The flame from a large torch flickered in a warm breeze Saturday morning as Zynette Paige used water from a wooden bowl to anoint the ground outside Fort Wayne's Weisser Park Youth Center.
“We pour these libations in honor of our ancestors, those that suffered the Middle Passage, those that passed on their wisdom and knowledge ...á,” Paige said as she poured the contents of the bowl to the ground. “We pour this libation for the future generations of African children to come.”
The anointing was part of a torch-passing ceremony to start off the final day of Fort Wayne's weeklong Juneteenth celebration organized by the Juneteenth Collaborative.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day Union soldiers delivered word of the Emancipation Proclamation to slaves in Galveston, Texas, more than two years after it was made.
Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday Thursday. The holiday has been observed in Fort Wayne in various forms since the early 1990s, Chief Condra Ridley said. Until last year, the Weisser Park Youth Center hosted Juneteenth celebrations for the past 15 years. Theácoronavirus pandemic forced the youth center to cancel the 2020 festivities.
Organizations around the city organized separate events to ensure the community could still celebrate Juneteenth, Ridley said. This year, Ridley said the events were brought under a single banner through the leadership of Adrian Curry, executive director of the Juneteenth Collaborative and director of the Art Leadership Center. The torch – which symbolizes recognition of the contributions, experience and wisdom of those who came before and passing responsibility and leadership to a rising generation – was passed from Paige to Curry. As supervisor of the Weisser Park Youth Center, Paige organized yearly Juneteenth celebrations for 10 years.
“We have now passed our precious legacy to the youthful generation to carry on our works and fan the flame of our creator and African ancestors that live within us,” Paige said during the ceremony.
“We will wisely and faithfully dive into the flames of our creator and our African ancestors to unify and brighten our community,” Curry replied. “We will continuously give honor to our creator and sit at the feet of our elders, to feed us wisdom, knowledge and to direct us along the path. We will speak truth and move forward serving with integrity, honor, respect, gratitude and love for our people and our culture. We will share our story with the next generation so that one day they may wisely and faithfully carry the torch. We will create and build in a way that expands our beautiful culture to reach those who have yet to be touched by the fire.”
“We will protect and preserve our history and culture to ensure our legacy does not die but lives forever in the minds and hearts of our community. We will embrace your legacy, carry on your worth and fan the flames of our creator and our African ancestors that live within us,” he added.
In an interview after the ceremony, Paige, supervisor of the Weisser Park Youth Center, said Saturday's ceremony was an acknowledgment of Curry's leadership organizing and planning of an annual cultural event that the community holds dear.
“What you saw today is a situation where a young man that participated in programs here at Weisser Park Youth Center, taught here at Weisser Park Youth Center, sat at the feet of elders and humbled himself, and proved he is ready to be a leader in our community,” she said.
Paige said she is “blown away” at the way this year's series of events came together, in particular the contributions from younger community members.
“It's beautiful,” she said. “Totally supported, funded by the African American community. That speaks volumes, and it says something about where we're at now, that we're ready to do this as a family, as a community and to do it the right way.”
Perched atop his horse-drawn carriage, Will Stevenson, who owns Rockaway Carriages with his son Luke, said he's participated in Juneteenth celebrations for years. The Stevensons participated in Saturday's promenade from Weisser Park to McMillen Park, the site of Saturday's Freedom Day festival.
Stevenson said he's thrilled Juneteenth was finally made a national holiday, a long-deserved honor.
“It's great to get the recognition it really deserves and bring to the attention of all people,” he said.