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Juneteenth in the Valley
By Kimberly Shelby, Contributing Writer
Published June 1, 2022

Founders Shania Accius and Keith Paschall with their children at a Kwanzaa celebration. (Zawadi Cultural Collective)

Among the numerous organizations celebrating Juneteenth throughout the greater Los Angeles area this summer is Zawadi Cultural Collective. Born of an observable need for more culturally based programming in the San Fernando Valley, Zawadi offers a host of enrichment, outreach and community building events, including its upcoming 5th Annual Juneteenth Community Celebration. 

On June 18, the collective is inviting members and supporters of the African-American community in the San Fernando Valley and surrounding areas to come together in fellowship and fun as it recognizes the anniversary of the emancipation of Texas slaves on June 19, 1865. 

The event takes place from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Woodley Park, which is located at 6350 Woodley Avenue in Van Nuys. Games, raffles, and esteemed speakers will be but part of the featured festivities. Also planned are free hair braiding services, an essay scholarship program for tweens and teens, and a vendor marketplace showcasing businesses that are part of Zawadi’s affiliated resource hub coined “Black In The Valley.”   

Young people jump double dutch at a previous celebration. (Zawadi Cultural Collective)

Zawadi co-founder Shania Accius, who lives in the Valley but grew up in Uniondale, New York where the Black population is significantly greater, saw the value of developing programs that serve her community within her community.  

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“My children have been the only Black children in sports, dance, and even in their classes,” Accius notes. “This is why I curate the culture in their lives and the lives of other families in the Valley.” 

 Zawadi Cultural Collective’s inaugural event five years ago was a Women’s Empowerment Vision Board Party focusing on health and mental wellness for women of color. Since that, they have expanded to serve young men through a speech and leadership program and young women through their all-Black Girl Scout Troop. Their annual Juneteenth celebration and weekly free food distribution at Christ Community Church were established to engage and unify the community at large. 

“Black in the Valley” essay contest flyer. (Zawadi Cultural Collective)

The Black In The Valley marketplace developed in June 2020 after so many were hurting in the wake of the pandemic and George Floyd’s killing. “I hosted a children’s rally to protest, but I felt it wasn’t enough,” Accius recalls.  

 “I felt we needed to connect as a community and support each other. So, the day after the protest, Black In the Valley was launched, June 7, 2020, and the response was unbelievable.”   

Zawadi, which means “gift” in Swahili, aims to be that much and more to African Americans in the San Fernando Valley, where Blacks account for a mere 4% of the population.  Although maintaining the organization is challenging for the small board of four members doing the work of many, significant growth has been charted, and the collective has recently launched a Kidpreneur Business Academy, which trains 10-to-16-year-olds in matters of business and entrepreneurship. 

That same age group is eligible to enter the Juneteenth essay contest, which asks middle and high school students to pen a 500-word essay on what being “Black in the Valley” means to them. It’s a call to young people to express themselves, know their history, and get involved.  

Participants will be invited to read their essay at the Juneteenth event, and winners will be awarded cash prizes. Zawadi asks that all educators encourage their Black students to submit. 

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Visit zawadiculturalcollective.com and Blackinthevalley.org to learn more about contest guidelines as well as the collective’s various programs, events, and volunteering opportunities.  

As for their upcoming Juneteenth celebration, Accius likens it to a family reunion. “We take this time to make new friends, make new business connections and work on building our village. Bring your pop-up tent and chairs, and hang out for the day.” 

 

 

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