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Building on black independence

(ran NS S editions of Tampa Bay & State)

Economic independence was the theme of an "independence day" speech during a Juneteenth Freedom Day Celebration breakfast Friday.

State Sen. James Hargrett, D-Tampa, said urban young people are told to get an education, a job, a great car and get out of their neighborhoods. But that has left the weakest people to take care of the communities.

Hargrett represents Senate District 21, which includes black and minority voters in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Bradenton, Plant City, Lakeland, Winter Haven and Bartow. He urged black people to take back to their communities what they have learned in school. He told the predominantly black audience that they need to help lead and serve their communities.

Building an economic base is one of the best ways to combat the problems that urban areas are facing, Hargrett said.

"You don't have to work for IBM," he said. Students should get their educations and build their own companies, their own IBMs of the year 2000.

Juneteenth commemorates the day when black slaves in Florida and other Southern states were notified of the Emancipation Proclamation. It is the oldest holiday recognized in the black community. And because it comes before July 4, it is celebrated as an early independence day.

Juneteenth is observed on different dates around the country because enforcement of the slaves' liberation came only after the defeat of local Confederate forces. The message reached Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865.

"Today, we celebrate Juneteenth as an expression of the many freedoms we enjoy, both literally and symbolically," said Hargrett, who was the first black person from the Tampa Bay area elected to the state Senate when he won in 1992. "African-Americans are indeed "free' to celebrate the triumph over the hardships of our ancestors, and our continued existence and prosperity in these United States."

While black people are free, Hargrett said, certain types of "slavery" continue to exist, such as that of migrant workers and illegal aliens. "The economic system keeps people in bondage."

He added that black people can rejoice in the knowledge that "the hardships endured by our forefathers and foremothers, from slavery through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, stand as a cornerstone upon which all African-Americans can build a solid foundation of success and achievement _ for ourselves, for our families and for the communities in which we live.

"But in the midst of all the celebration, let us not neglect to use this observance to reflect upon the struggles that still lay ahead. For until we are all striving to reach our fullest potential in this society, both individually and as united African-American people, will any of us be free."

The celebration of Juneteenth continues today with a Family Fun Day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the grounds of the Campbell Park Recreation Center, 601 14th St. S, St. Petersburg.

Entertainment includes music, children's games, storytelling, speeches and dancers. Food will be available and African-American vendors will display their wares.

The festivities are sponsored by the African-American Arts Council of Greater Tampa Bay, the St. Petersburg Times, the city of St. Petersburg, and radio stations WRXB-AM 1590 and WTMP-AM 1150.