Roman E.Kwesi Cobblah, left, and Weston S.Kofi Cobblah, brothers, prepare for some popcorn at the city of Westbrook’s first Juneteenth celebration on Sunday. Chance Viles / American Journal

Westbrook celebrated its first official Juneteenth on Sunday with speakers and a range of activities designed to spread awareness of Black culture and history.

Juneteenth has evolved from marking the freedom of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, to a celebration of Black culture overall, Bishop Steve Coleman of Williams Temple Church of God in Christ, told those at the event at Riverbank Park.

Standing in front of a Juneteenth flag, Bishop Steve Coleman speaks on the importance of the holiday. Since moving to Westbrook in 1979, he said, he has seen the city grow to become more diverse and more progressive. Chance Viles / American Journal

The fact that the city is recognizing Juneteenth and celebrating it is impactful, said Coleman, a Westbrook resident.

“The more we understand and learn, the more there is appreciation,” he said. “When I came in 1979, I did not see Westbrook as being progressive. Now that it is progressive and growing, it is important to see things like this event respond to that and acknowledge it.

“That is progress, and that can bring issues and pains, but we are seeing change.”

The Westbrook Chamber Singers and the Parish Choir at Sacred Heart and St. Dominic’s Parish in Portland performed for a crowd of about 100. Among their offerings was “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which has been dubbed the Black national anthem by groups such as the NAACP.


Face painting and rock painting booths drew long long lines of children, and Westbrook restaurant Sir. King Kitchen’s Jamaican food booth was popular with all.

“It is great to see families and kids participating, especially with the fact it is rainy and cold,” organizer and One Westbrook Director Amanda Atkinson-Lewis said. “We really wanted to create a space for our Black community and for people to learn about that, and I think we were able to do that.”

Among the volunteers were students from Westbrook Middle School who recently met with administrators over their concerns about racial inequity at the school. Among them was speaker Junior Salomon, who will be a freshman in the fall.

Westbrook students Nahjwah White, left, and Junior Salomon spoke Sunday about speaking up to promote cultural change at the middle school. Chance Viles / American Journal

“It’s really nice to me that the city is doing this and we could speak. I have never seen a cultural event like this in the city,” Salomon said. “It all started in school.  I saw others stepping up and saying something and I felt the need to do my part.”

Coleman said it was important to see youth engaged in the events.

“When I came to Westbrook in 1979, it was monolithic. I see diversity now and I am amazed,” he said.


At the same time, he said, he hopes students’ work for cultural inclusion and awareness stays peaceful. Without leadership guiding the way, he fears the youth could lose control and perhaps harm their cause.

“That is my one fear, but our kids today are more proactive than many of us had been and they have platforms we didn’t, so I am proud to see what they can do,” he said.

Accompanying speeches from Coleman and others, including the first Black woman to serve in the state Legislature, Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, was also a proclamation from Mayor Mike Foley commemorating the first Juneteenth celebration in the city.

“This inaugural event is a big deal for our city, and I am looking forward to next year,” Foley said.

Members of the Westbrook Chamber Singers and the Parish Choir of Sacred Heart and St. Dominic’s Parish in Portland perform at the Juneteenth celebration. Chance Viles / American Journal

Rep. Rachel Talblot Ross, D-Portland, addresses the crowd about the need for continued work to acknowledge all cultures in Maine. Elected in 2016, Talbot Ross was the first Black woman to serve in the Maine Legislature and was the first Black legislative leader. Chance Viles / American Journal

Sir. King Kitchen serves up Jamaican food while the choir sings. Adults from left are Dimitri King, Natalie Roberts and Moe Mahgoub. Chance Viles / American Journal

Westbrook High School student Marie Achantal braids classmate Gloria Paz’s hair at the first Juneteenth event. Chance Viles / American Journal

Kafiya Mohamoud, right, paints Westbrook resident Ellie Mancuso’s face. Chance Viles / American Journal

Mayor Mike Foley with the proclamation deeming Juneteenth an official holiday in the City of Westbrook at the Juneteenth celebration in Riverbank Park. Chance Viles / American Journal

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