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Tommy Meeks puts together 30 years of Juneteenth celebrations in Rockford

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — In 1988, Tommy Meeks took a trip to visit family in Arkansas.

"My aunt and uncle Maggie and James told me about Juneteenth, I'd never heard about it," says Meeks.

Two years later, Meeks shared his new knowledge with his city.

"In 1990 I started promoting it because I thought it would be good for people to know more about out history."

That history commemorates the day all slaves were freed. Union soldiers traveled to Texas, where slavery still existed years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Those solders announced their emancipation. Meeks says his people's journey to real freedom was just beginning.

"In ten years we became U.S. Senators, U.S. Congressman, and mayors of cities,"says Meeks. "We had banks. And I think some people feared that. We went into about 90 years of more discrimination until 1964."

This is the 30th year Meeks has organized the celebration. COVID-19 forced the traditional gathering to happen virtually. But Meeks says he's energized by the conversations happening across the country.

"With the murder of George Floyd, it's making all decent minded people think about our own humanity and how we treat each other. I think that's what people are focusing on. What if that was my son? What if that was my daughter?"

Meeks says Juneteenth carries a powerful message and one that's poignant at this turning point.

"It gives us an opportunity to grow. I guess that's how I've always looked at it. We can grow as human beings with understanding nothing's perfect. But we can sure be better than we've been."

Mary Sugden

Mary Sugden is the Investigative Reporter at WREX. She joined the team in December 2014 as the evening producer. In 2015 she made the move to evening reporter before joining the 13 Investigates team in May of 2018.

She grew up in Woodstock, Illinois and graduated from Woodstock High School in 2009. Mary graduated with a degree in Journalism and Marketing from Loyola University Chicago in 2013.

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