The Statesville Juneteenth Committee presented an educational program at the Unity Center Monday night, providing an opportunity for the community to learn more about the federal holiday.

Emcee Robert Bellamy, who conceded he “didn’t know what it was until seven years ago,” said that everyone should understand the importance of Juneteenth.

Matthew Pierce, assistant to city manager, read the City of Statesville’s official Juneteenth Proclamation, recounting the history of the holiday to celebrate the events of 158 years ago when the enslaved residents of Galveston, Texas, learned they were free.

After the proclamation, the Juneteenth choir performed a variety of gospel music, including “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Kammie Stevenson sang “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid.

Guest speaker and Crosby Scholars representative Chester Jones discussed the importance of Juneteenth.

“Two things to remember is love and weight. I didn’t always understand the weight of our history,” he explained. “I didn’t see the weight then. I didn’t feel the weight.”

Jones explained the weight of oppression that slavery had on the almost 300,000 people who continued to be enslaved for more than two years after they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation.

“They endured things so that you can have opportunities that they could only dream of. That’s priceless,” he said.

Jones recalled marching for civil rights with his grandfather in Winston-Salem as a child, remembering the things his grandfather once endured.

“My granddaddy told me he had to drink from different water fountains or eat a different restaurants— he said ‘I couldn’t go there, or do these things.’ ”

Jones said the weight is not an anchor, but an army that’s passed down from people just like his grandfather to help people endure difficult conditions and experiences.

He told the audience that there are three things that are more valuable than gold: resources, time, and opportunity.

“At the end of the day if I don’t have a dollar to my name as long as I have those three, I’m going to be okay,” Jones said.

He encouraged those in the crowd to stop complaining and to be part of the solution.

“What did you do for your community?” Jones asked.

“If you can’t offer me a solution, don’t complain to me,“ he said. “There’s no excuse now — each one, teach one.”

Jones said his barber taught him that the greatest form of love is understanding.

“I see you and I recognize the weight or importance that it holds to you means so much,” Jones said. “Love on each other, love your friends, love the community. It’s the only way to find a sense of understanding. For those who became before me, that is how I will honor you.”

The night ended with a reminder that there’s still a lot of work to be done — and the best way to get it done is to work together.

“Our theme is togetherness,” Seifallah El-Amin said. “Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom for the slave and slave master as well.

“We’re better together. Together, we will be better at solving our problems.”

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