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Juneteenth commemorated with rallies, marches in Tampa

Posted at 10:40 PM, Jun 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-19 23:26:51-04

TAMPA, Fla. -- Across Tampa, people are commemorating Juneteenth with marches, rallies and messages of unity.

The Gamma Zeta Lamda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha helped organize a gathering downtown.

"This is the 155th celebration of the anniversary of slaves in Texas finding out they had actually been freed by Emancipation Proclamation. And so today, we’re using this as an opportunity also to just to show solidarity with regard to the protest and with regard to seeking equality," said member Frank Pyrtle III.

Dozens of people gathered for a march to Gaslight Park where they rallied with family, friends, neighbors and kids.

"Juneteenth is a part of American history and I’d hate for it to just kind of be African Americans that celebrate it but hopefully, you’ll see a diverse group," said Alicia Davis, there with her family.

Speakers called for reforms to the criminal justice system, education system and for a dialogue between community members and city leaders. They also emphasized the need for people to vote.

"We definitely want to make sure we have an environment where people feel safe to vote, that we have trained employees at the polls, that we have the proper precautions in place among the pandemic, and we also want to make sure we’re represented at the table when decisions are being made about our community and when decisions affect our lives," said Kaseem Mabry, the fraternity chapter's president.

Mayor Jane Castor also took the podium, begging people to not let the energy subside.

"We want to meet with the community and find out what it is they want from their public safety department then put in the necessary changes and reforms. And then, we need to move on to the bigger more systemic issues that I intend to tackle and that is workforce development, housing that is affordable for everyone and transportation systems," she said.

Across the city in Ybor, another march marked Juneteenth hosted by Faith in Florida Hillsborough County.

"Juneteenth is supposed to be a day of celebrating black emancipation and yet, we are still enslaved to a system in which it is broken, unjust and inhumane," stated Pastor Rhonda Thomas, executive director of Faith in Florida, in a news release for the event.

"Faith in Florida is asking for each community to come together in remembrance of lives lost to an unjust racial system while also demanding accountability and continuing to create Justice for All as one voice," the release read.

The gatherings come as people across the country protest police brutality and racial inequality in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

"At the time the first Juneteenth, we were first being notified that the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed so we were free but didn’t know it. Now we know we’re free but we have not yet been able to able to exercise all the liberties that should be associated with being a citizen in this country," said Pyrtle. "Hopefully as we protest and we join the ranks of so many throughout the country that more and more people will understand how important it is that everyone can enjoy the same liberties that are promised by this country."