Celebrate freedom

Juneteenth celebration

The Second Baptist Gospel Choir was one of the many musical presentations at Northern Nevada Black Cultural Awareness Society’s Juneteenth Church at the Park celebration.

The Second Baptist Gospel Choir was one of the many musical presentations at Northern Nevada Black Cultural Awareness Society’s Juneteenth Church at the Park celebration.

Photo By Joy Souza

Reno is an amazing place in so many ways. On the one hand, Reno has the reputation as a very secular town. According to internet sources, Reno qualifies as one of the least “churched” cities in the country, with only 3-4 percent attending services on any given Sunday. On the other, it feels as though I can find a spiritual event at a moment’s notice whenever I look around.

My sister, my brother and his significant other, and my dad and his wife were in town for a few days. We’d made some plans to attend a Catholic church in either Carson City or South Lake Tahoe on Saturday, but our ideas went astray when we took a side trip to Fallen Leaf Lake.

Sunday morning came and as my family took to the road and to the skies to return to their respective homes, I was a bit stuck for a new plan. My girlfriend, Joy, and I went down to the river to enjoy the beautiful day. As we sat at the Sierra Tap House enjoying a Bloody Mary in the warm sun and cool breeze, the sounds of speaking followed by some rocking gospel music wafted over the river from Wingfield Park.

It was Reno’s Juneteenth celebration. According to Juneteenth.com, Juneteenth celebrates June 19, 1865, the day “that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official Jan. 1, 1863.”

The Church at the Park program was a beautiful and inspiring celebration, put on by the Northern Nevada Black Cultural Awareness Society, with vendors, prayer, speakers, raffles, dancers and singers, and a decent enough attendance. But what I most enjoyed was that some people who are very unlikely to ever attend a church service in an African-American church got to see why I’m always so happy when my travels drop me in one.

I’ve occasionally complained in this column that church is the most racially segregated place in modern society. I’ve spoken to various ministers on this topic, and while they recognize the segregation as a problem, most agree that the dilemma is pretty insurmountable. The reasons for this are many, but the bottom line is that churches are family and culturally based, and families tend to have similar shades of skin. I’m not just talking about African-American churches. Attend any religious service, and you’re likely to see a similar looking and sounding congregation.

But it’s de facto segregation. I say that because I’ve never been made more welcome than when Hunter and I are the only Caucasians in a congregation. Again, the reason for this is simple: It’s obvious we are visitors, so people go out of their way to be friendly, find out our story, and encourage us to come back.

But things were a little different at Wingfield Park on Sunday morning. While everyone was friendly, talking, eating, enjoying the music, nobody went out of their way to notice me and Joy—even though I was scribbling notes while Joy was snapping pictures with her iPhone. And I know this is going to sound weird, but it’s because the crowd was made up of people of just about every shade you can name that we were in no way notable. Am I making myself clear? It was the very fact the crowd was so diverse that made us all the same. All equal. The same.

And in addition to celebrating the end of slavery in America, I think the Juneteenth party did a great job showing that while our cultural differences are glorious, they are almost irrelevant next to our similarities.