Juneteenth poster at the Parks and Recreation center in Lavergne, TN.

By Monique Gooch

LA VERGNE — The new Juneteenth federal holiday wasn’t just celebrated in Tennessee’s larger municipalities but in smaller communities like La Vergne where residents like Chermil Balbalousa, 38, organized the event at Veterans Memorial Park. 

“I’ve always felt a great deal of pride in our people. The reason I felt the need to celebrate Juneteenth in La Vergne is because I’ve seen different celebrations popping up all over the country, so why not here?” 

She and her husband have stayed in La Vergne  is because its more diverse, she said. Balbousa, originally from Dayton, Ohio has lived Middle TN for about 18 years with her husband and two children. “My husband is Philippine and we talk about the struggles he’s been through in America. One thing I mention all the time is the liberties of other communities. A lot of it is thanks to the hard work that has been put in by African Americans. All of us (people of color) have the civil rights movement to thank for our rights today.” 

Her planning for this Juneteenth celebration actually started last year.  “We didn’t realize how bad covid really was. We were still thinking we were going to come out of it. I started planning in February. I was so nervous I didn’t know how it would have been received.” Balbalousa worked together with Mayor Jason Cole to get the event organized.

“I had his 100% support, however, I was still more or less on my own on how to make it happen.”

Chermil Balbalousa, 38, the host of the Lavergne, TN Juneteenth celebration.

Balbalousa created a Facebook event posting and invited a few people because she didn’t want to break any rules since COVID was going on but she also didn’t want to back down on it. “We rented the pavilion and we promoted word of mouth and Facebook. It got the attention of the mayor’s office and La Vergne police. I had to tell Mayor Jason Cole this is not a protest, this is a celebration.”

When asked why should people continue to celebrate Juneteenth, Balbalousa said “Because first and foremost we celebrate 4th of July and most of us who have ancestors who were enslaved, they were still enslaved 7/4/1776. I feel like it’s a bit of a slap in the face. Juneteenth is something we can call our own and it’s a reminder to future generations on how far we’ve come. If we don’t become the griots (the storytellers) they will have no clue what’s in their DNA. There’s so much of us that the world loves, but they don’t know why we are the way we are.” 

Balbalousa and the city of Lavergne plan to do more next year. so it may be the place to visit for your Juneteenth celebration. “We definitely can expect it to be a much bigger celebration much more community involvement and more education. The one thing I regret is not asking for help. More help would’ve given me an opportunity to reach out to more people so we could do more things. I regret not having the trivia portion of the day. There are so many people who don’t know about Juneteenth. I want to give people of color the pride to celebrate. We have every right to do so! Black joy is a thing!”