wsls logo

‘I’m black inside and out, and proud of that’: Teenagers lead Juneteenth march in Roanoke

'I hope other youth see this and are encouraged to step forward and use their voices'

ROANOKE, Va. – Juneteenth commemorations happened all across the country on Friday, but Roanoke’s celebration had a different set of leaders.

Roanoke’s NAACP Youth Council organized Friday afternoon’s Juneteenth march through Roanoke’s Gainsboro neighborhood. Members of the council, which is mostly comprised of local teenagers, led the trek from the Lawson Building to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

“A lot of us are not aware of the impact we can have in this community,” said Kameron Washington-Brown, a council member who recently graduated from William Fleming High School. “Spreading awareness is absolutely very important.”

Once the crowd arrived at the memorial, many of the council members used the opportunity to talk about their experiences with racism and prejudice.

“I was first called an Oreo when I was 9 after I first moved to Roanoke by one of my peers, because they said I didn’t speak black,” said council member Elyse McFalls, a fellow member of William Fleming’s Class of 2020. “I realized I’m black inside and out, and I’m proud of that fact.”

Several notable Roanokers attended the Juneteenth commemoration, including Mayor Sherman Lea, Police Chief Sam Roman, and Del. Sam Rasoul.

Washington-Brown said she’s optimistic Roanoke can make even more social progress by the time next Juneteenth comes, especially if people her age speak up.

“I hope that other youth see this, and are encouraged to step forward and use their voices,” Washington-Brown said.