Juneteenth Committee_2018

Sean Mosley was only five or six years old, but he remembers those Saturday mornings going door-to-door with his parents to various Waterbury neighborhoods, registering people to vote.

His childhood “was all about how you can improve your community and empower the people around you,” he says.

Now Mosley chairs the English department at Crosby High School in Waterbury and he’s pursuing a law degree.

And he hasn’t stopped empowering those around him.

He and a dedicated group of Waterbury residents from different walks of life formed Waterbury’s Juneteenth Celebration Committee in June 2017 to create a public event in the city centered around African-American culture to mark Juneteenth. Additionally, they wanted to create space for complex conversations about racism, privilege and building community.

A celebration of the emancipation of African-Americans as slaves, Juneteenth has been officially celebrated for the past several decades on or around June 19 in many cities across the United States. The commemoration takes different forms, shaped by local communities. Until this year when the Juneteenth Committee stepped in, Waterbury did not hold a visible Juneteenth cultural event.

But, through the efforts of the committee, with sponsorship from Neighborhood Housing Services of Waterbury and funding through Connecticut Community Foundation’s grassroots grants program, on June 15, 2018 the first-ever, city-wide Juneteenth celebration was held in Waterbury. Over 100 people attended the celebration of African-American freedom, heritage and excellence, which featured live music, poetry, singing and vendors selling traditional African garments and goods.

Mosley reflected, “I think the most meaningful thing for me was to know that there are people in this community who take tremendous pride in their cultural heritage and are not afraid to show it. And, they have a thirst for showing more of it.”

He added, “Without Connecticut Community Foundation, the event probably would not have happened to this magnitude. We are grateful to them for their support and belief in what we’re trying to do.”

While the Juneteenth celebration was the pinnacle of many months of organizing, the committee had been very intentional about holding smaller events to educate community members about African-American life. They co-hosted a discussion about the state of education in the Black community and they facilitated a “privilege walk” to demonstrate how different people benefit from or are marginalized by society.

Plans are already underway for next year, and they are seeking more city residents to join in.

“The real goal is to develop a scholarship fund for local youth who are civically engaged and who want to share in the work of re-investing in the community,” said Mosley, adding, “and we’d like to build on our community engagement capacity.”

The committee was recently honored with the 2018 Trustee Fund Award, conferred by current and former trustees of Connecticut Community Foundation to recognize exceptional innovation and collaboration that benefits communities in Greater Waterbury and the Litchfield Hills. The award includes a $5,000 grant from the Trustee Fund to further the mission of the Juneteenth Committee.

Mosley said, “It’s up to us now to really take the baton and do the community work that has been done before us and that we grew up seeing. We can’t just be nostalgic about it. There’s a generation behind us that’s watching…”

Watch Sean Mosley describe why events like Juneteenth matter to Waterbury:

Top photo of Juneteenth Committee by Jake Koteen Photography

View all the photos from the Trustee Awards celebration.