At a Juneteenth celebration held June 19, at the Youth Development Center, 5437 W. Division St., West Side leaders expressed support for making the annual commemoration an official holiday at the city and state level.

Two days earlier, the Chicago City Council passed a resolution in support of making Juneteenth a national holiday. But an ordinance that would actually make it a city holiday, which has the support of all West Side aldermen, is currently sitting in limbo.

Morris Reed, the nonprofit WHA’s CEO, said that his organization supports that ordinance’s passage. And Illinois state rep Camille Lilly (78th) said that the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus is currently working on making Juneteenth a state holiday.

“We have 364 days until the next Juneteenth, because the fight is not over,” said WHA CEO Morris Reed. “We’re going to continue in this movement until it’s a city holiday.”

While Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved African-Americans, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, when the Union forces retook the last of the Confederate territories, that this proclamation was fully enforced.

To underscore the importance of Juneteenth, WHA gave its employees a paid day off for the annual commemoration, which is also known as Emancipation Day.

Reed said that, given that the organization was founded to empower African-Americas change their health and well-being, it was only natural that they would celebrate the day that African-Americas were able to “build their own community, raise their children and realize that American dream.”

“We, as a community, share the same past and the same struggle,” Reed said. “We’re trying to join together to create Juneteenth as our July 4, because this is our Independence Day.”

Ken Woods, who works at the Youth Development Center, said that, as with other WHA activities, they hoped that the celebration would not only bring people together, but get them to believe in themselves

“Our thing is to change their thinking and let them know that, collectively, we have a lot of strength to make a lot of changes,” he said.

The main part of the celebration was a mural that was painted over by the Youth

Development Center door. James Coleman, WHA’s community wellness director, was among the painters. He said with the pandemic, the disparities in healthcare, police brutality and lack of economic opportunities, the community is under a lot of stress and this mural provides an outlet and an inspiration for them.

“It actually is an opportunity for residents of Austin to express themselves,” Coleman said. “With people on edge, this is a healing mural. We provide the mural for people to be true to themselves.”

Coleman said when the mural is completed, they’ll place it inside of the youth center.

Yolanda Talley, the 15th District police commander, stopped by the celebration toward the end. She said that Austin always comes together in times of need and this event was “a great representation of the Austin community.”