UPDATE: 12:15 A.M.
After protesters moved through downtown St. Petersburg, where people at bars and restaurants showed support, the crowd dispersed around midnight.
UPDATE 9 P.M.: The protest group of more than 200 filled the entire street as they marched through St. Petersburg, chanting and raising homemade signs.
Marchers pushed through south St. Pete. People came out of businesses and houses to voice their support. Some lit fireworks in their front yards.
A handful of people in the march picked up litter as they walked along the sidewalks.
The energy remained high as they walked and chanted. It felt more like a celebration Friday night.
Evening events in Tampa fizzled out early. A group of nearly 60 protesters chanted in Curtis Hixon Park, and marched down the streets of downtown Tampa and ended before sunset.
UPDATE 7 P.M.: The crowds were some of the largest they’ve been in weeks - topping 200 - at Williams Park in St. Petersburg Friday as people gathered to march on Juneteenth.
For Terron Gland, a leader with the St. Pete Peace Protest, he wished this many people showed up every day for their marches that begin at City Hall.
“This is our community. Everybody here is a part of the community,” Gland said. “It’s a beautiful day today with a bunch of different kind of people. I love it.”
Protesters moved into southside neighborhoods of St. Pete Friday. Free masks were passed out. The group chanted “march with us” as they passed by busy restaurants along Central Avenue.
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A group of up to 100 gathered to celebrate Juneteenth at Centennial Park in Ybor City.
Cory Weckerle, an organizer with Black Lives Matter who led chants as the group later marched, said it was important the evening had a feel of a block party, with pizza, juice and music.
“It’s not just about bringing up the struggle, but that we’re collectively healing too,” he said.
Rev. Patricia Hauser with Potter’s House Deliverance, said she hopes the celebration allows people realize the depth of “injustice pandemic” that has been taking place.
”Everybody else celebrates their legacy, it’s time African Americans and brown people celebrate the legacy before us,” she said. “It’s been 400 years of continued oppression, manipulation and disparities that all need to be reconciled.”
The event, organized by Organize Florida, Black Lives Matter and Faith Florida, includes speeches on the history of the day and acknowledging the change many have been calling for in the days ahead.
Jennifer Meningall with Faith Florida said slavery was a legal system that kept people economically oppressed. Now, she said there’s a social system that needs to go.
”Juneteenth represents the emancipation of slaves, but we still have a significant journey to go," she said.
The group marched down 8th Avenue turning on 15th and down 7th Avenue where they were met with honks of support. A car led the group and Weckerle yelled into the megaphone they didn’t need or want the police.
The group kneeled at the intersection of 17th Street and 8th Avenue and members from the crowd, ranging from school teachers to Andrew Jospeh III’s mother, came to the megaphone to share their stories and experiences with systemic racism.
The crowd chanted “Ashe,” a West African term for “power.”
Robin Lockett, regional director of Organize Florida, said many are unaware of black history that is often not taught in schools. She said she celebrating events like Juneteenth make people more aware.
Weckerle said he hopes the movement keeps momentum.
”Right now is very important,” he said. “I hope people continue. I hope this doesn’t become another fad. We don’t want anymore hashtags. The only way that’s possible is if everyone turns with us until the finish line.”
UPDATE 6 P.M.: Alpha Phi Alpha’s Tampa chapter hosted a march and rally to mark Juneteenth. They gathered at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square and marched, chanting “peace, justice, reform,” to Lykes Gaslight Park.
Speakers addressed topics of peace, justice and reform. Jomo Cousins, senior pastor at Love First Christian Center in Riverview, said the nation is currently undergoing a “spiritual EKG,” to test its heart and “we need a heart transplant.”
He asked why jail sentences for the same crime differ between races. Former state Rep. Ed Narain addressd reform. He called for an end to redlining and better pay, saying anyone who chooses to work a 40-hour week should be able to afford to support their family. Narain also called attention to the difference in school funding in black communities, and elevating black people in business.
”It’s not enough to take racist images off the pancake box,” he said. “We want to see the grandkids of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben in the C-suites.”
Mayor Jane Castor and Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan were in attendance — the city of Tampa sponsored the event. Castor spoke about the importance of staying active and keep fighting for change. She said she can’t control all of the reforms but she will help in the areas she can, pointing to the city’s minimum wage increase to $15 per hour.
Castor also read a proclamation declaring the day Juneteenth Awareness Day in Tampa.
As the event began to thin, other protesters gathered at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa.
More than 100 people marched through the streets of Ybor City, after gathering to listen to speakers at Centennial Park. Some in the front of the march held a large yellow banner that read “Black Lives Matter” in black lettering.
Anderson Kelly-Perry came to the Ybor City march with his entire family, his wife Quinnisha, 30, and five children.
“Tonight we want to change the history,” he said. “For us and our people. It’s not a petition. It’s our right.”
There was no police presence at the Ybor event.
UPDATE 5 P.M.: There were no chants or signs at the corner of E Powhatan and N 40th Street in East Tampa on Friday afternoon. But there were plenty of smiles and barbecue.
A line extended out of the door to Big John’s Alabama BBQ for an organized cookout to celebrate Juneteenth.
While dozens of attendees wore shirts with “Black Lives Matter,” Charlea Bing, an organizer for the event and recent Blake High School graduate, said that the event was just to celebrate emancipation for African Americans — not to protest.
Bing, 18, said that she has celebrated Juneteenth her entire life, but she’s glad it has been getting more national attention in recent weeks.
”We just wanted to have a cookout for everybody to join us and celebrate Juneteenth,” Bing said. “We wanted to give the community somewhere to celebrate. It really should become a national holiday with celebrations all over.”
While modest in size by 6 p.m., the event is scheduled to have multiple speakers along with performances from a poet and a violinist.
At Centennial Park in Ybor City, about 100 people gathered before they marched through the streets. People placed yellow roses at the foot of the park’s stage to honor those who have lost their lives to police brutality, slavery, the civil rights movement.
Jennifer Meningall explained the history of Juneteenth to the crowd over a megaphone. Juneteenth celebrations started in Texas, she said.
“Although we are no longer slaves, we are socially enslaved,” Meningall said.
Shelbi Erp, a medical school student at the University of South Florida, said she hoped people become more aware of racial disparities in the healthcare system.
“You have to be aware of your own biases in how you treat people,” she said.
Denise Collazo said she wants people to understand their freedoms are interconnected and wanted to show her support as a Latina.
“A lot of of Latinos are Afro-Latino. We may all be different, but our struggles are one....we stand with our brothers and sisters,” she said.
Nanci Palacios is a co-founder of Faith in Florida, a nonprofit works with immigrants and others living in poverty.
“Today we’re celebrating a day to commemorate the freedom and the end of the slavery,” she said. “As a Hispanic we are here to support our community and show our solidarity and recognition with those who fight every day for the liberation of other people.”
UPDATE 4 P.M.: A march lead by the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brought marchers from Joe Chillura Courthouse Square to Lykes Gaslight Park in Tampa Friday afternoon.
Dozens gathered to listen to speakers as they celebrated Juneteenth.
Katrina Blaine and her family shirts made that said “Free *ish” with the date, June 19, 1865, for Juneteenth.
“We were free this day, however, with all the racism that still goes on today, we’re still not totally free,” she said.
At 5 p.m., a celebration began at Centennial Park in Ybor City.
Rev. Patricia Hauser with Potter’s House Deliverance, was there and said she hoped the celebrations allows people realize the depth of “injustice pandemic.”
“Everybody else celebrates their legacy, it’s time African Americans and brown people celebrate the legacy before us,” she said.
Robin Lockett, regional director of Organize Florida, said many are unaware of black history that is often not taught in schools. She hoped Friday’s celebration would bring more awareness of Juneteenth.
“I personally want this day moving forward to be recognized, celebrating the progress we’ve made but recognizing where we need to go and the policies that still need to change,” she said.
In St. Petersburg, people continued to stroll under the shade of trees at an event in Williams Park.
Victor Sims, 24, of St. Pete said he was taught about Juneteenth when he was little by his parents and grandma who were part of the Civil Rights Movement.
“Usually Juneteenth we’re talking about where we came from,” he said. “Now we’re talking about where we’re at and where we’re going.”
Ieshia Cabine, 30, and Chelsea McKee, 35, live in Clearwater. Cabine said she learned about Juneteenth five or six years ago, when someone mentioned it on Twitter.
“What? Well why didn’t I know about it?” she said.
McKee said she was born in St. Pete but moved to Washington D.C. when she was young. She learned about Juneteenth when she went to Howard University. She didn’t learn it at boarding school, she said.
“They don’t teach you in public school, either,” Cabine added.
UPDATE 2 P.M.: Juneteenth celebrations continued at Williams Park in St. Petersburg, where protesters gathered under booths.
One booth was designated for voter registration. Another was selling lemonade. One had Black Lives Matter shirts available.
Belinda Byrd, 58, lives in Tampa and said she didn’t learn about Juneteenth until last year on Facebook.
“I’m in my late 50s and to only hear about it last year— it should be taught in schools,” she said. She was selling Juneteenth Black Lives Matter shirts.
Byrd added that Juneteenth already carries a lot of significance for her, especially now.
“It’s a reminder that we’re all equal, we’re all free,” she said. “No one can suppress others or keep others in bondage.”
She’s attended several protests in Tampa recently.
Bahlya Yansane, 29, from Brooklyn, was on vacation in St. Pete visiting friends, after weeks of protesting in New York City. He said he’s visited Pinellas County before and thought St. Pete was “the whitest city in the world.”
But he was happy to see this event.
Yansane grew up in the Chevy Chase area of Maryland, he said, and did not know about Juneteenth until a few months ago. He learned from TV, he said — shows like “Blackish”, “Atlanta” and “BlackAF”.
“I was kind of upset with myself,” Yansane said, for not knowing.
Juneteenth, he said, is a time to contemplate what independence means.
“You see a lot of shirts that say free-ish,” Yansane said.
Marches were planned for downtown St. Petersburg later in the evening. Other events were taking place in the afternoon in Tampa.
UPDATE NOON: Protesters gathered in Tampa and St. Petersburg Friday to kickoff the celebration of Juneteenth, a holiday honoring the liberation of slaves in the United States.
Events kicked off at the Expo Hall in St. Petersburg around noon for a Black Lives Matter Business Expo featuring local businesses owned by African Americans.
Sharmon Beal, 49, with the Equal Ground Education Fund was there helping people register to vote. She said she’s seen Juneteenth take on more visibility with ongoing protests for racial equality this year.
“It means everything to me,” she said of Friday’s celebration. “It means freedom.”
Josh Wiley, owner of the Fat Boi Gourmet Potatoes food truck, started his business three years ago. He said he grew up celebrating Juneteenth and hoped Friday’s event would help minority-owned small businesses grow.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. “It’s nice to see everybody come together.”
Event coordinator Tina East, 45, said there was about 100 vendors at the Expo Hall.
“We impact the community in such a crazy way that if we don’t cling together and stand together, then how are we going be able to move forward?” she asked.
Jaleesa Ford, 30, came out Friday to celebrate Juneteenth and purchased a candied apple and items from Savvy Oils.
“There’s a lot of different vendors I wasn’t aware of,” she said. “It’s a wonderful feeling, something we should do every year.”
This is a developing story. Stick with tampabay.com for updates
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Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times
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WHAT ARE NON-LETHAL AND LESS-LETHAL WEAPONS? A guide to what’s used in local and national protests.
WHAT ARE ARRESTED PROTESTERS CHARGED WITH? About half the charges filed have included unlawful assembly.
CAN YOU BE FIRED FOR PROTESTING? In Florida, you can. Learn more.
HEADING TO A PROTEST? How to protect eyes from teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.