By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – Supporters of Juneteenth found reason to celebrate and motivate Saturday night, June 19, in Warsaw.
The unexpected establishment of Juneteenth as a federal holiday earlier this week drew strong applause more than once among the roughly 75 people who attended the annual Juneteenth celebration at the Shrine Building in Warsaw.
Jalyn Radziminski, 26, a voting rights advocate from Fort Wayne, was one of four speakers to address the dinner crowd and underscored the importance of the new federal holiday during her talk and afterward.
The move by Congress and President Joe Biden to make it a new federal holiday – the first new federal holiday in four decades – comes at the same time there is a national discussion on police relations with people of color, allegations of election suppression aimed at minorities and a growing debate over the teaching of critical race theory.
Radziminski said the emancipation of slavery should be celebrated because it was a turning point in the country’s history.
“I know there’s a lot of debate in education right now to make sure our full history is shown more accurately so I think Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday is really important,” Radziminski said after her speech. “It’s really important for us to acknowledge our entire history so we don’t repeat history.”
She founded Count US IN, a non-profit group that encourages more diverse voter turnout and political participation in Indiana, and was inspired by her own struggles to vote absentee while away at college.
She describes the movement as the first non-profit, non-partisan, group based in Indiana that seeks to increase voting power and engagement.
Radziminski is passionate about promoting equity by working with different groups. The Northside High School graduate went on to Emory University where she earned a degree in linguistics and interdisciplinary studies with a human rights concentration, according to a profile posted on countusin.com.
Much of Radziminski’s work is dedicated to advocating for voter rights, and a range of other issues such as youth empowerment, mental health for people of color, ending mass incarceration, and accessibility issues for those with disabilities.
While the civil rights movement has seen great strides in recent decades, she noted there is still much work to be done, and noted that African Americans were not given the right to vote for nearly 100 years after slavery ended.
“I don’t take that right lightly and I try to make sure that I empower my community with everything I do,” she said.
Saturday’s dinner was sponsored by One Warsaw and ABLE (African and Black Leaders For Excellence), an employee group from Zimmer Biomet.
Zimmer Biomet employee PJ Hardy, representing ABLE, spoke briefly and said employee resource groups within the company are seeing a renewed focus in empowering employees to get involved.
Hardy then announced that Zimmer Biomet and ABLE would donate $1,000 to One Warsaw.
“I certainly hope it’s the start of a relationship with One Warsaw. This is a great event and it’s just the beginning,” he said.
Other speakers included Joe Banks, who founded the local Martin Luther King celebration in Warsaw; Kosciusko Senior Services Executive Director David Neff and Warsaw Community Schools Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert.
Banks recounted the history of slavery and emancipation. Neff addressed the challenges that “seniors of color” have faced and continue to face.
Hoffert recapped the district’s focus on inclusivity (one of four new pillars of priority) and told the audience there continues to be opportunities for civic engagement with the community to help develop related policies.