The NAACP Norwich Branch hosted its 32nd Juneteenth Celebration on Friday, a day after President Joe Biden signed into law a bill designating Juneteenth as the 12th federal holiday.
“Today it is probably more important than it has been," said Shiela Hayes, president of the Norwich NAACP.
According to Hayes, Norwich was the first city in Connecticut to host a Juneteenth celebration. Their first event was in 1989 and the Norwich NAACP has hosted a celebration every year since.
Lt. Dan Jenkins was one of the founding members of the city's Juneteenth events. He was the city's first Black police officer and served as chairman for the first Juneteenth celebration. His son, Dan Jenkins, lives in the city and attended the 32nd celebration Friday.
"The intention was to bring people of color together and to celebrate the emancipation of our slaves," said Jenkins. "For my dad, Juneteenth was a big celebration."
When Lt. Jenkins died, the Norwich NAACP started giving an award in his name at the annual Juneteenth celebration. This year, Rose City United received the award. They are a group of community activists and police officers who work together to improve relations between the police and communities of color.
"Nobody is free until everybody is free," said Robin Relliford-Bilchez, a member of Rose City United. "When we sit down and have a conversation with the police officers and we learn about how to really unify together, I think it just speaks volumes in itself."
The celebration Friday was underscored by calls for more advocacy in the community. Hayes said there is still work to do to ensure equity for all.