Sonoma County Office of Education Flag-Raising Celebrates Juneteenth
The Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) on Friday, June 16, raised a flag in celebration of the upcoming Juneteenth holiday, in a ceremony featuring leaders from Black student and community groups, as well as SCOE employees.
The flag will fly the week of Juneteenth, which is Monday, June 19. The federal holiday marks the date in 1865 when Black slaves in Galveston, Texas, were informed by Union General Gordon Granger that slavery in the state had ended and that they were free. The announcement came nearly 2½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
“It was the beginning of Black people having full autonomy over the decisions they made and the lives they lived,” said speaker Layla Parrish, who will begin her senior year at Rancho Cotate High School in the fall.
Parrish, who recently interned at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, described the holiday not simply as the end of something, but “a stepping stone into what the future can be for Black communities.”
Dr. Louis Ganzler, an assistant superintendent at SCOE who majored in history and taught social studies before serving as principal at Rancho Cotate High School, discussed the history of Juneteenth nationally and the equity that has yet to be achieved.
“In celebrating Emancipation, we also must remember what preceded it, and reject enslavement and racism,” Ganzler said. “We are reminded of the promise of what freedom offers, as well as the work that lies ahead to fulfill that promise.”
Sabra Locke, whose grandmother, evangelist Marteal Perry, founded Sonoma County’s Juneteenth celebration in 1954, discussed the history of the long-running local event, which this year takes place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 17, at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park in Santa Rosa. She and members of her family led off her speech with a song, “Learning to Lean.”
“This is a celebration that was very personal to her,” Locke said of her grandmother’s work in starting Sonoma County’s Juneteenth celebration. “Her grandmother was a slave in Texas.”
Locke talked of the growing awareness of the importance of Juneteenth, and how the celebrations have grown in size.
“When I would say ‘Juneteenth,’ people would say, ‘God bless you,’” she said.
Harerta Tesfamicael, co-founder of Montgomery High School’s Black Student Union, stressed the importance of creating safe spaces for Black youth. She talked about how her own involvement with her school’s Black Student Union was a lifeline at a time when she had lost hope, had experienced personal tragedy, and was angry at societal inequities and the deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement.
“I took the hands that reached out to me, and I took the responsibility to be that hand” for others, she said.
Tesfamicael graduated from Montgomery earlier this month and will be attending UCLA, where she plans to study civil environmental engineering and electrical engineering.
Faith Ross, who co-founded Petaluma Blacks for Community Development in 1978 and has been a leading community voice for more than four decades, talked about the important work of supporting Black youth and families. She highlighted a program that brings Black youth together with Black professional mentors.
“Meeting with Black professionals who look like them is giving them hope for their future,” she said.
Eveta Jackson, who is joining the North Coast School of Education at SCOE as a co-director and most recently served as principal at Marin City’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Academy, shared her experiences as a Black educator and how they were shaped by her experiences as a student.
Jackson described the importance of love in bringing together communities, and of growing up as being one of the few Black children at her school. She said she was inspired to become an educational administrator because, “Representation matters.”
“I wanted (students) to see a leader of color that got it. … I know that I have blessed lives because people have been a blessing in my life,” she said.
John Laughlin, SCOE’s deputy superintendent of operations and partnerships, introduced each speaker and shared the agency’s goal of creating and celebrating “bonds with the diverse group of educators, administrators, and students, as well as the community organizations and members of the public who are so integral to our educational community.”
The Juneteenth flag at SCOE will fly along with the Intersex-Inclusive Progress Pride flag that was raised May 31, in celebration of Pride month. The flag-raising efforts were undertaken at the direction of Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Amie Carter and seek to celebrate the diversity within the county’s public schools.
“As a county office of education, SCOE has a unique responsibility to set the tone and establish an example for Sonoma County’s 40 school districts to follow,” Carter said in an email to staff.
The ceremony was attended by representatives from Sonoma County school districts, the Sonoma County Board of Education, SCOE employees, allied community groups, students, and members of the public.