People have fun during Juneteenth celebration

June 18, 2016 GMT

The community gathered Saturday to celebrate Juneteenth in a newly remodeled park, and organizers said they hope children and adults alike realize the significance of the day while having fun.

Shaliza Lynch, an 8-year-old Odessa girl, was at Woodson Park taking a breather Saturday from all the sports activities she participated in during the second day of the annual Juneteenth celebration.

But was Shaliza tired?

“No,” Shaliza said. “I like it here.”

Dozens of other patrons both young and old also liked it a lot during the weekend-long celebration of when Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865, and announced the end of slavery, two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln gave the Emancipation Proclamation.

The theme of this year’s extravaganza is “A Celebration of Freedom.”

The three-day celebration started Friday with a dedication of Woodson Park renovations. The event is scheduled to end today with a 3-on-3 basketball tournament from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the basketball courts and a gospel celebration at the south end of the park.

An hour-long parade in the evening capped Saturday’s activities.

Much of Saturday’s festivities consisted of games for children, a hula hoop competition and line dancing.

Lesia Young, a coordinator of the event, said she was thrilled beyond words about the annual event that she had known since she was a child. Young, who was born and raised in Odessa, moved to Pasadena, Calif., and earned her college degree at the University of Southern California in 1995, she said.

Young moved back to Odessa and sought to make the Juneteenth event bigger than what it was the first time she saw it, she said.

“When I was a kid, I used to come here,” Young said.

Jo Ann Davenport Littleton, president of the Black Cultural Council of Odessa, said that aside from all the revelry the Juneteenth celebration offers people, it also serves to remind them that someone stood on “someone else’s shoulders” to get to where they’re at.

“This is a time for family to get together to reminisce, reflect and most of all to educate,” Davenport Littleton said.

But another aspect Davenport Littleton said she was particularly proud of was how Odessa’s Juneteenth celebration has drawn people, especially the 40 vendors, from all over Texas, she said.

One of those repeat attendees was David G. Gish, the “Texas Magic Ambassador,” or magician and balloon artist, who traveled 10 hours from Tyler to participate in the festivities. Gish said he was going to hit the road back to Tyler at the day’s end.

Gish, sporting a Happy Face vest and tall black hat, said his appearance at the Juneteenth celebration was his third.

Gish said he has seen some of the children he entertained during past Juneteenth celebrations a little older when he has returned.

“This is my third year back,” Gish said. “If it’s one thing I’m particularly proud of having is repeat customers.”

Doris O’Neal, from Fort Worth, is a repeat customer in the sense that she has come back to watch the Juneteenth festivities in Odessa in past years.

“This is my eighth year,” O’Neal said. “It’s wonderful. It gets better and better. I enjoy it.”

But Olivia Luera, a 9-year-old Odessan, said she was starting to feel a little worn out by all the fun she was having. And it’s no wonder. Olivia and her family have been celebrating in the sun for nearly five hours, her father Roy said.