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New Yorkers honor lives lost to COVID-19 at Juneteenth celebration

Video: A free music festival marking Juneteenth was held on June 19, 2022 in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, where African Americans commemorated the end of slavery in the United States and honored the lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Xinhua)

"We didn't have a solid infrastructure in a lot of our communities. So when the pandemic hit, it further exposed that lack of infrastructure in our neighborhoods," says Catherine Mbali Green-Johnson.

by Xinhua writers Liu Yanan, Zhang Mocheng

NEW YORK, June 21 (Xinhua) -- As African Americans in New York joined others from across the country to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States, they also honored the lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic at a regular thematic event in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.

A traditional altar of Black people was set up at Nethermead, the central meadow in Prospect Park, on Sunday along the main stage and a number of stands serving participants of the 13th Annual Juneteenth NY 2022 Festival.

The altar featured quilts contributed by people, who lost their loved ones due to the pandemic. The quilts displayed were collected from Brooklyn of New York City and Toledo of Ohio, according to Catherine Mbali Green-Johnson, curator of the quilt project.

A quilt memorializing victims of the COVID-19 pandemic is displayed as part of the quilt project during the 13th Annual Juneteenth Festival in Prospect Park in the Brooklyn borough of New York, the United States, on June 19, 2022. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Xinhua)

Participants also made artworks or wrote words on the quilts in commemoration of their family members who died of the coronavirus.

"To the person who was dad or mom to me!" read one line with heart-shaped drawings. "Thank you for giving me wisdom, self-respect, teaching me to have love for my mind and body. Thanks for showing me what a mom is," read another one.

The markings and patterns in quilts were used as a way to send messages and learn where to go when Black people escaped from slavery hundreds of years ago, according to Green-Johnson.

"It (quilt) is definitely very tightly woven into who we are as people and so we wanted to, in this way, remember (it)," said Green-Johnson.

Chayanne Marcano (L) and Catherine Mbali Green-Johnson, curators of the quilt project, place a quilt memorializing victims of the COVID-19 pandemic during the 13th Annual Juneteenth Festival in Prospect Park in the Brooklyn borough of New York, the United States, on June 19, 2022. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Xinhua)

Green-Johnson added she lost her father to COVID-19 in April 2020 and organizers of the yearly event came up with the idea of quilt making as a way to help people like her "deal and heal" with such an unforeseen moment in their lives.

"We had to end up taking him into the hospital, but he never came home… Today is Father's Day. So I get to honor him in this way," Green-Johnson told Xinhua.

"As we open up the world, it's almost as if we have forgotten that millions of people are no longer here, and it's not. I don't see how we can continue to move forward without really acknowledging that loss. There was a huge loss for me," she said.

People take part in a celebration of Juneteenth in Prospect Park in the Brooklyn borough of New York, the United States, June 19, 2022. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Xinhua)

African Americans were hit hard by the pandemic with higher hospitalization and mortality rates.

"We didn't have a solid infrastructure in a lot of our communities. So when the pandemic hit, it further exposed that lack of infrastructure in our neighborhoods," said Green-Johnson.

Sufficient funds should be guaranteed to be distributed to communities of color across the country and people need to have access to health care, she noted.

"We are no longer waiting. We are making sure that we are vocal, we are in office, we are elected, (and that) we are in a space where we are practicing every day our liberation," said Green-Johnson, adding that the quilt project was launched in April and around 40 people have participated in the project.

People take part in a celebration of Juneteenth in Prospect Park in the Brooklyn borough of New York, the United States, June 19, 2022. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Xinhua)

"It's been a beautiful response to it. I think people were looking for a way to express their grief in a communal way," she said, adding that reflecting on all of the loss and doing that with the community is a really powerful experience for many people.

Green-Johnson also mentioned that the quilts on display will be exhibited in more cities.

In 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the nation, though the day had long been celebrated in a number of states.