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La Mesa hosts inaugural Juneteenth celebration to foster unity

Posted at 7:52 PM, Jun 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-20 01:10:57-04

LA MESA, Calif. (KGTV) — Sunday, La Mesa hosted its inaugural Juneteenth celebration at MacArthur Park.

The holiday commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S."Juneteenth and Friends" was put on by the community.

" That's why we called it 'Juneteenth and Friends' because it's about everybody coming together and celebrating the African American lifestyle," Allan Durden said.

Durden and Patricia Dillard helped organize the event. It featured live entertainment, vendors, and kids' activities.

There were also educational speakers to talk about the history behind the holiday.

"We hope people will come out, enjoy the park, enjoy the jubilee, and learn a little history along the way," Dillard said.

It's an event Dillard and Durden said is needed.

Two years ago, violent protests erupted in La Mesa following the death of George Floyd and the controversial arrest of a Black man by a White La Mesa police officer.

"La Mesa has had its ups and downs and so forth, so Patricia and I decided to get everybody together and celebrate," Durden said.

Multiple businesses were destroyed.

The arresting officer was fired, and the La Mesa police chief at the time retired.

Police Chief Ray Sweeney was sworn in last year. He attended the Juneteenth celebration along with La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis.

"It [protests] brought a lot of things to light that we needed to think about as a law enforcement organization. The way that we police, the way the community wants us to police," said Sweeney.

Sweeney said the department has since held community forums and reformed policies.

There's also a police oversight board made up of community members.

"And also getting different training out to our officers," said Sweeney. "Implicit bias training. A lot of the things we just don't think about."

Ultimately, organizers believe celebrating all the things that make us different will help bring the community together.

"Our residents care. They want our community to be together and they want to share the positive things about La Mesa," Dillard said.