LIMA - Juneteenth may offer a much-needed history lesson for young people, but participants Saturday said the event is as much about the future as the past
A few hundred people showed up at Faurot Park to welcome back the event last celebrated in Lima in 2005. A lineup of actors, singers and dancers performed from the main stage while local groups and vendors set up shop in tents staked out around the park. Local cooks participated in a Big Papa Cook-Off and Big Momma Bake-Off, while a block away, teens spent the afternoon competing in a three-on-three basketball tournament.
It looked like a traditional community bash, but this one has a more serious purpose, organizer Vickie Shurelds said.
"It was really important to us that this time we celebrate the history of the event and of the community. It's shameful that we don't know the history of our own existence," Shurelds said.
Juneteenth is a history lesson in its own right. The event celebrates the date in 1865 when slaves in Texas finally got word - more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed - that they were free.
But Saturday's event was also flush with local history. Organizers took the time to honor a group of educators who came from across the South in the early 1970s to teach at the Lima schools. Many of those teachers, recruited to help diversify the mostly white school staff, remained as teachers and leaders in the community.
"We were really proud when Dr. (Earl) McGovern recruited all those teachers. That was important to us," said Alberta Shurelds, as she sat with former Lima schools teacher Dougie Franklin at Saturday's event.
Franklin was not one of McGovern's recruits, but like many teachers in that group, came from the South in search of a teaching job in Lima. She spent 26 years teaching special education before retiring. And while she acknowledges the historic significance of the move in integrate teaching staffs in Lima and across the Midwest, it didn't feel all that significant at the time.
"I've got to be fully honest with you, it felt like a job," Franklin said.
For Shurelds, that past event is a reminder of what can happen when the community sets its mind to it. Those teachers were recruited at a time of racial tension in the community and people were pointing out the lack of minority hires in the public sector. It's a situation the community is facing again, more than 30 years later.
"They worked together and they did it. That's what we need to learn. If we all come together, we can get things done," Shurelds said. "We all came over on different ships, but we're in the same boat now. If we don't start rowing in the same direction, we're just going to go in circles."