that’s what our organizations preserves. It’s very exciting,” Babie says.

Here are some other events that occurred this past Juneteenth Weekend across CapNY (sourced from News 10):

How did you celebrate Juneteenth weekend? Let us know on our social media pages; we are on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and TikTok! @gocapny on all platforms.

Written by: Naava Dae

Naava Dae is a writer and content creator from the Capital Region. She created her self-titled brand, The Naava Dae in 2017 and uses it to inspire people who encounter her work on multiple platforms. For more content by Naava Dae, visit www.thenaavadae.com and check her out on Instagram @realnaavadae.