NEW ALBANY – New Albany was the first city in the region to celebrate June 19 and it will continue with two celebrations this year at the Griffin Recreation Center this week.
The center has recognized Juneteenth for the past nine years. This year will mark the eighth celebration the center has held for the holidays, with a hiatus in 2020 due to COVID-19.
“The main purpose of our rally is simply to remind people that everyone deserves to be treated equally and with respect. That’s the whole idea of Juneteenth, and we want to carry that message throughout. the year,” said Kathy Wilkerson, Director of Recreation at New Albany Parks and Recreation.
Years ago, Wilkerson said the center reached out to surrounding towns to see if anyone else was hosting a June 19 celebration. She found that the closest place to a celebration was in Indianapolis, inspiring the center to start its own in New Albany.
“We started out wanting to do something in New Albany to publicize it. …My feeling about it is that when you celebrate a holiday, you have to understand what is being celebrated,” Wilkerson said.
On Friday, a workshop will be offered to children to teach them the history of the party and respect for others through an interactive game.
“We’re going to play games in the gym…and all of those games are about respecting each other. We make games about equality, lots of things you can do to make it really fun for kids,” Wilkerson said.
In addition to games and a short film on what Juneteenth is all about, there will also be an art project in which the children will take part. Children will make a collage during a session led by Julie Schweitzer of the Bourne-Schweitzer Gallery.
“We want all the kids to be involved in making this collage, which we’ll be displaying at dinner on Saturday,” Wilkerson said.
About 50 children, aged 5 to 12, are invited to register for the event. Wilkerson said many children from the center participate in the workshop, but it is also open to the public.
The event begins with lunch at noon on Friday before the workshop begins at 12:30 p.m. Wilkerson said the program should last about an hour and 45 minutes.
On Saturday, the Griffin Recreation Center will host a free traditional dinner to celebrate the holidays. Dinner will start at 4 p.m. and will last about two and a half hours, Wilkerson said.
In addition to a meal, guests can expect to be entertained by live music from the band Hot Coffee Breakdown and inspired by guest speaker Floyd County Judge Maria Granger.
Wilkerson emphasized that everyone is welcome to register and attend the event. She said around 200 guests usually attend historic events at the center.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for people to come together to meet new people and just to learn what Juneteenth is all about,” she said.
In the past, the Griffin Recreation Center has hosted events like a musical, concerts, and a performing group for its June 19th celebration.
“We normally have a meal because it’s part of Juneteenth. It’s a tradition. People would gather and have parties and they would bring food from the garden and they would eat. So we’re going to talk about some of the things that people ate,” Wilkerson said.
“We can spread the story in many ways at these events and let people know what it was about.”
Those interested in either event can register by calling the Griffin Recreation Center office at 812-948-5361 until noon Thursday.
The center is located at 1140 Griffin St. and recently underwent a renovation with help from the City of New Albany. Wilkerson said he wants to show off the building with its new renovations.