RUBONIA — Young Eddie Hicks knew what the day was all about as he laced up for a game of flag football Sunday afternoon.
It wasn’t just another Father’s Day to the 7-year-old Rubonia boy. The day, to him and his family, meant so much more.
“It represents freedom,” Eddie shouted out during Sunday’s Juneteenth Celebration at the Rubonia Community Center park off 72nd Street East.
The event, hosted by Active Concerned Citizens and prominent residents of Rubonia, joins in the county’s oldest celebration of the end of slavery.
“A lot of the people don’t know about the day the slaves were set free and we really wanted to get together today to educate our community,” said Eddie’s mother and ACC Vice President Patrice Poole.
Slavery was abolished in January 1863, when President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, but word of the end of slavery didn’t reach some slaves until June 19, 1865. The day was dubbed “Juneteenth,” slang for June 19, and memorialized with festivals and gatherings.
Although temperatures reached the 90s Sunday, heat didn’t deter more than a hundred Rubonia residents from gathering outside to mark the day.
“We can stand it,” Fred Roberso said as he stood in the sun on the park field and watched his 8-year-old son, Ahmad, prep for a flag football game. “I came to enjoy the event and spend time with the kids on this special day.”
At the park’s entrance, a large white tent and shady trees saved what appeared to be an appreciative crowd who surveyed the day’s festivities.
Organizers provided something for everyone including pick-up football and softball games and a bounce house for children.
The aroma of barbecue drew some passersby in from off the street.
Grillmaster Ernest Murray cooked chicken, ribs and sausages while nearby DJ Jodeci Walker, 15, spun music for attendees.
Shavonda Bailey, president of ACC, stood underneath a tent and handed out children’s books, donated by The Reading Corner.
“We’re trying to encourage reading,” said Bailey, 30.
Also at the celebration: Manatee County Health Department volunteers, including Avery Burke, who handed out AIDS prevention packets.
“If it hadn’t been for all the sacrifices, freedom would have never occurred,” said Quincy Washington, 32, as he took a break from coaching one of the flag football teams.
“We’d have never been able to all gather together like this here and socialize,” added Poole who stood nearby. “It’s a good day.”