San Quentin residents joined Americans everywhere observing the new national holiday, Juneteenth, celebrating the formal end of slavery.
“I think it came at perfect timing for our small world here,” said K. Bhatt, teacher-coach. “To re-open our community, to come together to promote positivity, camaraderie, and friendship is a unique opportunity. Inside prison here now is a great example of a community coming together.”
The San Quentin celebration was held the day before the official Juneteenth holiday, June 19.
Juneteenth was made an official holiday on June 17 when President Biden signed it into law. At his side was Opal Lee, 94. After decades of marching for Juneteenth to become a national holiday, she finally got her wish.
“I just know that the time has come for us to work together despite the disparities we have, and disparities we do have,” said Lee in a TV interview.
In a place where depressing circumstances are familiar, San Quentin prison celebrated the milestone as a victory with the residents on June 18 by hosting a set of intramural basketball games.
Juneteenth banners dis-played among a racially diverse crowd signified the day. SQ resident Clenard “Cee Cee” Wade said, “Given the recent developments, the passage (of the) law, given all we been through—the pandemic and all, not only in America but here in SQ—is the beginning of a new day where hope, promise, and fulfillment has now been made possible.”
Stephen Pascascio was the musical engineer of the day and he set the tone for the crowd with his old-school and new-school hit list of song selections to play over the PA system.
“This is my first Juneteenth I ever experienced,” said Pascascio. “I’m from the country of Belize, and I never heard of it until I came to prison. I look forward to the education of it.”
Standing in the middle of the basketball court, Jamal Harrison gave a short speech on the history of Juneteenth and other historical figures.
In his speech, Harrison said, “It’s important to remember all of the Blacks who died for us and it’s important to know that the percentage of Blacks in this country is low while the percentage of Blacks in prison is higher than any other race.”
He also mentioned that two years after President Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation in 1863, Blacks were still not free in Texas. A group of African Americans would meet at a church in a secret area and celebrate their unrecognized freedom until U.S. marshals announced their freedom publicly in Texas on June 19, 1865.
“I spoke on them because it’s important to know about them (as) forgotten models of our history,” Harrison said. “This is a celebration of the fight and the struggle we been through. If you know about your past, you will know your future.”
Basketball Coach Kash stated that celebrating Juneteenth in prison is a beautiful thing. He said he was informed of Juneteenth by his family when he was young — a testament to the importance of passing down historical knowledge to generations to come.
Before the games got started, SQ resident pastor Derrick Holloway blessed the crowd with an ancestral prayer. Men were circled around the court and on the tables in silence.
Nate Collins was the MC of the day and he called the play-by-play of the games.
“It was an experience and I appreciate the opportunity,” said Collins. “I love to represent the men in blue and have fun with everybody, especially on a special day like today, Juneteenth, and I learned something from Mall in his speech. I never heard of them people he mentioned before.”
Collins used his spunky and comical technique of calling the plays, along with sideline critic and SQ comedian Charles “Pookie” Sylvester, to keep the crowd laughing.
“I have an active way of seeing things happen and turn it into something funny,” said Sylvester. “I wanted to bring some excitement to the game, too. I like the celebration of Juneteenth and I’m happy we can finally come together for a good cause, plus inform some people because a lot of people didn’t know what this all means.”
Before the game, captain Alan “Black” McIntosh of the team Cookies said, “It’s not gonna be a competitive game. We gonna win by double digits.” At haft time. Cookies led 31–21 over team Better Than Y’all.
Alex from team Better than Y’all tried to keep his team in it, but his 23 points, 2 rebounds, and 7 assists were not enough. The 45-year-old “Black” McIntosh scored 40 points. Cookies won 65-53.
“My body felt good,” McIntosh said. “I been preparing for this season. When I’m healthy I’m hard to stop by anybody. I’m the healthiest I been in two years. That’s why I knew my prediction would come true.”
The halftime show was graced by Rhashiyd “Raw-LMNO” Zinnamon with a performance of his song “Here It Go.”
“It’s good to have good energy out here and to have fun,” said Zinnamon. “That’s why I like doing these performances; I like to see the smiles on the faces.”
Zinnamon later performed another one of his songs, “Melodixx,” in the halftime of the later game between Don’t Talk Shoot vs. Power House. Don’t Talk Shoot won, 51–50.
Enjoying the activities was 1,000 Mile Running Club President Tommy Wickerd. Wickerd was part of an old ideology of racist White men in prison for decades. Wickerd’s mindset has grown into a more inclusive way of thinking.
“Twenty years ago I would of felt out of place being at something like this in prison,” Wickerd said. “But today it’s cool to be a part of this. Blacks went through a lot to finally get here. It’s still racism today, but it starts with us (Whites). Everybody is still equal. That’s why it’s cool to have this cultural awareness.” Wickerd listens to rap music, too, and he said he hates the songs that use the “N” word.