PennWest will celebrate the Juneteenth holiday with an in-person keynote speaker at Clarion – free and open to all community members.

Jeffrey Polley will be the keynote speaker for the 21st annual Juneteenth celebration at 11 a.m. June 16 in Still Hall, on the Clarion campus and online.

Polley, a 2009 graduate of Clarion University, is a therapist at Clarion Family Therapy. He spent a number of years as a counselor within the adjudicated youth system, working primarily with kids ages 12 to 19 from marginalized backgrounds. In 2016, he started a cultural diversity scholarship at a local high school. The recipients interacted with the students at the facility where he worked.

In summer 2020, he joined with others to form the local nonprofit group, Together We Can, with a goal to create a safe space for discussions on race.

Since then, he has initiated social justice clubs in two local high schools. He also created a restorative justice program, offered at local schools, to work with racial infractions with their students. Polley also co-facilitates the civic dinner discussion, “Bridging the Racial Divide,” with members of Together We Can. These dinner discussions take place locally throughout the year.

The Juneteenth celebration is free and open to the community; a lunch, also free, will follow at noon. Those unable to attend in person are invited to join online, with no registration required.

Co-sponsors are: PennWest Clarion NAACP, Together We Can of Venango County, WNY & NWPA Episcopal Diocese, Little Leaders and Clarion Area Chamber of Commerce.

Juneteenth began in Texas. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was issued Jan. 1, 1863, slaves in Texas didn't receive word until two-and-a-half years later, June 19, 1865, that they were free.