Category Archives: Juneteenth

2nd Annual Juneteenth Celebration hosted by Benicia Black Lives Matter

There was much to be celebrated this past Sunday, June 19, 2022.

Benicia Juneteenth 2022 – Ariel Marin Music

By Amira Barger, June 23, 2022

Thanks to community volunteers and the events team of Benicia Black Lives Matter (BBLM), the second annual Juneteenth Celebration brought us together as we collectively reflected on and commemorated a historic day. This event was made possible by community, for community.

From its origins in 1865, Juneteenth has presented a paradox – much like our little City by the Bay, Benicia – marking a legacy of systemic racism and inequity yet simultaneously representing hope and opportunity to see and do things differently. In this way, Juneteenth is not just a remembrance of the past, but a call to action for us, today and tomorrow. Each community member who showed up – on Father’s Day no less—joined in an act of solidarity with and for Benicia’s Black community.

Benicia Juneteenth 2022 – Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown with BBLM’s Amira Barger and Kashanna Harmon-Lee

Nearly one hundred Benicians gathered to commemorate Freedom Day and the end of enslavement in the United States. While the downtown Veteran’s Hall was filled with visible smiles, colorful artwork and other media, live music, and the smell of delectable foods, the stage was shared amongst a handful of stunning singers, speakers, poets, artists and activists who together reminded us that the fight for equity and freedom is far from over and won.

Benicia Juneteenth 2022 – around 100 in attendance

The event also welcomed a cohort of Black-owned businesses who showed up and showed out with their products and services on display. From soaps, to comics, to massage therapy, to jewelry – we had it all. We were joined by: Rest and Relax Massage and Bodywork LLC; Crumbbum Comics; Kelene Naturals, Wisdom Natural Soaps; Ethnic Notions Fine Art Gallery & Multicultural Bookstore, Soulful Seeds.

We were also joined by other community groups dedicated to the cause: Food is Free SolanoProgressive Democrats of Benicia; Omega Gents Youth Mentoring Program; and the ACLU – Solano County Chapter.

And our bellies and hearts were filled by Chef “D” by the Bay and Noonie’s Place, while our ears were serenaded by Ariel Marin Music, DJ Irrataetion and KajLoud.

There is still much more work to be done in our little City by the Bay. BBLM encourages each resident of Benicia to continue your journey of learning and working to celebrate Black culture, Black people, Black history and Black life. Some actionable steps you can take today are noted here and can be found on our website and social pages:

Be sure to attend this event each year and, most importantly, spend your money with our vendors that joined us – most of them Black-owned and -operated. Links are included in this article where vendors have been mentioned and shared on our social media pages.

To close this recounting, we urge you to center this passage from BBLM’s first-ever essay contest winner, Sydney Allen, who offered these apt words to our community:

“I will leave you with this quote from the Black-trans activist Marsha P. Johnson, who said, ‘History isn’t something you look back at and say it was inevitable. It happens because people make decisions that are sometimes very impulsive…’ If we do not stop to consider the outcome for all of those with whom we are making decisions for, then we continue to perpetuate a vicious cycle of racism and bigotry. But if we are able to authentically bring diversity, inclusivity, and unity to our nation’s government, then we are one step closer to a society that truly has ‘liberty and justice, for all.’”

Thank you for being in community with us and see you next year!


Benicia Black Lives Matter is a grassroots community group organized to address anti-Black racism in the city of Benicia. There is a lack of Black representation across City leadership, departments, and voluntary boards. The lack of Black representation tells a story of our complacency as a community and more so, the impact on our Black Benicians lived experience. The good news is, we can rebuild the City of Benicia into a better Benicia, one commitment and one change at a time – and we have a strategy to do so. Our Strategy: Actively Commit to Change. The City of Benicia must commit to a specific vision of what a better, more inclusive and equitable future looks like. For additional information see

Benicia Juneteenth Celebration at Benicia Veterans Memorial Hall, Sunday, June 19th

Please join Benicia Black Lives Matter in our commemoration and celebration of Juneteenth at the Benicia Veterans Memorial Hall on First Street on Sunday, June 19th from 11 am to 5 pm. (Not at the Camel Barns as previously posted here.)  There will be speeches, history, music, dance, vendors and children’s activities to honor Black history and culture as well as a few family activities for Father’s Day. For more information see below.

Juneteenth – Our Second Independence Day

As our calendar works its way towards mid-June, we are looking forward to observing the new National Holiday of Juneteenth to honor those who were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation and Constitutional Amendment of 1863.

Although Juneteenth is known as the “Second Independence Day,” it’s really the “First Independence Day” for many. The freedom some gained when England released its hold on the Americas when we won the Revolutionary War in 1783 did not affect a great and important part of our population. In fact, the term “freedom” at that time only applied to those empowered by the color of their skin, their gender, and the coins in their pocket. The practice of slavery— impacting the Africans brought to and sold in the United States, the subjugated Native Americans, and, to a lesser extent, those indentured—continued to experience immense growth over the next century.

According to the US Census Bureau, in 1790 there were nearly 700,000 enslaved people in the US, or approximately 18 percent of the total population. This included ninety-two percent of all people of African descent. By 1860, there were over four million slaves in the South alone. Of the total Black population living in the United States at that time, about 89 percent were living in slavery.

Early abolitionist work began in the 1780s with a handful of people, most of whom were from the Northeast. The movement was slow to gain momentum. In the 1830s Black leaders such as Fredrick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and John Brown brought more public awareness to the injustice of slavery. By the 1850s there was just enough recognition of the horror and inhumanity surrounding slavery to begin real change. At the height of the Civil War, on the eve of January 1, 1863, enslaved and free African Americans gathered in churches and private homes across the country awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect. Finally, at midnight, all enslaved people in the United States, including those in the Confederate South, were declared legally free.

But some states, especially those in the Confederacy, held on to their claim to slavery for as long as they could. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective immediately, the South refused to recognize the Constitutional Amendment. It took time for the hard-earned proclamation to be honored, and its execution was rolled out state by state. The Confederate state of Texas was one of the last states to comply. Freedom finally came on June 19, 1865 – more than two years after the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation – when Union troops arrived in Galveston. The Union army, as commanded by the President, announced that enslaved Black people in the State of Texas were free by executive decree. June 19th came to be celebrated within the African-American community local to Galveston before it spread to other parts of the US, and is now known as “Juneteenth.”

The City of Benicia has its own history of slavery. According to an article written by Ian Thompson for the Daily Republic in 2012, our city included six African Americans among its population of 480 people in 1850. One of the six was a man named Adam Willis, who came from Missouri to Benicia with his enslaver, Singleton Vaughn. Willis also became one of the first free African Americans in town when he was emancipated by a Benicia courtroom on September 27, 1855. A second Black resident was a former Bear Flag veteran named Joseph McAfee. McAfee was part of the Western Underground Railroad that freed slaves in pre-Civil War California, when there was still dissent over whether slavery should be legally allowed or banned in our newly recognized state.

Although Juneteenth has been long celebrated in the African-American community, most Americans remained unaware of this important event and its significance until very recently. This is the second year that Juneteenth is listed as a Federal Holiday, commemorating the history of and triumph over slavery. It is also a marker of the work in progress and the work ahead as we move towards a more equitable society.


● The festival will take place from 11 am to 5 pm at the Veterans Memorial Hall at 1150 First Street.
● Everyone is welcome—this is a family event!
● There will be food and drinks vendors along with small businesses selling everything from cosmetics to fine art and literature.
● A formal staged program with speakers, and performances. Readings will start at 1 pm. There will be time to shop and enjoy the music, food, and drink before and after the
● Families can look forward to fun educational activities, including a scavenger hunt with prizes, a craft table with art, a storyteller, popcorn, and cotton candy.
● We’ll have a free Father’s Day culturally appropriate gift for fathers and father figures, and an opportunity to have a family photo taken for a suggested donation between 2 and 3:30pm.

Report and photos – Benicia’s Juneteenth Freedom Celebration

Benicia Black Lives Matter Hosts First Annual Juneteenth Freedom Celebration, June 19

Juneteenth Celebration in Benicia CA, June 19, 2021 – Brandon Greene, Co-founder of Benicia Black Lives Matter

By Vicki Byrum Dennis, with contributions from BBLM members

June 20, 2021 – More than 350 people joined together on Saturday at Benicia’s historic Camel Barns to celebrate the First Annual Juneteenth Freedom Day festival to be held in the city. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day enslaved individuals in Galveston, Texas were informed that slavery had been abolished and that they were freed persons.

Benicia Juneteenth 2021 – Left to right: BBLM Co-founder Nimat Shakoor-Grantham, Benicia Mayor Steve Young, Benicia Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Manager Dr. Maliika Chambers, and BBLM Co-founder Brandon L. Greene

Saturday’s celebration, sponsored by Benicia Black Lives Matter (BBLM), was filled with proclamations and resolutions from city officials, history presentations, a step performance, poetry and music as well as food and interesting wares from more than a dozen Black-owned businesses.

Visitors enjoy checking out the vendors’ tables [Credit: Benicia Black Lives Matter]
“We are delighted that so many people joined BBLM to celebrate this day, which to Blacks is our Fourth of July,” said Nimat Shakoor-Grantham, co-founder of BBLM and a behavioral therapist. The festival was planned long before anyone knew that President Joe Biden would sign into law the observation of Juneteenth as a national holiday just a few days earlier. “Because of the significance of what had just occurred in Washington, our celebration is doubly meaningful,” Shakoor-Grantham said.

Freedom Flag, raised over Benicia City Hall on June 17, 2021

Juneteenth activities in Benicia actually began on Friday, when the Juneteenth flag was raised over City Hall with City Council and BBLM members in attendance. On Saturday, Shakoor-Grantham and BBLM co-founder Brandon Greene started the program by sharing their stories of why they founded BBLM last summer. Galvanized by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other Black people, and united by their personal experiences of racism, slurs, discrimination and inequities in Benicia, they formed the grassroots community organization to address anti-Black racism in Benicia. During the program, both co-founders spoke of the need for all Benicians to get and stay active in the work to end racism in Benicia and to speak out when they observe it.

Brandon Greene, Co-founder, Benicia Black Lives Matter

“It is important to put today’s event into the correct political and social context,” said Greene, who is also Director of Racial and Economic Justice Program for ACLU of Northern California and an adjunct professor at UC Hasting School of Law. “We need to take this joyous energy of today and move forward to educate, to teach the real history of America, and to hold the city, the county and others accountable to disenfranchised people.”

Dr. Maliika Chambers, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Manager for the City of Benicia

Afterwards, Benicia Mayor Steve Young read an official proclamation from the city designating Juneteenth an official annual celebration for Benicia.  Dr. Maliika Chambers, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Manager for the City of Benicia, presented Resolution 20-103, which established the position she holds and created several important but as yet unrealized action items for the City to address serious inequities in civic representation and support for Black-owned businesses.

Bow Hammer Skins, Herb Ruffin (keyboard/”hammer”), Karese Young (viola/”bow”), Carlton Carey (drums/”skins”), Ryan Sample (bass/”big bow”)

The crowd then stood together and sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Negro National Anthem, played by the local jazz band Bow Hammer Skins.

The Omega Gents perform a step routine during the City of Benicia Inaugural Juneteenth Program at the Camel Barns on Saturday in Benicia.

After an energetic and commanding step performance by the Omega Gents, young mentees from a program for African American middle- and high-school boys sponsored by the Northern California Chapter of Omega Psi Phi, Robert Johnson presented the history of Juneteenth, long an important date for Black Americans, yet little mentioned in American history books.

Robert Johnson, Juneteenth history

“It came two years after the Emancipation Act was signed by President Lincoln and two months after the South surrendered, ending the Civil War,” Johnson said. “But Blacks continued to be enslaved despite the proclamation. It was only when Major General Gordon Granger told the citizens of Galveston, Texas, that legalized slavery in the United States had ended that Blacks there realized they were free. June 19 has long marked the occasion of freedom for Blacks in America.”

Johnson concluded by noting that while Juneteenth may represent freedom, the long, ongoing struggle for a more just and equitable living standard for all Americans, regardless of skin color, continues. Even after slavery was legally abolished, Black and African Americans suffered from sanctioned discrimination throughout the South and all of the U.S. through reconstruction and Jim Crow laws, which created and sustained inequities in education, housing, jobs, health care and much more—proving that the struggle is far from over.

Learn more about the work and goals of Benicia Black Lives Matter at or on Facebook at