Photos by Ramon Chapa Jr.
Commissioner Tommy Calvert was invited to the White House by President Biden for the first White House Juneteenth Celebration on June 13, 2023. After a battle of the bands competition, Vice President Harris started the evening program by recognizing that the Black leaders invited to the celebration helped make the Juneteenth holiday possible, “We gather here steps from where the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.”
She continued, “We are joined by so many incredible leaders including members of Congress and we are here with so many leaders who brought us to this day.”
The grandmother of Juneteenth, Opal Lee (96), had the crowd roaring when she proclaimed, “If people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love and it is up to you to do it. We must get together and get rid of the disparities—the joblessness, the homelessness, the healthcare that some people can get and others can’t, and the climate change that we are responsible for…And if we don’t do something about it, we’re all going to hell in a handbasket.”
Commissioner Calvert will present Bexar County’s Highest Honor to Opal Lee on Sunday, June 18, 2023, at True Vision Church’s 11:00 a.m. service. At 89 years old, Opal walked 2.5 miles a day to symbolize the more than 2 years that elapsed before slaves in Texas and Louisiana knew that they were freed steps from where she and Calvert gathered.
Commissioner Calvert commented on being selected by the White House to attend the first celebration of Juneteenth explaining, “I was so honored to be selected by the President and to join him in renewing our commitment to freedom and democracy. Juneteenth is the holiday that most speaks to the promise of America for freedom for all. I have done my best to improve our elections system, break up the good old boy system of contracting in San Antonio for minority businesses, and expand human rights for all globally. I want to thank the President for recognizing my contributions to freedom and I appreciated sharing Juneteenth with him and other top Black leaders from around America.”
Hip-Hop icon Method Man took to the podium in his cleaned-up outfit to bridge the White House Ceremony’s inclusion of June as Black Music Month. Method Man explained, “Two years ago, President Biden established Juneteenth as the first national holiday since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day nearly four decades ago. Tonight we gather for the first celebration of the Juneteenth Holiday at the White House. During black music month, a concert is a fitting way to recognize Juneteenth and express this part of our shared American history. For it is through music that African Americans found community and found solace. Music has the power to uplift us, enrich our minds, and nourish our souls.”
Jennifer Hudson, Ledisi, and other Black music greats took the stage and delivered a night of black music excellence.
Commissioner Calvert enjoyed the night alongside his mother, Dr. Val Calvert saying, “I decided to bring my mother with me because she has been fighting to open doors of opportunity as a corporate leader at IBM, a department head at San Antonio College, and as a mother to many in the community.”
San Antonio natives John Burns and Mike Burns helped produce the event. Their mother, Dr. Diana Burns Banks is Commissioner Calvert’s appointee to the University Health System Board of Directors and John Burns and Commissioner Calvert both attended Tufts University in Boston. Mike Burns was a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan and both brothers have a thriving public relations firm and attended TMI.
Commissioner Calvert is an advocate for amplifying black music and urban community news, views, and issues. Prior to becoming the first African American elected to the Bexar County Commissioners Court, he established KROV (Restore Our Voice) radio station to restore black voices on radio and provide a platform for underrepresented communities to have great music and great information.
The National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Pernod Ricard USA, STARZ #TakeTheLeadInitiative, and the Recording Academy sponsored the historical event.