NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Juneteenth — June 19 — is the day the nation celebrates the end of slavery in America.
But this year as the coronavirus pandemic has exposed inequities — cradle to grave — that harm African Americans, Juneteeth in Hampton Roads will address a variety of ills that leave so many families in bondage.
When Juneteenth activities fill Norfolk’s Town Point Park, the celebration will include food, fun, music, and more. But, because of the pandemic, this celebration is designed as a party with a purpose.
“It’s got to be more. People are dying, people have lost their jobs [and] people are hurting,” said Mary Bibbs who started developing the plans last Juneteenth as 1,600 Virginians had been killed by the coronavirus. As the nation approaches Juneteenth 2021, the virus has killed more than 11,000 people in the commonwealth.
Bibbs partnered with three Black churches, Festevents, Sentara, and Chesapeake Regional Health, and others, to bring first and second-dose coronavirus vaccines to a rain or shine event on June 19 at Town Point Park in Norfolk.
The event on Juneteenth also includes mental and financial wellness services.
Across Virginia, 59.3% of white residents have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, but only 14.7% of Black Virginians have received at least one dose.
Partner Pastor William Dr. Tyree III of First Baptist Church Berkley reflected on the minority vaccination numbers.
“I’m disappointed with the numbers for several reasons: number one, messaging is very important… There’s a lot of information and there’s a lot of misinformation,” he said.
He went on to say the vaccine rollout and even coronavirus testing in the region was inherently unequal.
“It was always in my mindset that this was another opportunity to limit the access and privilege of people who are free but who have not been fully vaccinated,” said Tyree.
Tyree is concerned the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions could cause more harm than good in the African American community because of the low vaccination rate.
Bibbs is steering the 757 Juneteenth vessel with a course of correction for the community she serves.
“How can we get healthier? How can we celebrate this in a meaningful way where we not only educate the community but provide services for the community,” said Bibbs.