Recently, a bright ray of hope shone through the turbulent times here in the City of Delaware. These are turbulent, distressing times with reports of accelerating polar ice melting, suicide attacks around the world, and our border enforcement separating children from their parents and other family members.
The shining example of a hopeful development came in the midst of a busy weekend. The weekend events included the Northern Olentangy Watershed (NOW) Festival, St. Mary’s Festival, the start of the Great Ohio Bicycling Adventure (GOBA) and Father’s Day.
But the beacon of hope and aspiration came in the form of a Juneteenth celebration last Saturday. What’s Juneteenth? You might have been surprised and/or puzzled to see it in your calendar on June 19 — if you have an iPhone. Apple made news when they added it as a holiday. The day commemorates the June 19, 1865 announcement of the abolition of slavery in the state of Texas, the last state in the then re-unified United States to embrace it as the law of the land.
Our local event started at Woodward Elementary School and finished in the gazebo at Bicentennial Park, nestled between Ohio Wesleyan University and the Wilbur Bills Fire Station. Arm-in-arm, folks who came crossed the former “color line” —where the railroad tracks used to be — they crossed the old boundary, cutting police tape in a symbolic gesture of tearing down divisions between white and black, north and south, safety and danger. In attendance were Delaware City Council leaders, the city police chief, ministers of several churches, and citizens of every age and skin color. It was a beautiful gathering for a great cause.
There were young and old speakers at the podium sharing their own journeys and knowledge they gathered along the way. A younger one was Charles Kellom, assistant dean for multicultural student affairs at OWU, who reminded us that Texas had to have known about the Emancipation Proclamation well before 1865, two years after President Lincoln issued the original. He pointed out that the telegraph had been well-established 10 years earlier. He also related our use of “My America” to the way children, with many siblings, will say “My Mom” or “My Dad.” It belongs to all of us, but we all have a personal relationship with it.
An older speaker was Benny Shoults, a trustee for the Delaware County Historical Society. He had older members of the audience, somewhere around 150 strong, recall (within their living memory) the only restaurant in town in which people of color could eat. It was on Liberty Street, not far from where we were gathered. He also reminded us of the freed slaves who settled here, some of whom served in the military during the Civil War.
This inspiring and historic event was produced by One People, a fledgling organization of concerned citizens working together to promote unity and engagement by all people in our community. Their work is inspired by Jesus proclaiming that loving our neighbor is the highest law and the greatest ideal. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan and other stories point out that our neighbors might actually be our rivals or even our enemies, yet we should give them the same care and respect we offer our family and friends. In a similar vein, my next door neighbors have a yard sign, provided by their church, the Delaware City Vineyard, promoting love of our neighborhood. It goes well with ours, stating that “Hate has no home here.”
Our Delaware Juneteenth celebration was a heartwarming event, and I look forward to it being the first of many that bring all of the people of our community together. We are neighbors, after all.
David Soliday is the minister at the Delaware Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.