ITHACA, N.Y. –– For the first time in Southside Community Center history, the organization held its annual Juneteenth ceremony virtually.

Juneteenth –– which traditionally falls on June 19 every year –– celebrates the end of slavery in the United States.

The virtual all-day event took place on Saturday, June 13, and featured videos from community members, performances and speeches. The theme for this year’s celebration –– “Filling in the Gaps-Black Consciousness.”

“It’s focused on filling in the gaps of our education,” said Southside Board Chair Dr. Nia Nunn. “We’re teaching about 20 black leaders from our past and how they can give us so much information now.”

As a supplement to the actual Juneteenth event last week and continuing through the nationally recognized June 19 date, Southside is posting illustrations of the 20 black leaders being highlighted on their social media, with short biographies and links to educational resources.

“Juneteenth serves as a kickoff for a larger initiative on the importance of teaching these individuals,” Dr. Nunn said.

Illustrations by local artist Maryam Adib

Despite being able to put together a virtual event, Dr. Nunn said she misses some aspects of being able to celebrate the holiday in-person with the Southside community.

“We miss the large community wobble…the flavor of being together,” she said. 

Richard Onyejuruwa, the Southside board vice president, said that while the community can’t physically be together, being able to be together virtually is a good alternative.

“The priority is being together— that hasn’t changed.,” he said. 

Like many places in Ithaca, Southside has had to close its doors temporarily because of coronavirus. However, they have found ways to continue to serve the community while following state and city health guidelines.

Onyejuruwa said he hopes at some point soon things will pick back up and get back to a new normal, but for now, SSCC will continue to aid the community however it can.

“We haven’t been flat out closed, we’ve just been more limited,” Vice President Onyejuruwa said. “We’ve been providing services for the community like a food pantry and we’ve made (food) deliveries to nursing homes.”

Onyejuruwa’s favorite part of Juneteenth? “The idea of freedom yesterday, freedom today, freedom tomorrow and freedom forever.” 

Follow along with the Juneteenth Black Consciousness curriculum on the Southside Community Center’s Facebook and Instagram.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com