tampabay.com

Organizer of June teenth celebration quits

The stress of planning the annual event has taken its toll on her.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE
Published August 9, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - The organizer of the local Juneteenth celebration that commemorates emancipation of slaves in America is calling it quits.

Jeanie Blue, who organized the event for the first time 15 years ago, says it has become stressful and financially burdensome.

"It's getting a bit too much for me to handle and I have a limited amount of ongoing, consistent support. People come and go. Fifteen years later, I feel I can't handle it anymore and city services started to dwindle," said Blue, 48.

The free annual celebration in Campbell Park has been co-sponsored by the city of St. Petersburg. Co-sponsorship for some events entitles a group to use the city's name and logo.

For others, like Blue's Juneteenth celebration, it means that the city will provide a certain amount of in-kind services, including police, fire, traffic control and sanitation.

Costs over the allotted amount of services have to be paid by event organizers. Blue says she can't afford to pay this year's bill.

"It's more than what our budget could support," she said, adding, though, that the bill will be paid.

Blue's announcement that she was resigning as executive director of Juneteenth of Tampa Bay Inc. and planned to dissolve the nonprofit organization stunned city recreation manager Thomas "Jet" Jackson.

"It shocked everyone. She has worked so hard to keep this event going. I think if she had gone and talked to the council members, they would have worked with her to pay it. I'm not sure why she decided to give it up. I called her three times. I hope she changes her mind," Jackson said.

"I don't feel it at this time," said Blue, a case manager for Di's Imani Inc., and the mother of three children, two still at home.

Jackson said the city had allocated Blue's organization $2,100 in city services for this year's event, which took place on June 17. "She went over and she owes $351.79 and she said she couldn't afford to pay it," Jackson said. "I sympathize with her, but we are not authorized to cancel any indebtedness to the city."

He said he found it "very disturbing" when Blue said she has children to support and she "has to go into her pocket" to pay the bill.

Monday, a City Council subcommittee listened to presentations from more than 100 organizations seeking city co-sponsorship. The Juneteenth group was not among them, but Jackson said it's not too late for Blue to change her mind.

"She's No. 26 on the list. She needs to come before the committee and talk to them," he said.

In a letter announcing her resignation, Blue said she hopes Tampa Bay residents have benefited from the Juneteenth celebration and will continue to commemorate the national event.

Celebration of Freedom Day, or Juneteenth, began in Texas and now is celebrated in many parts of the country. In Texas, it is celebrated on June 19.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, but many slaves in the South didn't learn of it until two years later.