Free At Last: Juneteenth Celebrates African American Cultural Contributions to San Antonio
By Edward Cortez
SAN ANTONIO — If you haven’t heard of Juneteenth, the San Antonio Area Foundation supports the efforts of a local nonprofit seeking to educate our community about this new federal holiday as well as the many cultural contributions of African Americans to our city.
The San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum (SAAACAM), through grant funding from the Area Foundation, has programmed a slew of educational activities aimed at raising awareness about Juneteenth and its deep meaning to the local Black community.
The occasion marks the day – June 19, 1865 – when slaves in Texas first learned they had been freed through President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued two years earlier.
Deborah Omowale Jarmon, SAAACAM’s CEO and Executive Director, said her organization first connected with the Area Foundation through its community outreach fund, the San Antonio African American Community Fund.
“SAAACAM is nothing short of a cultural gem for the entire San Antonio community,” said Patricia Mejia, Vice President for Community Engagement and Impact at the Area Foundation. “That is certainly evident this month with their great lineup of programs observing Juneteenth and celebrating the contributions of African Americans to San Antonio’s history leading to our dynamic present.”
Omowale Jarmon said Area Foundation support has had an accumulative effect, bolstering SAAACAM’s ability to meet and inform potential supporters, especially those who may not fully know about San Antonio’s African American history or perhaps be unaware of her organization’s goals.
“We encourage contributors to learn more about the history and experience our events,” Omowale Jarmon said. “Dollars we receive let us position ourselves and introduce ourselves to contributors and donors, and encourage conversations about history, culture and equity.”
Specifically, she has been able to reserve spaces, acquire services and other resources while partnering with local businesses and fellow nonprofits to hold special activities, such as the 2022 Juneteenth event lineup.
For starters, check out the mural inside the IKEA store at Live Oak. Omowale Jarmon called IKEA an ideal partner because the company is known for its focus on outfitting homes.
“The stories told in the exhibit are stories you’d share around the living room,” Omowale Jarmon said.
Additional 2022 Juneteenth activities include a “history harvest” at Comanche Park where museum staff and volunteers scan or take donations of photos, newspaper clippings, church programs, obituaries, yearbooks and other items related to African American heritage. Participants can use a sound booth for SAAACAM to collect audio recordings.
The organization is also partnering with the San Antonio Missions and San Antonio-based Texas Kidney Foundation for a joint fundraiser. The event celebrates African American contributions to baseball and includes a meet-and-greet with former South Texas Negro League players, access to a buffet, an exhibit, a silent auction and postgame fireworks.
And that’s not all – SAAACAM is partnering with In the Eye of the Beholder Art Gallery and Studio to hold a Juneteenth event at Legacy Park. The event features art, music and history celebrating slaves’ newly gained freedom and their struggle for a better life.
Maria Williams, owner of In the Eye of the Beholder, praised the Area Foundation and its partnership with the San Antonio African American Community Fund. She noted that grant funding helps SAAACAM grow and, in turn, empower her gallery and fellow community partners.
“What SAAACAM is doing is exemplary,” Williams said. “They’re doing a beautiful job categorizing and saving our history. The Area Foundation and the African American Community Fund are a perfect complement to our event.”
Edward Cortez is a San Antonio-based freelance writer and member of the San Antonio Area Foundation Marketing and Communications Department’s Storytelling Ambassador contributor network.