Friday evening, June 19, a gathering of Highland residents and visitors participated in a Juneteenth celebration in the parking lot behind Highland Grove Elementary School and Beattie Middle School.

Juneteenth is the oldest national commemoration day that recognizes the end slavery in the United States of America.

In June 19, 1865, under the leadership of Union General Gordon Granger, thousands of federal troops descended upon the city of Galveston, Texas.

Once in Galveston, an announcement was made that the Civil War had ended. It also heralded the end slavery, which gave freedom to hundreds of thousands of slaves in Texas.

To note, this was two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of Jan. 1, 1863.

Juneteenth recognizes the freedom of African Americans and highlights the achievements, education and culture of African Americans.

On Friday, NextGenUnited Black Initiative rallied a group of approximately 300 people of all walks of life to take part in a Juneteenth celebration of music and community.

Highland residents Kendall Green and Kotesa Everson are members of NextGenUnited. They coordinated the event for Juneteenth.

“It’s [Juneteenth] not like a widely known holiday,” said Green. “I believe that it’s appropriate to bring more recognition to this actual event and the importance of it in the African American community.”

NextGenUnited is comprised of graduates and students from Redlands High School, Redlands East Valley and Citrus Valley High School.

This group, whose membership consists of 18- to 24-year-old adults, feels that they can bring effective change to civil and educational institutions as it relates to education and the acknowledgment of the accomplishments of black Americans.

Everson, who is African American, was part of an incident that took place on the corner of Boulder Avenue and Greenspot Road, near the beginning of June, where a group of white men came up to Everson’s Black Lives Matter sign and ripped it off the wall of the Serrano at Glenrose, an HOA residential neighborhood.

The incident gained the attention of the local television news stations.

Highland resident Gaby Hinojosa, who oversees the committee chairs in NextGenUnited, was also part of the coordination team for the commemoration.

“It [the group] originated two weeks ago, when they tore that sign down,” said Hinojosa. “For me this is about recognizing how far we have come and yet how far we still have to go to make sure that everyone is treated equally.”

As a first step in acknowledging African American achievements, Hinojosa believes that Highland and other communities should introduce African American literature in English classes in elementary, middle and high school.

“Start them young,” said Hinojosa. “They need to know the history of African Americans from the beginning.”

A goal of NextGenUnited is to educate the public that the members of the group are not gang affiliated.

“We’re not from L.A.,” said Highland resident Kahalewai Wallace. “We’ve all lived in Highland our whole lives.

“I think that a lot people that live in Highland don’t realize these issues are as close to home as they are.

“There are people like us [African American] in the community. Even though we are a small percentage, we’re still part of this community.

“We want to show people that we’re not the stereotype of what people think black people are. We’re not from L.A. We’re not gang bangers.

“We grew up here. We went to Cram. We went to Beattie. We went to Citrus. We went to REV. Now we go to college.

“We’re normal people. We shouldn’t have to work twice as hard for an opportunity because we’re just like them.”

Redlands resident Olivia Burgess held a handmade placard to express that black lives, black children and their future matters.

“In life, it doesn’t matter what color you are,” said Burgess. “Black lives do matter, and the future of black lives matter too.

“We should not discriminate on the color of someone’s skin. Everyone should be accepted in society. I’m here to advocate for black lives.”

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