RICHMOND, Va., — Ida Allen and Ashley Cottingham considered themselves “protest buddies.”
The co-workers in the hospitality industry grew close as they joined the Black Lives Matter protests in Richmond following the death of George Floyd.
Allen, 32, wanted to still contribute to the cause after she was tear-gassed by officers several weeks ago. Her grassroots effort to hand out water and snacks to protesters has since grown into the Richmond Action Alliance.
The non-profit organized a Juneteenth celebration on the grass surrounding the Gen. Robert E. Lee monument on Friday.
"For us, Juneteenth signifies the end of an era," non-profit founder Allen said. "It signifies the beginning of the end of oppression and segregation."
Juneteenth commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free 155 years ago.
Slaves in Galveston, Texas were notified of their freedom by Union soldiers on June 19 — two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
“It’s a day of love, it’s a day of education, it’s a day of unity, and it’s a day of solidarity,” Allen explained.
Cottingham, 29, said they wanted much of their focus to be on educating people about voting rights.
“If you’re not educated you don’t know what you can do, then we are all just stuck in the same place,” she said.
The celebration surrounding the Confederate statue on Monument Avenue carried a festival-like atmosphere since 10 a.m. Friday. Families danced while attendees grilled hot-dogs and chicken.
Attendees read the memorials dedicated to victims of police brutality that surround the Lee statue.
Speakers like Lorraine Wright, founding executive director of the nonprofit I Vote for Me, gave a passionate speech at the foot of the pedestal.
“As our allies, please also recognize until black and brown people are free none of us are free. Somebody say it’s our duty to fight for our freedom,” Wright told the crowd.
Adrienne and Corey Samuel from Richmond called it "ironic" to be celebrating such a holiday around a prominent Confederate symbol.
“We still wanted to be around people. This is where the party is happening this year. It is kind of weird thing but it’s the reality,” Corey said.
They felt compelled to bring their young sons to the Juneteenth celebration when the pandemic forced them to cancel their party.
“I want to try and explain to my son why this is important and why this is happening,” Adrienne explained. “We thought the best opportunity to start to educate him about what’s happening to be out here where he can actually see it.”
Their oldest son, Ezekiel, is four years old.
“I don’t know how much he’s going to get, but being here is a historical movement,” Corey stated. “To be able to come out here, see it, take photographs, and store that memory away — hopefully when he’s my age it’s something he won’t have to experience.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.