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She's using Juneteenth to honor late husband: 'Everyone can celebrate'

Posted at 5:40 PM, Jun 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-19 09:16:45-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The wife of an Army sergeant who died by suicide is honoring her husband and spreading awareness about mental illness on Juneteenth.

Anya Stevenson will transform the empty lot at Richmond Highway and Maury Street into a jamboree on Saturday morning.

“We will have bounce houses, food, music, and vendors,” Stevenson said of her Juneteenth celebration.

The newly-created federal holiday commemorates June 19, 1865, the day when slaves in Texas were finally notified of their freedom. It came about two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

“I thought why not do this in remembrance of Omontre, my husband?” Stevenson recalled.

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On January 26, 2020, Army Sgt. Omontre Stevenson, died by suicide after returning from war with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“So, he left, went to Afghanistan, and came back. The losing the cool just got a bit worse. The being unable to control what you think, what you do — it just elevated,” she said.

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Following his death, Stevenson founded VOWS Foundation.

VOWS stands for Valiant, Optimistic, Willing Souls.

Stevenson and foundation vice president Nikiah Respass will also host resources and support for those struggling with their mental health.

“Teach coping mechanisms, teach trauma release, teach ways how to grow through things, actually recognize your emotions, recognize your feelings,” Respass stated.

Stevenson and her husband loved to volunteer together. She will use Juneteenth to teach others that help is out there.

“I’m just here to let the world know he was here and let the world know of his legacy,” she said.

"Everyone can celebrate Juneteenth no matter who you are or how you identify," Respass said. "First, learn the history of the day.

Support Black-owned businesses, spread the word about the holiday, donate to a supportive organization and attend a Juneteenth event."

“Spread the knowledge first and then donate. Obviously, say hello and spread the information. I think that’s the best way for anyone that’s not Black or brown,” Respess said.

VOWS Foundation’s event starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday with a 5k run around the neighborhood where Sgt. Stevenson grew up.

Her husband used running to help relieve stress.

The run is followed by a Juneteenth Jamboree from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.