SAN DIEGO – San Diego County communities celebrated Juneteenth over the weekend with events around the region commemorating the freeing of the last group of slaves in Galveston, Texas in 1865.

Alejandra Sotelo-Solis, the mayor of National City, said “we are going to support those diversity efforts and the ability to celebrate those differences.”

In National City, the mayor, along with California Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber, and dozens of bicycle riders and bike clubs united to raise a Juneteenth flag at San Diego City Hall.

Nakisha Sibers, a member of the club Black Girls Do Bike, said “it’s a group of women of varies sizes and abilities and somehow we’ve all found liberation on a bike, by operating outside of the confines of stereotypes around black women and women of color.”

Juneteenth celebrates the freeing of the last group of slaves in Galveston Texas in June 1865. It was two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, abolishing all slavery in the U.S.

Weber said, “when we look at that we celebrate the day, but it should be a constant reminder that knowledge is power and no one is going to give up their power for you. So you have to get your own knowledge and you have to grow and develop and your freedom then is defined by what you do.”

Juneteenth became a federally recognized holiday in 2021, but the Black community has celebrated for decades. Despite the significant progress made, many members of the Black community have said they need to keep moving forward.

Sibers said, “as much as our flag stands for freedom and equality for many of us that’s still not the case.”

“Never get comfortable, never basically give up, and always be vigilant about ensuring that you’re free that everybody has a voice and everybody has their rights protected,” Weber added.

Over in another part of San Diego, the Cooper Family Foundation kept their 50-plus year Juneteenth celebration going as their own “Black Independence Day.”

“My father always called it that, we should celebrate June 19 like July 4, and that’s what we do,” Sidney Cooper Jr., son of the founder of Cooper Family Foundation, Sidney Cooper Sr.

Cooper Senior started the celebration around 1965. It was first held at the family house or as a block party. Now thousands of people come out to Memorial Park in Logan Heights. When Cooper Sr. passed, his children kept the legacy going with free food, entertainment, and education.

“It feels good. It makes my heart warm because I know my father always dreamed of this. He always dreamed of the holiday” Cooper Jr. said.

The celebration touched other hearts too.

Langston Grant, a San Diego resident, said “It brings so much unity, I think it’s very important we are here together to celebrate one another’s culture and to celebrate one another.”

“It’s something that is new to us, it’s not something we’ve been exposed to, I’m really excited that it’s a new federal holiday,” said another San Diego resident, Tess Claristenfeld.

Some said they came to learn and celebrate diversity.

“I think that is what America is about, and so anyone who is not celebrating with the entire community is missing out,” Claristenfeld said.

U.S. Representative Sara Jacobs was in attendance, among other politicians such as San Diego County Supervisor Chair Nathan Fletcher, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, San Diego City Councilmember Marni Von Wilpert, and Councilmember Vivian Moreno.

“I’m so glad we have this opportunity to celebrate it, to make sure the community is getting the services they need,” Jacobs said.

Despite the event being marked by a single day in the calendar, Juneteenth is a year-round celebration for many in the Black community.

“It’s not just a month or a day, it’s culturally every day it should be, power to the people,” Grant said.