SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- In 2020, Santa Clara County voted to make Juneteenth a county holiday, the first county in California. As the holiday approaches this weekend, leaders hope that action may lead to statewide change.
Santa Clara County has an incredibly diverse population that makes our home what it is.
This weekend, our community will come together to celebrate Juneteenth, a special day for African American Community Service Agency Executive Director Milan Balinton.
"Juneteenth allows us to come together as a community," Balinton said. "But really, looking at economic empowerment, health and wellness, right now we're talking about the impacts of COVID-19 on the Black community, the Black experience."
Juneteenth is celebrated as the day of emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S., honored now with a flag raised in San Jose this week for the first time.
It was a proud moment considering the day wasn't even recognized as a holiday by our local government until 2020.
"We didn't even know we were making history at the time, but we knew that we were doing something right," Balinton said.
Balinton's agency and other prominent African American groups in the county approached leaders with a plan two years ago, following the protests demanding justice for George Floyd.
After the call for action, Cindy Chavez and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to make Juneteenth a county holiday.
"Part of the reason it was so important to go first was because someone had to," Supervisor Chavez said. "And second of all, everybody wants to live in a place they belong. Every time we take an action like this, it's one more opportunity for people to know they belong."
California State Senator Dave Cortese was on the board of supervisors when Santa Clara County recognized Juneteenth.
Now, new legislation calls on California to make Juneteenth not only just a county holiday, but a state holiday.
"We had hoped at the time we did the county holiday that it would be the kind of ice breaker, the kind of disruption that people had been waiting for for a long time," Sen. Cortese said. "And that, I think, puts a healthy tension on government and society to make things right for everybody."
Until that time, the flag flies high as a symbol of what can come next.
"To see that flag raised in the tenth largest city in America, is going to really symbolize the strength of our community," Balinton said. "If they did all of that then, then we can do more now."
The African American Community Service Agency is celebrating Juneteenth in San Jose with their 41st annual "Juneteenth in the streets" celebration.
For more information, you can visit their website.
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