Friends and good eats add up to perfect Juneteenth celebration

By Gary Mitchell

The catfish, the music and the ribs were hot. The weather and the coming together of friends, family and community made Saturday’s Westside Juneteenth Extravaganza perfect, organizers said.
“It’s a real good day,” said food chairman William P. “Pill” Hall. “This year, everybody’s eating good. We had plenty of food, and everybody’s really enjoying themselves.”
“Good food — I like the ribs,” said Vicki Steward, 40, of Portales. “And it’s good to get together and see old friends.”
Her daughter, Brandy, 27, also of Portales, agreed. “It’s something for us to do as a family.”
James Wilkerson II, 42, of Portales, a family friend of the Stewards, said he was “having an enjoyable time.”
“I like the different age ranges out here, from grandmothers to little babies,” he said. “I like seeing friends I haven’t seen in a couple of years — and to see the different shades of color of people here.”
The only thing to mar the event for the Steward family came when the youngsters heard about free swimming at the Potter Park Pool — and somebody forgot the swimming suits.
Two of Brandy’s nieces, 7-year-old twins Makyah and Micah Steward-Williams, said they wanted to take advantage of the free swimming.
“I want to go back to Portales and get my swimming suit and go swimming,” Makyah said.
Brandy’s daughter, 7-year-old Marquisha Norwood, joined in on the swimming request.
“We may just have to go swimming tomorrow,” Brandy Steward said.
But help came just in time from a close relative.
“I guess they’ll finally get to go swimming,” Brandy said. “My little brother’s mom is going to get some clothes for them to wear swimming. So it looks like we may have avoided a crisis for today.”
Meanwhile at the other end of the park, 69-year-old Leroy Mayfield was moving to the music being played by disc jockey E.D. Zeffer (also known as “DJ Puppy Love”).
“Man, I’ve never seen anything so fantastic,” Mayfield said. “The people here are so friendly — and the entertainment, the music …”
Mayfield pointed to Zeffer playing some blues on the speaker system.
“Them blues bring back memories,” he said, raising his hand in the air and nodding his head to the beat.
“The food is awesome,” said Jennifer Warfield, 37, of Clovis. “I like the ribs the best. I just wish more people from the community would have attended it.”
“Especially since it was free,” said Ronnie Robinson, 31, of Clovis. “I like the weather — it’s perfect weather. No sandstorms. And the coming together of the people. This event is significant to me, being from Texas, because Texas was the last state to be notified that slavery had ended. So I come out to events like this, or I do something at home like this except on a smaller scale.”
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration related to the ending of slavery. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19 that the Union soldiers, led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and the enslaved were now free.
Dawn King, 46, of Clovis, said she appreciated the event and the day.
“The freedom of it,” she said. “It’s such a free day — just kick back and enjoy it. People are actually enjoying themselves today. Free day, free food, free company, free flowers. The weather’s wonderful. God is good, and it’s good to be alive today. It’s just getting better. All areas of the community are represented here today. That’s a very good thing.”
Local minister and Clovis Housing Authority representative Waymon Dowdy was busy cooking catfish — and having some difficulty keeping up with the demand.
“Catfish is a favorite out there,” he said. “It goes quicker than anything. They’ll almost fight you for it.”
Hall agreed as he came to pick up more fish to take to the tables. “There ain’t enough catfish in the state,” he said.