Saturday’s Juneteenth drive-by parade sponsored by Owensboro Black Expo got a little emotional for some of those who participated, including the organization’s secretary Martiza Meeks.
“For me to be in the south riding in a parade with all white officers blocking and protecting us, shielding us, and to see white people on the side of the road, clapping and cheering and holding Black Lives Matter signs — I lost it,” said Meeks, who grew up in Chicago. “It was just this overwhelming experience.”
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Celebrated each year on June 19, it actually marks the day when the last black slaves learned of their freedom from the Confederacy.
The last two years, Juneteenth has been celebrated locally at Kendall-Perkins Park. Guidelines in effect due to the coronavirus altered those plans.
The roughly two dozen cars in the parade began at Cravens Elementary School and made their way through various neighborhoods and downtown Owensboro before looping back to the start.
“Do you know how hard it has been for Owensboro Black Expo to get our people support in this community? It has been so hard to get them to stand with us and behind us,” Meeks said.
Meeks and Tiffany Davis, treasurer for Black Expo, both stressed how thankful they were for the support of the Owensboro Police Department. Officers escorted the parade the entire way, helping all the cars stay grouped together like in a funeral procession.
“The main thing is we couldn’t have done this without the Owensboro Police Department,” Davis said.
Awareness of Juneteenth — also called “Freedom Day” — has grown slowly over the decades, but the commemoration has drawn more attention this year due to the nationwide civil unrest that is leading to conversations about social reform and justice for members of black communities everywhere.
While there are some who instigate violence and try to portray that all cops are bad, Meeks said that is not the message they want to send here.
“You carry a gun and you are expected to be responsible, that’s the message with this whole movement,” she said. “We have to hold police accountable.”
She also said they are not asking for anything and instead are telling the world it’s time for racism to be over, and enough is enough.
“People are saying we’re playing a victim,” she said. “I am never a victim. I am fearfully and wonderfully made, trust me, I am not walking around with a victim mentality. We’re victors.”