Like cities and towns all over the country, Mill Valley is the midst of a long overdue reckoning with racial inequity, a process ignited by the the murder of George Floyd in 2020 – and the endless tragedies for Black Americans that preceded them, galvanizing global moment of protest, including in Mill Valley.

That reckoning has been multi-faceted, focusing on the historical inequities in our community and a widely held perception by both residents and visitors that Mill Valley is viewed as less than welcoming and resistant to change.

Longtime resident Abby Wasserman wrote in the Mill Valley Historical Society‘s annual MVHS Review, a 32-page, 2021 edition that put that reckoning within the broader context of history. “How racial diversity was slow to come to Mill Valley, how it was blocked, and how efforts to fight racism were mounted,” Wasserman wrote. “As Mill Valley awakens to its past and acknowledges how men, women, and children have been deprived of inclusion because of their skin color, we also acknowledge that some in this community worked hard for social justice. We look at how racism affects individuals and we are inspired by those who championed inclusion.”

With that history in mind, on June 18th from 11am-3pm on the Depot Plaza, the City of Mill Valley’s Recreation Dept., along with the Mill Valley Force for Racial Equity & Empowerment (MVFREE), which includes many members of the city’s former Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Task Force, are stepping up to host the inaugural Juneteenth Freedom Festival. The event is free to all.

The event builds on the rich tradition of celebrating Juneteenth, which originated in Galveston, Texas in 1865, as it was not until June 19, 1865, that Texas residents learned that slavery had been abolished by President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, and the former slaves immediately celebrated. In 2021, President Biden declared Juneteenth a federal holiday. Juneteeth is recognized as the oldest celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.

The event will feature food and live entertainment. “The event will involve a variety of different entertainment, food options and information booths regarding the City, MV-FREE and other organizations striving to promote a more diverse, equitable and inclusive Mill Valley, and Southern Marin,” city officials said.

The event will feature live performances from a number of local acts, including Jazz Mafia, Deuce Eclipse, Daylite, Unlearn the World and DJ Saurus. It will also feature poetry, storytelling, activities for all ages and more, including We welcome Hip Hop for a Change to celebrate diversity in our community as we amplify black voices.

“In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today,” city officials said in a statement. “Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society.” 

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