DENVER -- On what is now, officially, a federal holiday, the celebration of Juneteenth in 2021 meant so much more Saturday.
"I'm glad that they finally recognized it. It's been a long time coming and we all deserve it," Sandra Pearson said.
Thousands of people made their way through Denver's Five Points neighborhood to take in the sights and sounds of the day, marking the day the last slaves in the U.S. learned they were free 156 years ago.
"We've made it. We've come so far, you know? We fought so hard for this to happen, and I think it's just really cool," Sidnei Brooks said.
Juneteenth celebrations in Denver are not new, but many of the event's attendees say the size of the crowd this year is new.
"The more I walk around, I see, like, not just African-Americans, but I see European Americans. I see Hispanics. It's very diverse," Brooks said.
The Juneteenth street festival allows Black-owned businesses and organizations to show off their work and make new connections.
"It's just for everybody. It really involves everybody. So the more educated we are, the more we can just go for it. And I'm just looking forward to that," Sherry Shirley said.
But getting an annual celebration recognized as a federal holiday is just a small step in the long journey ahead to true equality.
"You recognizing it federally, that's one thing. But, you know … it's more than just, ‘OK, we acknowledge this day.’ It's communicating. We're going to have to talk about it," Selina Vaughn said.
Empathy and a willingness to open one's mind, Pearson says, are good starting points.
"People need to stop just, you know, thinking that they're better than this race or that race and just acknowledge one another and just love one another," she said.
The Juneteenth festivities continue Sunday with day 2 of the street festival. Gates open at 2 p.m. There's a full schedule here.