One of the Bay Area’s longest running Juneteenth festivals returned to South Berkeley on Sunday with a day-long celebration of Black culture and resilience, and a bustling community gathering of local vendors, artists, chefs, youth, and neighbors.
For the second year, Berkeleyside’s staff photographer Ximena Natera, and reporter Supriya Yelimeli, set up a mobile portrait studio to photograph and interview attendees.
Many talked to Berkeleyside about their deep roots in the city — beginning with grandparents and great-grandparents who moved to the Bay Area from Alabama, Texas, Arkansas and other places in the United States nearly a century ago, and onward during the Great Migration.
Young people who live in Berkeley and Oakland described the difficulties of staying in their hometowns while facing ongoing gentrification, the regional housing crisis, and other challenges.
We spoke to families raising their children in Berkeley, folks who have dealt with the loss of friends — but want to continue their legacies — and people who are finding new ways to fall in love with Berkeley even after 50 years of living in the city.
Here are their photos and some of their stories. If we took your photo on Sunday, keep an eye on your inbox — they’re landing soon!
Avri Fontenot, 10
Philip, 32 and Janea, 26
Willie Posey, 84
Willie Posey carries a small pair of scissors in his electric wheelchair as he moves through Berkeley, poised to trim pretty flowers when he sees petals that catch his eye. In this phase of his life, Posey has fallen back in love with nature. He says it’s an unexpected but organic return to his roots for someone born into a family of sharecroppers who moved to California from Arkansas during the Great Migration in the 1950s.
His family of 12 first arrived in Albany, and lived in University Village. He worked at UC Berkeley for 25 years as a furniture mover and said his career was filled with dynamic interactions and meetings.
One of the people he met during his time at UC Berkeley was Margy Wilkinson, a lifelong organizer for civil rights, disability rights and South Berkeley, who passed away in June 2020.
“That woman taught me about helping people, I met her on campus,” Posey said, recalling fondly her work to improve access for wheelchair users during her time at Cal. “I have her pictures up on my wall.”
He appreciated the sun, the joyful spirit, and the connections he made while enjoying his time in Berkeley Sunday.
“This environment — running into people — is what it’s all about. I am learning more and more about what happens for me when I’m in a community in this way.”
Cathy Leonard, 66
Chanda, 19 and Adena Ishii, 32
Pablo Circa, 34
Betty Ladzekpo grew up in Vallejo and Hayward, and graduated from UC Berkeley in 1987. She described her community, where she’s built a legacy as an educator and dance teacher, as forward-thinking and flexible.
“Berkeley is different — Berkeley is where change starts,” Ladzekpo said.
She’s a dance teacher at Berkeley Unified School District, and has been with the East Bay Center for Performing Arts since 1985, now as a core faculty member.
She spends much of her time surrounded by young people and youthful energy, and said she’s inspired by the next generation of children and teenagers in Berkeley.
“Kids aren’t the way they used to be,” Ladzekpo said. They’ve so much more offered to them in terms of technology, and they’re doing way more than I used to do — they’re questioning more.”
Cassidy River, 8, and Dariya Hankings, 9
Micherlange Francois-Hemsley, 22, Darius Simms, 20, Taije Davis, 22
Tia, 10, and Theo, 6
Onai, 10, Anja, 11
Brielle Blake, 11
Brielle, who was part of the photo booth at last year’s festival, posed for another portrait. She is now 11.
Eric Cox, 38, and his two children
Eric Cox and his wife, Danielle Williams, Berkeley High and Skyline High School graduates, are raising their two boys in Berkeley.
They both grew up here, and made an intentional decision to build their family here. Their youngest son attends Ruth Acty Elementary School, and their oldest just graduated from Thousand Oaks Elementary School.
“It’s the culture for me,” said Williams, an artist. “Berkeley has always been really diverse, laid back and open — it’s very artistic.”
Both of them are deeply rooted in the East Bay, but they’ve seen gentrification run rampant and push Black people out of the neighborhoods they grew up in. They feel the pressure of the housing crisis and the cost of living in Berkeley, but they love the city and hope to stay local.
“It’s a struggle staying here — it’s not easy,” Cox said. “We fight to stay here every day; it’s a never-ending story.”