Salute Our Heroes: Norma Avery helps lead Juneteenth celebration in Topeka

Norma Avery is one of the organizers of the Topeka Family & Friends Juneteenth Celebration,...
Norma Avery is one of the organizers of the Topeka Family & Friends Juneteenth Celebration, which will take place from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 18, at Hillcrest Park, 1800 S.E. 21st.(Phil Anderson)
Published: Jun. 6, 2022 at 2:52 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Juneteenth celebrates the date on June 19, 1865, when news that slavery had been abolished reached blacks in Texas, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.

Juneteenth has been celebrated annually since that day nearly 160 years ago.

In 2021, it became a federal holiday when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.

Celebrations in Topeka date back more than four decades. Now, one of the largest Juneteenth celebrations in the capital city is getting ready for its ninth anniversary.

The Family & Friends Juneteenth Celebratiion started in 2013 at Hillcrest Park, 1800 S.E. 21st. Since that time, it has grown dramatically.

One of the lead organizers for event is Norma Avery.”

“I couldn’t find any Juneteenth events and they were off-and-on through the years, and we just didn’t know where they were,” Avery said. “It’s such an important time in our life that we needed to have this going on every year and know the history of it.”

Avery says the event is all about celebrating freedom.

“We feel that June 19 is our holiday, that it’s our freedom day,” Avery said. “You know, the fourth of July is not – we weren’t free on the Fourth of July. So our freedom is on June the 19th and people are starting to realize that and appreciate it was our freedom time.

“To me, it’s just a joyous time to know that my ancestors worked so hard and fought so hard for us to become free, and we all should recognize it and enjoy this time, because it’s precious. It’s something to never forget.

“We should capitalize on it and shout it to the nation – ‘Hey, we’re free.’ We got work to do still, but we are free. We’ve come a long ways, but we’ve still got a lot farther to go.”

Avery says Randy Wheat Jr. has been instrumental in the success of the Friends & Family Juneteenth Celebration.

“I got my idea going and then I called my nephew, Randy Wheat,” Avery said with a laugh. “I said, ‘I need help.’”

Wheat says he’s grateful that the Family & Friends Juneteenth Celebration has grown so much.

“The first year was rocky, and then every year we’ve been growing ever since,” Wheat said. “It’s been very exciting. The community is great here. We have a lot of activities going on.”

The Family & Friends Juneteenth Celebration will culminate from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 18, at Hillcrest Park.

\The celebration will feature a wide variety of activities for all ages.

Vendors also will be at the event to sell food items.

Several other Juneteenth celebrations are scheduled over the next couple of weeks in the capital city, including:

• 11 a.m. Saturday, June 11 -- Juneteenth Parade starting at Williams Magnet School, 1301 S.E. Monroe, before going north on Kansas Avenue in downtown Topeka. A program will follow at Cushinberry Park, near S.E. 15th and Madison.

• 6 p.m. Monday, June 13 -- Youth Celebration, New Beginning Baptist Church, 1329 S.W. 37th.

• 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 14 -- Taco Tuesday, Betty Philips Park, 3303 S.E. Irvingham.

• 6 p.m. Thursday, June 16 -- Essay contest banquet, New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, 2801 S.E. Indiana Ave.

• 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, June 17 -- Youth event at Hillcrest Park, 1800 S.E. 21st.

• Noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 18 -- Juneteenth celebration at Hillcrest Park and Community Center, 1800 S.E. 21st.

• 3 p.m. Sunday, June 19 -- Gospel Extravaganza, St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, 701 S.W. Topeka Blvd.

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