Community members around The Woodlands area turned out for two separate events June 19 to commemorate Juneteenth. The unofficial national holiday marks the anniversary of the 1865 announcement of the liberation of slaves in Texas by Union General Gordon Granger, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation first went into effect in January 1863.

In Tamina, community members gathered at the Sleepy Hollow Multipurpose Building for an event organized by local nonprofit Children's Books on Wheels and its executive director Rita Wiltz.

The event featured several speakers and included the distribution of books, food and other supplies for children in attendance. Wiltz said the Juneteenth program was held as an educational opportunity for younger community members to learn more about the holiday's historical and modern significance.

“The reason we had this event today was to educate the children, the younger children in the community, that may not really have an understanding of what Juneteenth is so they can get the perspective and the real meaning from someone that’s older," Wiltz said.

That perspective was provided in part by Wanda Horton-Woodworth, a Tamina resident and former board member of the educational nonprofit. Horton-Woodworth spoke for several minutes about Tamina's history in Montgomery County, including the challenges associated with improving the community's infrastructure, its relationship with other local entities and recent efforts to provide free COVID-19 testing for residents.

She also spoke about the history of Juneteenth in Texas, and the difficulties faced by freed slaves in the state even after the Emancipation Proclamation's passage.

“It’s a day of recognition, being freed from slavery. It’s not only physical slavery, it’s mental, ... and that’s the part people don’t see," Horton-Woodworth said.

Another speaker, Courtney Banks, also spoke about about the connection of the Juneteenth holiday to self-acceptance and the history of Black people in Texas.

"[Juneteenth] helps with positive promotion of racial identity," Banks said. "Recognizing that just like your ancestors, you also have that perseverance, you also have that hope, you also can be your best self. ... Being comfortable in your own skin, recognizing and being proud of who you are and all the achievements that you as well as your ancestors have done to help you get to where you need to be."

At a separate event in The Woodlands on June 19, community members gathered to celebrate the holiday at Northshore Park. As the event kicked off, attendees talked, danced and began barbecuing food for the afternoon ahead.

Organizer Oponello Irving, who has also held weekly protests against systemic racism at Town Green Park this month, said she hoped to bring attention to the holiday with a celebration at the park.

"Juneteenth is not a national holiday yet, and I think we should as Americans recognize it as a national holiday because it is [about] the independence of Black people," Irving said. "It's really important because it's our country, that's the history behind our country. Our country was built on Black peoples' blood, so I feel like we should celebrate this day."

She also said she plans to continue the regular demonstrations in The Woodlands Town Center to bring attention to issues of racial injustices in the area.

"Consistency is key. You can't just show up to one protest and say you did your part," Irving said. "It takes months and months and months to see change. ... Every day that you're out there, you're touching more and more peoples' hearts."