Lake Merritt hosts Oakland's largest Juneteenth celebrations

Lake Merritt in Oakland became the largest Juneteenth celebration in the city. Hours before any official start to events, several showed up early to begin honoring the significance of the historic day.

"Juneteenth is a good celebration for us," said Cameron Lacy, a chef from Richmond. He set up his barbecue stand alongside vendor's tents, showing off his brands "4 the Soul Catering" and "2 Much Sauce."

Dana Sabir, from San Leandro, spent the day selling handmade bracelets and necklaces.

"Liberation day, someone has to tell us we're free," she said. "I'm here to let us know we're here and free, appreciate the sun, take in the energy, and live in the culture. Juneteenth is another leveler, a reminder you are who you want to be. You are free, you have a choice."

"Seeing young people see me do it, that's a big influence in our community," Lacy said. 

A block away from the Lake, next door to the Grand Lake Theater, is a new location for Red Bay Coffee. The black-owned coffee franchise honored Juneteenth with a grand opening.

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"We are a black-owned coffee roaster from Oakland," said Rachel Konte, owner of Red Bay Coffee. "Juneteenth is a special day for all of us. I'm excited this is a new holiday that we've all been celebrating for years and it correlated with us getting this little spot right next to the Grand Lake Theater."

Oakland Police officers closed off the east side of Lake Merritt to traffic in order to make way for emergency first responders. Oakland Police upped security, hoping to prevent violent crime; last year, officers reported a deadly gang-related shooting at Lake Merritt during Juneteenth celebrations.

"I've come out here for years, it's always been safe," Sabir said. Hopefully, security scared the knuckleheads from doing senseless things."

People who were celebrating in Oakland said they did not worry about the security because it would not top the meaning of the holiday that is bringing them together.

"As black people, Juneteenth is a special day."