Greenburgh Juneteenth Interview with Gina Jackson

Excerpt from an interview with Gina Jackson, Councilwoman for Town of Greenburgh, conducted by Niara Jordan.

NIARA: Tell us about how your Juneteenth celebration was brought to life. 

Gina Jackson: Greenburgh is the neighboring town to the City of White Plains, which we all know has a huge Juneteenth celebration. I took office the two months before COVID hit in March 2020. Everything that I wanted to do and had a plan to do, I couldn’t. I had to reevaluate and restructure. One of the big things was wanting to bring the history to Greenburgh as it relates to Juneteenth. When we were not able to hold a huge celebration in White Plains I asked, “how can we do it here in Greenburgh?” That year we had our first Juneteenth celebration in Greenburgh and we organized it as motorcade because everyone had to be in their separate vehicles and six feet apart. The motorcade ended up at Web Field/ Presser Park. The second year, last year, I said “we’ve got to do it bigger”. We wanted to get the seniors to come out. We wanted the whole community to come out. We wanted to make sure everyone understood exactly what Juneteenth was and highlight it here in Greenburgh. We enhanced the celebration and even added a flag raising at our Town Hall. The motorcade was even bigger than the year before. We were able to have busloads of seniors as well as students from the community attend. With all the unrest going on, we wanted to make sure that we brought everyone together with care and understanding. 

NIARA: So great that you were able to reach across generations! 

Gina Jackson: Absolutely. We had a young woman come in and present a poem for us. We had music featuring a local DJ. To see everyone come out after being locked up for two year…To see everyone just breathing fresh air and learning and celebrating together—that’s what I wanted. This year, our third year, will be even bigger. People are really excited about it. People are already calling me and asking “when is Greenburgh doing their Juneteenth?” 

And it’s free! I wanted it to be free from the beginninf—we don’t have many free events, especially with everything that’s going on now— a free community fun event. I want to be able to celebrate with my neighbors and to bring together everyone in the community…people who don’t look like me or you to come out and really learn about our history and learn about the history of Juneteenth. 

NIARA: To come together and have something to take away from the experience.  

Gina Jackson: Yes, yes, yes. We will never be able to hold a celebration like White Plains or the larger cities, but at least we can add something and do something for our community. I don’t think a lot of people really know what Juneteenth is. Now that it’s being highlighted more, we are learning about our history. For me, I have nieces and nephews and am a mother of a 14 year old son. I want them to understand what Juneteenth is and what exactly it stands for, because they may or may not learn it in school. 

I have to do my due diligence to teach it at home. We have to teach our youth. We have to know our history. It’s just not about fun and coming together, but understanding why we’re coming together and why we’re able to be free and why for a period of time we didn’t even realize we were free. We are still facing challenges, but in order for us to overcome these challenges we really have to come together and educate one another about each other’s history so that we can understand each other. 

That is really my goal, to bring people together. In Greenburgh we have the unincorporated area and then we have the six villages. How do we bring them all together? I was at an event yesterday in Hastings, and it felt so separated. We need to organize more events together. We need to stop being so separate and create more events where people come together who don’t look like each other. Learn about others’ cultures enriches ourselves, and enriches our own understanding of where we all come from. Everyone’s culture is beautiful. We bring so much to one another. We talk about being a melting pot, but let’s understand what’s in that pot. We need to truly understand exactly what that means. To organize an event like this in the Town of Greenburgh gives me such great pleasure. It is an honor. 

NIARA: And what a beautiful way to do it. 

Gina Jackson: That’s my goal. I want to dispel stereotypes, rumors and negativity. At some point, hopefully, the message will be heard and we can just come together with no biases at all and just embrace one another. We have to work towards real inclusion, diversity and equity. It’s not window dressing. 

There are so many diverse communities here. How do we all come together? How do we make sure we are equal? How do we make sure that we are inclusive of one another? That is what’s so important to me. It’s like “Hey, how are you? Tell me about yourself. Let me learn some things about you. Let me understand who you are – learn who Gina Jackson is or learn who Niara is. 

This is not a Black event. This is a historical event. This is an educational event for everyone to come out and learn about African American history. That’s what it means to be inclusive. That’s what it means to have diversity, to be willing to listen to one another and learn from one another. 

NIARA: Did you learn about Juneteenth when you were coming up? 

Gina Jackson: I learned about Juneteenth from the late great William Carter. He was a leader of White Plains  Juneteenth. He and I had many conversations—he was the one who really taught me about Juneteenth. That’s why I make it a point that my son understands what Juneteenth is. 

It just goes to show you that these types of events are educational and effective. I’m evidence of that. Juneteenth in White Plains wasn’t just a bunch of people coming together and walking down Mamaroneck Avenue. It was about understanding why we are there and what this parade symbolizes. This is the educational part of it. Those like myself, who did not learn about Juneteenth in school, can learn about it from this type of event. And then they can begin to teach their communities or their households or anyone. 

About ArtsWestchester

For more than 50 years, ArtsWestchester has been the community’s connection to the arts. Founded in 1965, it is the largest private not-for-profit arts council in New York State. Its mission is to create an equitable, inclusive, vibrant and sustainable Westchester County in which the arts are integral to and integrated into every facet of life. ArtsWestchester provides programs and services that enrich the lives of everyone in Westchester County. ArtsWestchester helps fund concerts, exhibitions and plays through grants; brings artists into schools and community centers; advocates for the arts; and builds audiences through diverse marketing initiatives. In 1998, ArtsWestchester purchased the nine-story neo-classical bank building at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue which has since been transformed into a multi-use resource for artists, cultural organizations and the community. A two-story gallery is located on the first floor of ArtsWestchester’s historic building on Mamaroneck Avenue.