Black voices reflect on joy and the future

Juneteenth is Sunday. The day celebrates the emancipation of people who were enslaved in the United States, specifically commemorating the day the Emancipation Proclamation was enforced in Texas two years after it was enacted. On June 19, 1865, people still enslaved in Texas were freed.

People participate in Juneteenth celebration in Los Angeles. Friday, June 19, 2020. Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state and ensure all enslaved people be freed, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.(AP Photo/Jae C.Hong)

Events are planned throughout the Southern Tier, including the 3rd annual celebration in Oneonta and the 21st in Elmira. The Southside Community Center in Ithaca plans to host four days of events, including a festival on Saturday and a health clinic on Sunday from 2pm-4pm on the Commons. People can get the first or second Moderna booster, walk in welcome.

On its website, the center wrote that by celebrating Juneteenth, they “seek to remember and honor the sacrifices and struggles of our ancestors who were determined to create a better future for Black people throughout the United States and the broader African Diaspora.

“Thus, Juneteenth is a public affirmation of our determination to stay woke, fully exercise our human rights, and create a better future for our youth in Ithaca and throughout America.”

In celebration of Juneteenth, WSKG is sharing the stories of Black people in our region.

Amber Johnson (provided)

Amber Johnson, Bainbridge

“Because I live in a rural area, there’s not many Black people. I love when I go to a store and I see another Black person and they are excited to see me. Because it’s like “Wow, another Black person lives here?” said Johnson. She said there is no verbal communication, but a recognition, “It’s just physical. It’s like ‘Oh, oh oh!’ — that makes me excited.”

Johnson is an activist and organizer with the New York Energy Democracy Alliance. While she didn’t grow up with Juneteenth, Johnson looks forward to celebrating it each year with the community in Binghamton.

Adrina Graham, Ithaca
the lingerie shop, Adrian Dietrareopened earlier this month right next to the State Theatre.

“We’re going back to the roots of the brand and bringing back the timeless shapes that I used to love to create,” said brand founder, Adrina Graham.

Graham always wanted to be a designer and really embraced fashion during a time of personal depression and anxiety. She has backed away from the business when things felt overwhelming, but then a supportive friend reminds her “you got this” and she keeps pushing.

Adrina Graham in front of her luxury lingerie shop, Adrina Dietra, in Ithaca. The shop reopened in the new location next to the State Theater earlier this month. (Sarah Gager, WSKG)

Graham started a philanthropic initiative when COVID hit called the IFE Project. She distributes free sanitary kits with menstrual products. Graham had been through her own hardships, and saw so many people in need.

“Everyone’s asking for relief,” said Graham, “Food, basic clothing and such like that. It’s very rare that you see relief when it comes to toiletries, or underwear, and those are some of the most basic, everyday needs. And I think the fact that it’s so taboo is still mind blowing to me. Because these, like, everything doesn’t have to be sexual.”

The term lingerie is often reserved for something risqué, but Graham maintains it is just underwear. Graham also offers to help clients find the appropriate undergarment for a specific outfit. She said the right undergarments can make clothes look better and make people feel more confident.

Ernestine Kyles
“I can be very tough sometimes or I can be very sentimental.”

Ernestine Kyles at her home in Horseheads. (Sarah Gager/WSKG)

Ernestine Kyles was 7 years old when her mother died and she moved in with her grandparents. They had a farm in a small town in Louisiana.

The people of her church collected money to send Kyles to summer camp.

“It’s the giving that people gave to me, that today I feel that I have an obligation to give back,” said Kyles.

Now, Kyles and her husband live in Horseheads. She’s the oldest member of a civic engagement group that awards scholarships for Black students seeking higher education. The Kyles contribute money toward it. Applications for the Ernestine Kyles scholarship are available on the website for the Cosmopolitan Women’s Club.

“It gives me so much joy and pleasure. When I see the kids when they write their essays, and they talk about what they want to do in life, and they’re ‘not going to let barriers of color, or whatever, hold me back, because I know I can do it .’”

Kyles wants parents to stay engaged with their kids, and for young, Black people to take advantage of all educational opportunities, including trade schools like BOCES. She encourages everyone to “do our homework” to make informed decisions.

This post will be updated throughout the week to include more profiles.

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