On June 19, South Portland High School students Eden York and Zoe Collins were recognized and awarded by the South Portland City Council for their initiative to raise funds for their classmates in order to help pay off their school debts. Catherine Bart photo

SOUTH PORTLAND — City officials, volunteers and residents gathered at Mill Creek Park for South Portland’s first Juneteenth celebration.

With live music from local musicians Kenya Hall and Kafari, people gathered to recognize the holiday as well as World Refugee Day, a United Nations holiday celebrated on June 20.

Established as a federal holiday by Congress on June 17 this year, the holiday known as Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, is a day in commemoration of the day in 1865, when freedom was proclaimed to all people in the south, said a resolution passed by the South Portland City Council.

Although President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, ordering the ending of slavery, it wasn’t until 1865 that the proclamation made its way to all states, said Mayor Misha Pride.

“What people don’t know that in 1865, there were still slaves in Kentucky and Delaware because they were border states, part of the Union, and so I think that’s emblematic of what Juneteenth should be for everyone,” Pride said. “It’s a signpost. It’s a time to realize that we’ve come a certain distance, but we still have a ways to go.”

South Portland recognized Juneteenth as a holiday before the Congress did, said Pride. On June 10, the city council voted to recognize the holiday.

“At city hall, you can see the Juneteenth flag flying there now proudly, so I’m proud of what we’ve done,” he said. “I’m proud of where we’re going. I’m proud of the work of the Human Rights Commission, the only one of its kind in the state, the only municipal Human Rights Commission in the state, so I thank you all.

“I thank the councilors who came today and the councilors on the council who supported these actions unanimously in every step. We could not be prouder of our city officials, so thank you all for coming today.”

During the celebration, city councilors recognized Pedro Vazquez, chair of the Human Rights Commission, which was established by South Portland in 2020, and two South Portland High School students, Eden York and Zoe Collins, for their contributions to the city.

Pedro Vazquez was given the key to the city of South Portland by Councilor Jocelyn Leighton on June 19. He is currently the chair of the Human Rights Commission, the only municipal commission of its kind in the state. Catherine Bart photo

Vazquez, who was presented a key to the city, was thanked for his dedication and volunteer work to South Portland by city councilors.

Collins and York were presented certificates for their work in raising funds to help their classmates, said councilor Deqa Dhalac.

“I found out these two young people really took the time to raise money for their fellow students in order for them to pay off the fees that they owe,” she said.

Margaret Brownlee, vice chair of the Human Rights Commission, thanked residents for attending the celebration.

“We’re just so proud,” Brownlee said. “For me, Juneteenth means liberation, freedom and love, and I’m just so proud to help represent the city.”

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