MLK Community Center’s Juneteenth celebration different but ‘impactful’

By Skye Seipp,

June 24, 2020

South Dallas

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Co-published by our media partner, The Dallas Weekly

Barry Dennis’ silver sedan followed the line of cars winding through the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center parking lot. As he drove, volunteers loaded everything from wood window blinds to household cleaning supplies into his open trunk. 

He hadn’t waited long. Dennis had been in the line for about 20 minutes by the time he reached the halfway point. He was thankful for all of the items that had been given to him, and added it was nice to be out of the house and see people of all races come together on Juneteenth to “celebrate the love.” 

After months of lockdown from a virus still raging through Dallas and an eruption of protests against police brutality, the community of South Dallas still came together for a drive-through Juneteenth celebration at the MLK Jr. Community Center.  

Among the Juneteeth community participants was the Dallas Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., whose headquarters is on MLK Jr. Blvd. Photo by Skye Seipp

The annual celebration commemorates June 19, 1865, the day that Maj. Gen. Gordan Granger of the Union landed in Galveston and declared that all slaves were free. It was nearly two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to the North, yet slaves had not been freed in Texas. As of now, Juneteenth is the oldest celebration to the end of slavery in America, with 47 states, including the District of Colombia, recognizing it as a paid holiday.  

Normally, the MLK Jr. Community Center turns into a festival on Juneteenth, with vendors and music in the parking lot, but with COVID-19 numbers still breaking record highs in Dallas County, this year’s event was done differently to practice social distancing. 

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More than 30 different organizations donated an array of items from food to hygiene products. These organizations set up stands in the parking lot that attendees drove through with their trunks open or windows down so volunteers could place donations in their cars. The donations maze ended with each person receiving a to-go order of chicken wings from Wingstop.  

A line of cars waits to be filled with community donations. Photo by Skye Seipp

The event began at 10 a.m. and lasted until noon. Cars lined up along Peabody Street and South Malcolm X Blvd., and wrapped around to Pennsylvania Avenue. There also was a walk-up option at the front of the building for people without cars.  

Music filled the air and horns honked in celebration as patrons made their way through the line collecting their goodies.  

LaRhonda Bacon, event coordinator with the City of Dallas, said the event served 325 vehicles driving through and 131 people who walked up to the MLK Jr. Community Center. 

Bacon says despite this year’s Juneteenth celebration being different from years prior, it wouldn’t have been possible without the community partners that came together.  

“It was a great success,” she said. “It would be something to do again just to help families because … it was impactful.”  

Photo by Skye Seipp

Shawana Carter, the founder and executive director of children’s clothing bank Carter’s House, said she ran out of donations, which included diapers and 500 bottles of Ajax cleaning formula, within an hour.  

Carter’s House operates out of the MLK Jr. Community Center and had to close when the coronavirus first began shutting down businesses throughout the city. Carter says this event was good for her because it shows people that the business is still open while also pressing that continuing safe practices because of COVID-19 is important.  

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 “We needed that normalcy,” she said. “I needed to connect with the community.” 

Naomi Toppin, social service and outreach coordinator with the veteran’s treatment court for the City of Dallas, said it was great to see the community come together to “celebrate this wonderful day.”  

She added that with the current political and social climate in America, it was nice to see so many smiling faces.  

 “It shows there’s hope,” Toppin said. 

Naomi Toppin, social service and outreach coordinator with the veterans treatment court. Photo by Skye Seipp

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