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Juneteenth events in Livermore this weekend aim to educate, raise awareness

Tri-Valley for Black Lives and Livermore Valley Arts team up to host celebrations at Bankhead

For many people, Juneteenth is a day to celebrate an important milestone in Black history and Black liberation. It commemorates the official end of slavery in the United States and serves as an opportunity to educate people about racial justice.

Although Juneteenth has been celebrated annually on June 19 by many Americans across the country since 1865, it was only first declared an official federal holiday last year by President Joe Biden.

This weekend, Livermore Valley Arts and community group Tri-Valley for Black Lives are teaming up to host two Juneteenth celebrations at the Bankhead Theater.

​​"We just haven't had many events honoring Black history (or) really any history aside from whiteness," said Isaiah Campbell, who is part of the core planning team for Tri-Valley for Black Lives.

Faith Alpher(1)
Faith Alpher. (Contributed photo)

According to its mission statement, the organization aims to foster a safe and anti-racist community for Black, indigenous and people of color with priority for Black lives. As part of the Juneteenth weekend of festivities, the group is partnering with Livermore Valley Arts to bring motivational speakers, vendors and performers to the Bankhead Plaza on Sunday (June 19) for a family-friendly, outdoor festival.

On Saturday (June 18), local radio personality and comedian Faith Alpher will be performing "Juneteenth: Steps of Faith," inside the Bankhead Theater.

Developed by Alpher, the production "explores the uplifting life stories of four consequential women of color -- Zora Neale Hurston, Dorothy Counts-Scoggins, Josephine Baker and Claudette Colvin -- their approach to life, their timeless messages, and the outsize impact they had, and still have, on our cultural landscape today," organizers said in a statement.

"It is very important for people to not only learn the stories of women who have helped move social justice forward in our country but also for students to reflect on what they want their legacy to be," Livermore High School principal Helen Gladden said in a statement about the event.

But for Alpher, the show is about more than just teaching the history of these four women; it's about showing people that Black history is a part of American history and that opening yourself up to learning about it is a way to grow and to better coexist with others.

"When you start talking, having conversations with people who are different from you, that is when you truly grow," she said.

Alpher said it wasn't always easy for her to speak up to others and try to educate people about her history.

Originally from Teaneck, N.J., Alpher grew up in a diverse neighborhood and said she never really had to think about the fact that she was Black.

"You make me aware of it by locking your doors on Saturday morning when walking my dog and it's like seven o'clock in the morning," she said.

It wasn't until the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the death of her sister who was heavily involved with organizations like the NAACP that she decided to use her skills as a writer and as a comedian to bring more awareness and educate people about Black history.

"So many people talk so much about what they want to do. I don't want to be one of those people," Alpher said. "I'm like, OK, I like comedy, I like speaking, I like acting. Why not bring all of those things together and teach this and not just teach it normally but teach it like I know how?"

​Campbell, a Livermore resident since 2005, echoed similar sentiments. He said that he has seen the Tri-Valley grow and change over time but noticed that as a Black person, he hasn't really seen an effort to create a space for Black people and voices in the Tri-Valley.

"I feel a lot of things in the Tri-Valley are very much not catered or meant for us necessarily," he said.

He added that he considers the region to be a predominantly white space and because of that, most events and festivities are organized through those lenses. According to a 2015-19 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, Black and African American residents make up 10.3% of the Tri-Valley's population.

Campbell said it's important that different groups feel represented and feel like they have a space where they have a voice.

He also hopes that these upcoming events will inspire other activists to create spaces for other underserved communities so everybody in the Tri-Valley can feel like they belong.

"A takeaway that I would kind of hope for people to have is kind of a desire to engage in that community more in the kind of communal process of just bettering the Tri-Valley," Campbell said.

​Both Campbell and Alpher noted that the only way to foster a more welcoming community is if the public makes an effort to be curious and to attend cultural events like the Juneteenth celebration, even if they feel like they might be out of place.

Alpher said it's especially important because even though Juneteenth only comes once a year, she is still a Black woman every other day of the year and people need to make more of an effort to accept her culture not just one day, but every day.

"There will be people who kind of see it as maybe that one off event kind of almost like the black square posts on Instagram," Campbell said. "We can't view social justice and community activism, almost like a checklist of some things that kind of just need to do one or two actions or some set number of tasks and then it's done from there."

Alpher added to that point, saying that people need to take advantage now and start learning to embrace other cultures before it's too late.

Both said that with these healthy conversations about Black liberation revolving around Juneteenth, the fight for racial justice can continue and grow.

"The unknown can always be scary. But I think the only way to overcome that fear is to make it known and to go learn for yourself to see, to experience," Campbell said. "I think a lot of the time you find that there are a lot more similarities and things are a lot less different than you might expect."

The "Juneteenth: Steps of Faith" production is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday and registration is required. The registration link is available here. The outdoor festival is planned for 10 a.m. to  2 p.m. on Sunday. Both events are free. 

This weekend's Juneteenth events will be held downtown at the Bankhead Theater and its outdoor plaza. Photo by Cierra Bailey