Juneteenth celebrations to kick off Central Florida voting rights tour
In honor of the Juneteenth holiday, Equal Ground Education Fund, a nonprofit focused on building Black political power, will kick off the first events in a months-long “voting rights tour” across Central Florida on Friday and Saturday.
The events, in Orange, Seminole, Volusia and Pinellas counties, are all planned in conjunction with Juneteenth celebrations observing the day Union soldiers told those enslaved in Texas, the last state to hear, that they were free on June 19, 1865.
Equal Ground will have tables at the four events answering questions about the changes to voting procedures implemented when Senate Bill 90 was signed into law earlier this year.
Among other changes, the new law requires voters to request mail ballots more frequently, adds new identification requirements and limits who can handle someone else’s ballot and restricts the use of ballot drop boxes. It has faced a series of lawsuits including one filed in part by Equal Ground.
Jasmine Burney-Clark, founder of Equal Ground, called SB 90 “a voter suppression law” that targets Black and Latino voters.
“Black voters in Florida voted by 8.4% higher by mail [in 2020] than they had in any previous election and as a result of those actions, our legislature decided to create a penalty towards Black and brown voters by dismantling the vote-by-mail system in our state,” Burney-Clark said. “And because we’re doing it with Juneteenth, we’re doing this with and for the population this law is targeting.
She said it’s unlikely that the litigation will be resolved by the next election so she wants to ensure that Black and Latino voters in particular understand the changes so their voices can be heard.
“Juneteenth is designed to support and celebrate Blackness in our communities,” she added. “It’s designed to support Black brilliance and liberation and our legacy. But what’s also part of our legacy is voter suppression and we feel like Juneteenth is a great time to celebrate that voters turned up and turned out in 2020. We want to make sure they continue doing it in future elections.”
Following the holiday weekend, Equal Ground will continue to host educational sessions at big events and also at smaller gatherings at barber shops, beauty salons, home owners association meetings and with Black Greek-letter organizations around the region, through the Orlando City Council election in November and the midterm election in 2022.
Friday’s event in Downtown Orlando will be held in front of the Amway Center beginning at 6 p.m. as part the second annual “Black Friday Orlando” Juneteenth block party with about 45 vendors all representing Black-owned businesses.
The other weekend events will take place on Saturday at Earl Brown Park in DeLand at 10 a.m. and at Fort Mellon Park in Sanford at noon.
Black Friday Orlando organizer Knakeesha Samuels, who also created a scavenger hunt happening Friday that will bring people to Black businesses and historic sites across the region, said the event is meant to introduce Central Florida residents to Black-owned businesses of all kinds, from law firms and retailers to beauty salons and restaurants.
She started the event last year to celebrate Black life and freedom following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a now-fired Minneapolis police officer, Derrick Chauvin, who has since been convicted of murder.
While she said it’s important to understand Black history, she thinks it’s equally important to look to the future. That includes promoting the Black businesses that are here now and making sure Black voters are shaping our government.
“Our freedom means so much in so many different ways,” Samuels said. “There is the economic impact part of it. There is the voting rights part of it. There are just so many different angles to what it means to celebrate the end of slavery and freedom as African Americans.”
For more information about the scavenger hunt, visit BlackFridayOrlando.com.
Source: Orlando Sentinel