P. S. 233 Langston Hughes Elementary School, 9301 Avenue B, went all out for its second annual Juneteenth celebration. The staff and students commemorated the day by paying homage to their deceased ancestors and living elders.
The affair, which was held on June 16th, featured drumming, singing, dancing, pouring of libations, plus a grand marching band and steel pan orchestra that played for Governor Kathy Hochul just the day before. The bash was the culmination of a week of activities dedicated to raising awareness about the significance of June 19th. On that day in 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, slaves in the state of Texas were finally notified that they were free men and women. In 2021, President Joe Biden declared June 19th a federal holiday.
As part of the celebration, 12 children carried white flowers and placed them in a vase on a decorated table. Principal Denean Stephens-Spellman explained that “the flowers represented the 12 West African nations from which the natives were abducted and sold as slaves, but the gesture was also in remembrance of those who didn’t make it through the middle passage.”
Similar rituals were performed by other children who carried white candles and pieces of sugar cane and corn stalks, in remembrance of the slaves. The children spoke the name of each country from which slaves were emancipated and the year of liberation, beginning with the Republic of Haiti, the first, then other countries in order of their year of freedom.
There were characters who played the role of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Abraham Lincoln. They also sang songs like “Wade In the Water,” an old negro spiritual, and performed dances that dramatized the slaves’ tribulation.
Rymal Rouse, a second grade ICT teacher, poured libations while he spoke about the ancestors’ sufferings. “We take this moment of reverence to all our ancestors and recognize all our living elders as well. Weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning.” He then requested a moment of silence for their former [late] principal Aletta Seales, “such a kind wonderful woman who accepted the call only this week and joined the ancestors.” He said the Langston Hughes community was looking forward to Seales’ participation in the celebration. Aletta Seales was the author of Annie and Juneteenth.