URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) – Sunday is Juneteenth – a day that commemorates African Americans that were freed from slavery over 150 years ago. Last year, President Biden signed a bill that made June 19 a federal holiday. The city of Urbana recognized it as an official holiday for the first time this year.
It’s an extra special weekend for HV Neighborhood Transformation. The organization kicked off their “40 Days of Peace” at a Juneteenth celebration Saturday. They said it’s a commitment to protect children from violence and let them have a fun summer.
“We got to make sure our kids get out and ride their bicycles. We want them to be playing baseball in the middle of the street. We want them to know what being a young person in a community looks like. And we are adults; we are the only ones that have the power to do that,” Executive Director and founder Maurice Hayes said.
Hayes is on a mission. And the city is behind him.
“I’m just proud that we’re observing this in the city of Urbana. And this is an opportunity to really educate people about the significance of this date in our nation’s history,” Mayor Diane Wolfe Marlin said.
Together with Hayes, Mayor Marlin encourages people to learn about the day that freed many African Americans from slavery.
A few years ago they were calling the fake holiday. Now, we have a national holiday and we got to celebrate the same way we celebrate the Fourth of July,” Hayes said.
As they celebrated Juneteenth, HV Neighborhood Transformation launched their “40 Days of Peace,” which will bring neighborhood cleanups, financial literacy counseling, mental health support and more.
“This is the biggest event that I’ve ever been in, in my life. Because I have kids who are enjoying themselves and are safe. They’re free from harm,” Hayes said.
He said the celebration was about getting kids outside and enjoying life, while remembering the meaning of June 19.
“I am celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation today. However, I know as a black principal, and as a black man, we’ve still got ways to go,” Urbana High School Principal Taren Nance said.
Nance said working together and being visible in the community through events like this are how the city will protect its kids.
“I’m hoping that with the work that I’m doing right now, next in the fall, we’ll be able to say that no kids died in the summer,” he said.
Urbana city buildings will be closed Monday to give employees the right to observe the holiday. First responders and other 24 hour services will still be avaliable.