Richmonders join Trey Songz for Juneteenth vigil, march at Robert E. Lee monument

Petersburg native Trey Songz attended the candlelight vigil at the Robert E. Lee monument on Friday. Photo by Iman Mekonen

Eduardo Acevedo, News Editor
Iman Mekonen, Spectrum Editor

Compared to Juneteenth celebrations Richmond resident Ashley Kelly attended in 2019, she said this year’s holiday has received more support than ever.

“No one knew about it, no one was talking about it, it wasn’t on the news,” Kelly said of last year’s Juneteenth. “It was just nonexistent. But this year, it’s different.”

Kelly, owner of KDelenay jewelry and a Virginia Union University alumna, sold handcrafted jewelry, crystals and other accessories with her two daughters at the Robert E. Lee monument on Friday as more than 1,000 people gathered for demonstrations and a candlelight vigil on Monument Avenue. Kelly said she came to support the Black community and gain exposure as a Black businesswoman. 

“Juneteenth is really a day for me to reflect on what has happened to us and what’s still happening to us,” Kelly said. “I’m just happy I could live to see these days.”

Ashley Kelly sells handmade jewelry with her two daughters during Juneteenth celebrations at the Robert E. Lee monument on Friday. Photo by Iman Mekonen

Grammy-nominated artist and Petersburg, Virginia, native Trey Songz and others spoke at the base of the Robert E. Lee monument on what celebrating Juneteenth meant to them and their experiences fighting for racial justice.

Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, who received news of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in Texas on June 19, 1865.

The candlelight vigil on Friday was part of the “Trey Songz Black Lives Matter Weekend,” a 3-day event that will continue Saturday in Petersburg.

“We’re tired,” Songz said through a bullhorn at the Lee statue. “I done cried about this, I done been mad about this, I done not been able to eat ‘bout this. It’s hurting my soul.”

The singer released a song on June 5 called “2020 Riots: How Many Times,” which comments on the effects of police brutality on Black communities. The lyrics reference protests that sparked globally honoring George Floyd, a Black man who was killed in Minneapolis police custody.

“This could have been any one of us,” Songz said. “This could be any one of us any given day. They take our lives and keep walking.”

Following the speech, organizers led the group of attendees to march down Monument Avenue to the Jefferson Davis monument, which was greeted by a crowd of people holding candles and phone flashlights to illuminate the scene. The crowd returned to the Lee monument for a calm evening with music, food and fireworks.  

Carlton Russell, a biology major at John Tyler Community College, served jerk chicken and collard greens to those celebrating at the Lee statue. He said he’s attended almost every demonstration in Richmond since they began in late May, and now he’s showing his support with platefuls of Jamaican food.

“We’re just trying to spread love,” Russell said. “We’re just trying to let our presence be known.”

Russell does not approve of the Richmond Police Department’s response to recent demonstrations, and he believes people have a right to protest.

“It’s our right to let our voices be heard when we haven’t been heard,” Russell said. “I feel like that’s what they’re against — what America is against.”

A firework explodes over the Robert E. Lee memorial on Monument Avenue during Juneteenth celebrations on Friday in Richmond. Photo by Iman Mekonen

Southside Richmond native Chantell Barlowe came late to the gatherings at the Lee statue Friday night. She didn’t participate in recent protests in the city but said she feels more comfortable to join after seeing the local Juneteenth celebrations.

“It’s really nice to see Black people together, unified like this,” Barlowe said as people enjoyed food and played pick-up ball games in the grass around the monument.

Barlowe said the decision by protesters and local governments to remove Confederate statues in Richmond and across the country is a good thing, and now she’s waiting to see answers for injustices against Black people.

“We just need a lot of change,” Barlowe said. “There’s a lot of injustice going on, and I think this change would be good.”

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