'All groups and people': Johnstown Juneteenth celebration focuses on 'cultural awareness'

·3 min read

Jun. 16—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — A celebration of cultures marked a day of camaraderie at Johnstown's Juneteenth gathering.

As part of the ongoing festivities, the Unity Coalition of the Southern Alleghenies held its Unity Day Thursday in Central Park in downtown Johnstown.

"This is definitely something to orient around and unify as a community celebrating freedom, equality and justice," said Rachel Allen, member of the Unity Coalition of the Southern Alleghenies and the Johnstown branch of the NAACP. "People tend to only socialize with people who are just like them, so this is an opportunity to broaden that cultural awareness and widen your circumference of belonging.

"We can be very insular in our thinking of belonging, so these types of events provide a great opportunity to come and socialize and have conversations with people and ask them about their culture."

The day kicked off with a performance by the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra's woodwind quintet performing pieces by Black composers.

"These are important days for the city of Johnstown," said Maestro James Blachly. "The welcome that the NAACP and organizers of these events show to the entire city and community are an ideal way for people to get to know each other. To be welcomed into a very rich cultural tradition that in previous decades and generations was really exclusively the experience of African Americans in this country and for them to welcome others to celebrate makes this much more of a national holiday."

Blachly said the musical selections reflect the importance of Juneteenth.

"There is no end to the music we could choose, but these are some of the most celebratory and appropriate for the occasion," he said. "We have the chance to celebrate together and there's no better way to celebrate then with music. Not everybody knows just how many African American composers there are for classical music or they might not know these pieces, so this may be a new experience for people."

Alexis Zinovenko, founder and executive director of Pride of Somerset County, said the organization is for the LGBTQ community, but it's also for all communities because it represents everyone.

"It's important for us to be here and celebrate Juneteenth and unity in Cambria County because we're more than just a Somerset County group," she said. "It's my hope that we bring awareness to the LGBTQ community and possibly break some stigmas, but it's also our hope to represent and break down some barriers."

Zinovenko said the Juneteenth celebration is creating a sense of community.

"Johnstown has done so much in the last three years to come together and it's growing," she said.

Francine Cashaw, chairwoman of the Juneteenth committee, said she is pleased with how the Juneteenth celebration has been embraced by the community.

"Our theme from the very first Juneteenth celebration was 'Unity in the Community' and we are still focusing on that," she said. "We have a lot of diverse groups here and we welcome all groups and people."

Cashaw said people have been thanking organizers for holding the nine-day event and bringing people together.

"We hope people experience love and understanding and that we have more in common than we don't," she said.

Other activities on Thursday included a health fair, Pitt-Johnstown CommuniTeams, Rachel Allen and Norman Ed, Dragonfly Balloons, "Yoko the talking cockatoo, author Paul Ricci, Bollywood dancing, Kulani dance group and Ilbeji Drum Ensemble, of Pittsburgh.