6/19/2020 Jerel Carter

Jerel Carter speaks to a crowd about the realities of racism in America.

"Racism is a system," he said. "Racism is economics."

A candlelight vigil, chemistry-led march and park celebration; Juneteenth was celebrated through several different simultaneous events across Greater Lafayette Friday night.

Check out what the different scenes looked like across town.

Columbian Park celebration

A local band, Ebony and The Ruckus, strummed renditions of CeeLo Green and Reggae in Columbian Park early Friday evening. People gathered around the patio to dance, sway and two-step to the buzz of a bass guitar, part of a larger crowd of nearly 200 gathered to celebrate Juneteenth.

"The way the story goes is, there was an Emancipation Proclamation and then everybody was free, right?" lead singer Ebony Barrett said at the beginning of her performance, clad in cowboy boots and a shirt that read "free-ish."

"Nah, that ain't exactly how it worked," she added. "We celebrate June 19 of 1865 because that's when word reached the plantations down in Texas, where they were still enslaving my ancestors and did not release them."

Lines of people waited for grilled hot dogs, spicy fried chicken, pulled pork and potato salad, among other barbecue favorites. Smoke from the grills wafted through games of flag football, a dozen boys scrambling around, some intensely focused on winning and others more playful.

"Just stay united," is the message for Fred Williams, 35 and a 5-year resident of Lafayette who was coaching the football players. The winners earned trophies with folded dollar bills tucked inside. "Stay united."

He's spoken about the importance of community at each protest since thousands gathered on May 31, which Williams kicked off by yelling, "No justice, no peace!" into a megaphone before swiveling to begin the march. 

The event was organized by several of the people, Williams included, who discussed police reform with Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski on Tuesday. Alexcia Plummer, Vanessa Pacheco and Jasmine Harris were the other members of the meeting, all in attendance at some point Friday evening.

Maya Donaldson, 44, stood wearing a black apron, calling herself a "kitchen aide." Chicken wings smoked on the grill, and ribs were soon to come. Donaldson said everyone chipped in to cover the expenses, with Harris paying out of pocket for most of the food.

"Just trying to show some love in a time where it's painful," Donaldson said. "It's more love out here than it is hate. We just need to embrace it."

Lafayette local Daisy Abercorn came to the celebration Friday afternoon, and said that recently she's been trying to get more involved in the community.

"I'm trying to learn about more things that I think I've been really unaware of," Abercorn said. "In the last several weeks I've been reading and educating myself, trying to talk to people and show up to see what I can do to be helpful."

State Reps. Sheila Klinker and Chris Campbell sat as Ebony and The Ruckus launched into a rendition of Crazy by CeeLo Green. Both nodded their heads, eyes wide from behind their masks, as the lead singer leaned into the high note during the chorus.

"This is my first Juneteenth celebration," Campbell said. "I am thrilled that this is something (African Americans) have educated more of our country about. Let's keep going."

She cited her support for making Juneteenth a national holiday, something U.S. senators have mobilized behind in recent days. As members of Lafayette Indivisible walked around with clipboards to register potential voters, Campbell said her own policy shortcomings regarding hate crimes were due to dismal voter turnout.

Campbell remembers marching with the Black Cultural Center, shouting, "We shall overcome," in the 1980s. Never before, however, had she seen more than 1,000 people take to downtown streets until the night of May 31.

"I've watched these walks and rallies for over 30 years, and I've watched them start and die," she said. "But this one seems to have some real strength behind it. I don't want this momentum to die."

During her band's introduction, Barrett celebrated the history of the emancipation of slaves in Texas. But listeners began to applaud her when she jumped to the present, speaking about the importance of celebrating the constant motivation of African Americans despite constant oppression.

"We're going to keep fighting for that freedom today," she said. "That's why you see people out in the streets. But that doesn't mean we can't take time to celebrate our excellence as black people.

"That we cannot take time to celebrate our perseverance as a people. Our ingenuity as a people. Our creativity as a people. And so that's why we celebrate Juneteenth."

Candlelight vigil in downtown Lafayette

As Jerel Carter knelt to light candles arranged on the courthouse pavement, his uncle Anthony Arnett knelt down with him to help.

Soon, a woman bent to the ground too, using one votive to light the others. Another man who also didn’t have a lighter borrowed one from a man sitting on his walker, and started setting more candle wicks aflame.

The candles sat on the ground in front of the east side of the Tippecanoe County courthouse, in front of the temporary fences that had been erected weeks before post-protest. The votives spelled out “BLM” and “1865,” representing the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and the year marking the emancipation of enslaved people after the Civil War.

About a dozen people congregated in front of the courthouse Friday evening for a candlelight vigil recognizing the many black people who have died because of police brutality and racism.

Carter said he started planning the event weeks ago. Two of his friends, Shae Burford and Allen Williams, helped him set out candles shortly before the vigil began.

For a while, the three were only joined by a few, including Carter's uncle.

When a second group descended from Chauncey Hill and joined them though, the vigil swelled to dozens of people, who had just arrived from a separate march that started on campus.

"Racism is a system," Carter said during a speech to the combined crowd.

He led an eight-minute moment of silence, recognizing the eight minutes George Floyd spent trapped under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.

"We're trying to stand out and make a message," Burford said later. "As a city … we just want equal."

Before the larger group arrived, Carter and the others spent time holding up signs toward passing cars. The posters read messages like "Nobody is born racist. Racism is taught," and "The color of my skin is not a crime."

While they stood sentry in front of the courthouse, music blared from a speaker Carter had brought. Red, yellow, green and black balloons whipped around the strings that held them tight to the speaker.

Before releasing the balloons into the muggy evening sky, Carter explained the meanings behind the colors.

Red, the blood that unites everyone with African-American ancestry.

Black, for black people.

Green, the abundance of greenery in Africa.

And yellow, for stolen gold.

As the balloons floated above the eves of the courthouse, the crowd applauded, and Carter began lighting the scores of candles.

Campus to courthouse

A group of people organized by chemistry graduate students prepared to celebrate Juneteenth with a march from the Brown Laboratory of Chemistry to the Tippecanoe County Courthouse. 

More than 110 people gathered in front of Brown, making signs with resources provided by the event’s organizers and grabbing water bottles, also provided, to prepare for the trek across the Wabash River. 

Kim Fabijanczuk said she, Abdirahman Abdillahi and Athena Jenkins were inspired to create the march by the football team, which held a march against racism on June 4. 

“I saw that on the news, so I thought that would be a good way we could do something,” she said. 

Before the march began, Fabijanczuk and Jenkins said they weren’t sure how many people would show up. Jenkins said the three had held a panel the night before with 60-75 people in attendance, so she expected about that number.

As Fabijanczuk, Jenkins and Abdillahi prepared to lead the procession, Fabijanczuk addressed the crowd, thanking the participants for coming and explaining this was a peaceful march, that participants should stick to the sidewalks and avoid disrupting traffic. 

“We’re such a rambunctious crowd,” Elijah Roth, a fifth-year senior studying chemistry, said sarcastically. His remark reflected the heavy hush that fell over the crowd as they marched the one-and-a-half mile path, a crowd very different to those accompanied by chants and songs the city has seen in the past month. 

Once the group reached the courthouse, Abdillahi announced an eight-minute, 46-second period of silence, the same amount of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck.

The silence stretched on, only interrupted by honks of support from passing cars. The moment of silence ceased just as the tolling of the courthouse clock penetrated the heavy silence. 

Organizers then asked for eight volunteers to read aloud instances of microaggressions that participants of color had fallen victim of. 

Jenkins had earlier explained that they chose to provide examples of microaggressions as opposed to a definition of the word to educate the crowd on what these types of comments could sound like, so they would be able to identify them in the future. 

“In order to dismantle a system,” she said, “you have to first understand how it's built and how it's perpetuated.” 

Once finished, Fabijanczuk again thanked the crowd for coming and urged them to join her and her colleagues in walking over to the other side of the courthouse, where a candlelight vigil was being held. 

About half the participants followed the three to support the event. 

Along with the march, the student organizers created a GoFundMe with a goal to raise $10,000. Jenkins said a small portion of the funds will be used to reimburse the organizers for materials they provided to create signs, and the rest of which will be donated to two different charities: the Bail Fund and the BIPOC Project. 

The Bail Project, Jenkins said, is a bail-out fund to aid individuals unjustly imprisoned without due process. She said the the BIPOC Project facilitates workshops for black and Indigenous people of color to help these individuals navigate their experiences in relation to racial injustice and white supremacy. 

As of Friday night, the GoFundMe had raised just over $3,000.

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