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Peace and Justice; local group organizes Juneteenth celebration weekend

Cami Koons | @koons_cami

Updated 6/23/2020: according to Mazzy Martinez, the Friday, June 19 protest was cancelled due to inclement weather. Saturday’s event has been rescheduled for Sunday, June 28.

A Facebook group called Peace and Justice organizes and educates the Lawrence community in a fight for social justice surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. The group has organized three local events this weekend in celebration of Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

Organizers of the group said each Juneteenth event has a different theme. Friday’s march on the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka promotes action, while the Saturday cookout and Sunday vigil bring celebration and observation. 

Peace and Justice is a private Facebook group started by Zyrie Berry and Amber Ruiz, with the goal of providing resources, information, and discussion among like-minded people in the eastern Kansas region. Berry, who recently graduated from the University of Kansas said he and Ruiz came up with the idea while protesting the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. He said they talked about the importance of organization and of creating, maintaining, and showing up to events. 

“We tried to create a one-stop shop for the community in the area to: find events, get involved and find resources,” Berry said. 

Berry said he expected maybe 300 members in the group and is shocked at the response he saw from the now 1,300 group members. The group has organized several events including the march from Freestate High School to the house of Bill Self, the KU basketball coach, and a training on direct action and de-escalation. 

“The Kansas community has responded very well,” Berry said. 

Azja Butler, a junior at the university, along with Mazzy Martinez, a sophomore at the university, helped organize the Lawrence march on police brutality, on May 31. The two are now active organizers and administrators in Peace and Justice. Butler said the group has been a bridge between the Lawrence community and a lot of KU students. She said the group gives black voices, not only a place to be heard, but a place to discuss actionable measures for change. 

Protestors at the Lawrence march on police brutality 31 May 2020. Photo by Cole Billings.

“It’s okay for Black people to disagree about steps to move forward,” Butler said. “The group has done a good job in going to make sure Black voices are heard.”

Butler said she’s excited for the events this weekend because they present the opportunity to connect with the community and talk about the response Lawrence wants to have. Butler said she wants to see if Lawrence is a place that can be an example for other universities.

“It’s a good way to poll the community and figure out what people want to do to move forward,” Butler said. 

Participants will have the opportunity to discuss, listen and learn at each of the events, starting on Friday with a march on the Kansas State Capitol. Berry said the goal of the protest is to be a catalyst for policy change, namely for police reform.

“Police reform is the first step in creating a society that is accountable,” Berry said. “We must create that civil change that is necessary to end police violence, end police brutality and let Black lives thrive.” 

Martinez said no speakers have been organized for the Saturday cookout in South Park, though she expects people will speak as they did at the Lawrence police brutality march. 

She said the group collected donations to grill and hand out as much food as possible at the event. Attendees are also encouraged to bring their own picnics. She said she wants it to be a big summer celebration. 

“I think everyone should celebrate Juneteenth as much as they celebrate Fourth of July,” Martinez said. 

Martinez said masks and social distancing are encouraged at the cookout. She said it will be like a big picnic, but everyone can stay with their own group of people in the interest of safety. 

The weekend culminates with the Sunday night candlelight vigil. The event will start in the alley between New Hampshire Street and Rhode Island Street in remembrance of Rick “Tiger” Dowdell, an African American student at the university who was shot in the alley while fleeing the police in 1970. 

Berry said the location represents the long history of police brutality. He said the event will start in the alley and finish in South Park. Participants will walk with candles and shout out the names of people who have been victims of systemic racism, in an act of remembrance and observation. 

“We want to give people space to come to terms with their emotions,” Berry said. 

Butler said she hopes to see as many people at the events as she saw come to the Lawrence march on police brutality. She said the events, and Peace and Justice, are meant to bring the community together with the common goal of social justice. 

“An important part of the process of social justice is finding those small moments to be together as a community,” Butler said. 

Each organizer noted the importance of safety at the events and encouraged participants to wear masks per state health recommendations

“While we’re actively about social change, we want to make sure people are taking care of themselves,” Berry said. “Don’t show up if you can’t. If you can, show up in full force.” 

When and Where? 

March for Black lives on the Capitol: 

Friday June 19 at 7 p.m. SW 8th & SW Van Buren, Topeka, KS 66612

cancelled due to inclement weather

Juneteenth Community Celebration: 

Saturday June 20 at 5 p.m. South Park, Lawrence KS

postponed until Sunday June 28

Candlelight Vigil

Sunday June 21 at 8 p.m.  in alley between New Hampshire Street and Rhode Island Street, Lawrence, KS.

Featured image submitted by Mazzy Martinez and designed by Bryan Kincade.