KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — On Friday, churches of different denominations across the city joined hands to host a Juneteenth celebration. It wasn't just to eat good food and enjoy good company — they also wanted to show the East Knoxville community some love.
The event comes after the community has struggled with gun violence over the past 6 months.
"This is an opportunity for us to welcome each other, to love on each other and to show people that love is the way" said Rev. Leah Burns, a pastor at Lennon-Seney United Methodist Church.
Organizers were not the only ones who came out to show positivity. Attendees also saw a chance to come together and show love.
"To have an event like this, where East Knoxville can come together and just reach out and love," said Jane Taylor, an attendee.
It was also a day to give back and support a community that has experienced a difficult 6 months. Many families in the community are still grieving after losing several teens due to gun violence.
"We want the East Knoxville community to know that they are seen and that we appreciate what these past 6 months have been," said Rev. Burns.
The event was not just about love; it was also about strength. Organizers also said they hoped to show that unity and togetherness in East Knoxville were stronger than ever, even in the face of adversity.
"It's really important to join in the community because, in the end, the community is unity," said Audrey Wallace, an organizer of the event. "You see you want to have a lot of unity in your city."
The event also marked the first year that Juneteenth was federally recognized, the day when enslaved people in Texas first learned about their freedom.
"It's Freedom Day! It's the day when the very last enslaved people heard the news that they were free," said Rev. Burns.
While much of the event was about coming together to enjoy good times, it also brought people together for other reasons. Voter registration services were available to help prepare people for election time, while some people also had the chance to express themselves through art.
But in the end, nobody forgot how hard the past year has been for families, students and everyone else in the East Knoxville community.
"We wanted to say something to our community to recognize and to remind folks that it's been a hard season, but now it's time to celebrate," said Rev. Burns. "Now it's time to love each other. It's time to celebrate, and it's time to show that we are standing strong and ready for what lies ahead."
Organizers said the Juneteenth event was more than just a chance to celebrate. They said it was an opportunity to learn and grow.