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Tampa Bay’s Juneteenth celebrations turn to activism

After an uplifting Juneteenth, the mood stayed upbeat through rallies, protests and marches on Saturday.

UPDATE 10 P.M.

The St. Petersburg protests wrapped up early on Saturday night with the usual dance party outside City Hall.

In St. Petersburg, protesters blocked the intersection of Central Avenue and Fifth Street and had a moment of silence for George Floyd, the Minneapolis man whose death in police hands sparked these protests against racial injustice and police violence.

Then the marchers moved on to tony Beach Drive NE.

Those of you sitting in bars and restaurants tonight should probably read this Tampa Bay Times story about the latest spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases reported by the state on Saturday.

The Tampa Bay region saw 965 cases added to its total, and Pinellas County had a record-breaking 285 new cases added.

And yet:

• • •

UPDATE 8:30 P.M.

A vigil was held for slain Tallahassee Black Lives Matter activist Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square in downtown Tampa.

The vigil was organized by Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society and the Tampa Bay Community Action Committee. Organizer Taylor Cook said it was important for them to stand in solidarity with their Tallahassee counterparts and honor the 19-year-old Salau.

Salau and Victoria “Vicki” Sims, 75, were found June 13. The next day, Aaron Glee Jr. was arrested Sunday on charges of felony murder and kidnapping, according to USA Today.

• • •

UPDATE 7:45 P.M.

Marching has resumed in St. Petersburg. City Hall was once again the launching point.

A crowd of up to 100 people headed west on First Avenue N. The numbers thinned out a bit after a very hot day.

“No Trump. No KKK. No racist USA,” they chanted.

• • •

UPDATE 5 P.M.

Juneteenth celebrations and marches continued into the afternoon across Tampa Bay.

A crowd swelled to more than 100 as protesters left City Hall in St. Petersburg to march through downtown streets. The chanted, “If we don’t get no equity, then you don’t get no sleep!” as they passed through the Old Northeast neighborhood.

Lorenza Bruno, 29, brought her 3 and 1-year-old to the event. She said it’s never too late to teach them about anti-racism.

Shopping and strolling at the Deuces came to a halt at the St. Pete’s Juneteenth Festival as attendees watched a performance by a local dance crew, the Marching Diamonds Dance Company. They danced to a number of songs, including Beyonce’s “Brown Skin Girl.”

Earlier, a TikTok dance battle took place to crown the Mr. and Miss Juneteenth.

An event that began in Hyde Park drew nearly 200 as they marched down Bayshore Boulevard in South Tampa.

Emadi Okwuosa, 22, a leader of the event, kept the energy high along the walk. Aside from a two-minute moment of silence, his voice has echoed through the streets of South Tampa all afternoon.

“We’re not going to be on the sidelines no more,” he said. “We’re not going to play by their rules anymore.”

Some protesters called for the firing of Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan. Several people held a long banner that read: “Defund the police.”

The group was large enough to shut down Kennedy Boulevard, as people spread out across the entire street. They marched for three hours before turning back into South Tampa neighborhoods and headed back toward Hyde Park.

Rosemary Henderson, 76, is a homeowner on Bayshore Boulevard. She stood outside and held a sign as a group of protesters marched by her house.

“This is the type of peaceful protesting I like to see,” she said.

Protestors stopped and chanted in every intersection they passed on the way to downtown. Organizers said that this was the goal today — to be as disruptive as possible while still being peaceful.

“There is nothing but peace today. If you’re here to cause trouble, get out,” Okwuosa told the crowd. “We will single you out and get rid of you. Now let’s shut down these streets. We’ve been quiet for way too long.”

Protestors shut down the intersection of South Boulevard and Kennedy Boulevard outside of downtown Tampa on Saturday, June 20. [ Maylin Rodriguez ]
• • •

UPDATE 2 P.M.

People gathered at events across Tampa Bay Saturday to continue to celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday honoring the liberation of slaves in the United States.

Events drew hundreds of people, in some cases late into the night on Friday. The gatherings were largely peaceful, and had an uplifting and celebratory tone to them compared to protests from earlier weeks that pushed for police reform and awareness of systemic racism. More celebrations are scheduled throughout the weekend.

At an event in East Tampa, people had their temperature taken and were offered hand sanitizer at the entrance. They were asked to complete a questionnaire about any possible exposure to the coronavirus.

At King Forest Park in Tampa, a local Buffalo Soldiers motorcycle chapter joined in on the celebration.

Roy “Seawolf” Nixon said the Tampa chapter, formed in 1997, honors the legacy of the soldiers in the Black 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army formed after the Civil War.

Related: Tampa Bay celebrated Juneteenth. Protests lasted late into the night

“We are about promoting African American culture,” said Nixon, the vice president of the chapter.

Nearby Estephanie Ortiz, a first-grade teacher displayed illustrated flashcards she made to teach her students about black icons throughout history.

Dozens gathered in St. Petersburg Saturday for the St. Pete Juneteenth Festival at the Deuces Live. The event was put together for friends and family, but interest on Facebook skyrocketed, said organizers Brichel Billouin, 27, and Lana Norwood, 33, so they decided to make it a community-wide event.

“We’re trying to lighten up the mood, show people that we still can come together without people looking at us like we’re going to start a riot,” said Billouin. “We can come together with love too.”

The festivities were right around the corner from a new Black Lives Matter mural, painted in the street in front of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum.

Related: A new Black Lives Matter mural has been unveiled in St. Petersburg

Others met outside of City Hall Saturday for the “Juneteenth: Freedom from Police Violence Rally” in St. Pete. Co-chair of the Pinellas Democratic Socialists of America, Kofi Hunt said the goal of the event is to “uplift this moment” and to “divest from police.”

Ashley Green from the Bay Area Dream Defenders said this event is part of a weekend of action to celebrate Juneteenth. About 100 people attended.

“When you say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ it’s a mandate to help black lives,” Green said.

Johanna Perez, a nurse and part of the League of United Latin American Citizens, reminded the crowd to wear face masks.

“We’re not fighting one pandemic, we’re fighting two pandemics: systematic racism and coronavirus,” she said.

• • •

Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times

HOW TO SUPPORT: Whether you’re protesting or staying inside, here are ways to educate yourself and support black-owned businesses.

WHAT PROTESTERS WANT: Protesters explain what changes would make them feel like the movement is successful.

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.

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