Waldorf, MD- Members of the Charles County community united on Saturday afternoon to celebrate the annual day honoring the emancipation of slaves by supporting local black-owned businesses and community initiatives. 

The festivities held at the Shops at Waldorf came just days after President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act declaring June 19 a federal holiday. Following the president’s proclamation, the Charles County Board of Commissioners followed suit recognizing the newly minted holiday for the residents of the county.

“[This] means that Charles County is moving forward from the past,” Ongisa Ichile-Mckenzie, the executive director for Southern Marylanders for Racial Equality, said.

McKenzie was just one of several women representing Southern Maryland organizations working to create change and equality within the community. She was also joined by Dyotha R. Sweat, the president of the NAACP Charles County Branch, Angelica Jackson, the executive director of Phoenix International, Inc., which operates Phoenix International School of the Arts, Latasha Briscoe, the owner of event planning company LB Innovations, and Abena Affum McAllister, the executive director of Women of Action Maryland (WOAM). 

“[This celebration] is in the spirit of bringing everyone together and making sure we have one voice,” McAllister said. 

The 2021 Freedom Day event is the second Juneteenth celebration in Charles County and after its continued success will continue to move forward with keeping the celebration of the county’s diverse community going. This event wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Charles County Board of Commissioners and involvement from Juneteenth veteran and Charles County Matters Director Deron Tross.

The day consisted of several local black-owned businesses setting up shop in the parking lot overlooking Crain Highway encouraging event-goers to support and uplift some of the county’s most creatively diverse black entrepreneurs. Businesses from around Charles County displayed handmade goods ranging from accessories and apparel to beauty products while Choba’s African Kitchen & Bakery served up African eats.

“[It’s about] bringing everyone together to support black-owned,” Ichile-Mckenzie said. 

The ceremony for the event kicked off with a performance by the Abdul Unity Cultural Drummers, who kept the African cultural celebration going with lively Ghanan drum beats throughout the day. 

It was followed up by words of prayer by Pastor Kenneth Stewart and remarks by Dr. Gianni Clarkson, an adjunct professor and high school history teacher at Paul Public Charter School.

After presenting at last year’s Juneteenth celebration, Clarkson was invited back to fill the role as master of ceremonies, bringing with him his thirst for the education of black histories. 

“You come to these events to listen and to learn… doing it consistently,” Clarkson said of how Juneteenth should be celebrated. “You have to understand where people come from to see where they are going,” he later added. 

Dr. Iyelli Ichile conducted a ceremonial libation, an ancient African practice that gives thanks to the ancestors. Ichile was accompanied by dancer Monique Newton Walker, who is the director of the National Association of American African Dance Teachers (NAAADT).

Tameria Bradley also took center stage when she performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which has been adopted as the black national anthem. Other performances from the Emancipation Day celebration included members of the Kariamu & Company: Traditions doing a contemporary African dance.

The event also conducted an oratory competition run by Jackson, who is also the executive director of the Southern Maryland Youth Poet Laureate. The oratory competition consisted of two bright young students, Akoso McKenzie, a 10th grader from Lackey High School and Ishengi McKenzie, a 4th grader from Craik Elementary School. Both students recited original speeches, each representing the meaning and significance of the day.

One of the highlights of the Juneteenth celebration was the community’s recognition of members of the class of 1969, who finally received their diplomas from La Plata High School after being denied the right to graduate after protesting the inequality at the school. The presentation righting the history of Charles County was made by the president of the NAACP in Charles County and Dezmond Rosier, the youth president of the same organization.

“When people come together, change happens,” Rosier said.

Updated June 21 at 7pm to correct names, the names of organizations and the addition of an event and other event participants.

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