Local organization hosts annual Juneteenth celebration

(Nathan Agustin)

New Life Ministries of Tulare County celebrates American history, mental health awareness at their annual Juneteenth event

TULARE – Community members are invited to join New Life Ministries of Tulare County to celebrate the day the last official slaves were freed in the United States.

On June 17, New Life Ministries of Tulare County (NLMTC) will be hosting their third annual Juneteenth event at Del Lago Park. The event is open to the public free of charge and will feature free food, games, vendors, live music and a variety of guest speakers. Del Lago is located at 1700 S. Laspina Street and the event will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Those who wish to attend and receive free lunch will need to register online before the event at www.nlmtc.org.

In addition to celebrating the national holiday, the NLMTC also adds a little extra to their event by promoting mental health as well. Coordinator Grady Dodson said it is important for everyone to understand that African American history is American history and this event is a way for people to celebrate that.

“It’s an event for all people open to the public and we choose to celebrate it in true American fashion and culture too, but a family style picnic,” Dodson said. “We have barbecue food, we have vendors, games, prizes, dancing, music, entertainment and so much going on.”

This year Dodson said the event will begin with a cultural piece of a local African drumming group from Tulare County. There will be a keynote speaker Dr. Ramar Henderson, who is a professor at Fresno State University in the Kremen School of Education and Human Development. He teaches psychology classes, has three publications and Dodson said he is known for his expertise with mental health.

“He has an expertise in mental health with the local community, urban community, [and the] black community as well,” Dodson said. “He’s also a three time published author on different matters of those topics.”

The city of Tulare as well as the county will be in attendance to deliver a proclamation acknowledging Juneteenth as a national holiday. Following the proclamations, Dodson said they will have a tribute to all those who have been lost as a result of mental health. He said it will be a “beautiful tribute” and doves will even be released. The event will have a variety of vendors including educational booths on mental health support. Some of those will include Tulare County Mental Health Agency, a suicide prevention booth, hopefully Tulare County Youth Services and others.

“June also is mental health awareness, so we’re paying homage to those who have lost the battles due to mental health,” Dodson said. “We’re hitting on so many things.”

Additional entertainment will be provided by special guest violinist Will Roberson. Dodson said he adds a little extra spin to the classical instrument and is quite entertaining. Roberson tours and performs all around, and he also teaches at a school in Fresno.

“It’s a blended culture and obviously, he’s African American. But it’s so cool because, culturally, a lot of people look at the violin, as not the cool instrument or it’s classic only, and he defies that,” Dodson said.

Dodson said they are expecting a larger turnout than in 2022. Last year the event was similar, but held in Zumwalt Park in Tulare. This year they have moved the event to Del Lago to allow for more space for activities as well as general larger space. The splash pad area has been fixed as well and will be open for children to play in. There will be raffle opportunities, a free throw contest, a bingo and spade contest and even face painting.

This event is celebrating American history and different cultures that can be found throughout America. There are still opportunities for others to have a booth if they are interested. Dodson said Juneteenth is called Freedom Day for a reason and this is everyone’s opportunity to come celebrate. The day marks the day the last American slave was freed and Dodson said that is reason enough for everyone to celebrate.

“The message from the black community, we really want to send it out there is Black history is American history. And a lot of times people don’t understand the value of why we celebrate black history,” Dodson said. “Our achievements and the things that we’ve contributed, is for the greater good of all people.”

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