The Norwich branch of NAACP held its June 32 celebration on Friday, a day after President Joe Biden enacted a bill designating June as the 12th federal holiday.
“Today is probably more important than before,” said Shiela Hayes, president of the Norwich NAACP.
According to Hayes, Norwich was the first city in Connecticut to host a June 10 celebration. Their first event was in 1989 and the Norwich NAACP has held a celebration every year since.
Lt. Dan Jenkins was one of the founding members of the town’s Juneteenth events. He was the city’s first black policeman and presided over the first June 15 celebration. Her son, Dan Jenkins, lives in the city and attended the 32nd celebration on Friday.
“The intention was to bring people of color together and celebrate the emancipation of our slaves,” Jenkins said. “For my father, Juneteenth was a big party.”
Upon Lieutenant Jenkins’ death, the Norwich NAACP began presenting an award on his behalf at the annual Juneteenth celebration. This year, Rose City United received the award. This is a group of community activists and police officers who work together to improve the relationship between the police and communities of color.
“No one is free until everyone is free,” Rose City United member Robin Relliford-Bilchez said. “When we sit down and have a chat with the cops and learn to really come together, I think that in itself says a lot.”
Friday’s celebration was highlighted with calls for more advocacy in the community. Hayes said there was still work to be done to ensure fairness for all.