Dr. Opal Lee, “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” to visit New Mexico for the first time!

Kicking off Juneteenth celebrations in New Mexico

On Wednesday, May 29th, New Mexicans will have a rare opportunity to hear from a voice of history who brings a message for the future. Social Impact Leader, Dr. Opal Lee is considered by many the “Grandmother of Juneteenth” for her role in making June 19 a federally-recognized holiday. The 97-year-old activist will visit the Land of Enchantment for the very first time to share her family’s journey through tragedy to victory, discuss the significance of Juneteenth in American history, and celebrate New Mexico’s first Black giving circle. Together with her granddaughter, Mrs. Dione Sims, Dr. Lee brings a message of hope, survival, and activism. 

In June 1939, Lee’s parents bought a house in a mostly white area of Fort Worth, Texas. On June 19 of that year, when Lee was just 12 years old, a mob vandalized and burned down her family’s home. Reflecting on this hate crime, Lee says, “The fact that it happened on the 19th day of June has spurred me to make people understand that Juneteenth is not just a festival.”  

Dr. Lee comes to New Mexico at the invitation of the Santa Fe Community Foundation to celebrate its newest statewide giving circle, the Empower! Black Futures Community Fund, which was founded in 2023 to support Black New Mexicans both today and tomorrow through grantmaking and legacy building. The Foundation recently announced the fund’s inaugural advisory committee members, who include Raashan Ahmad as chair, Hakim Bellamy, Rich Brown, Michael Davis, Shani Harvie, Bettye Kearse, Simesha McEachern, Neema Pickett, and SPAC3. 

On the opportunity to bring Dr. Lee to New Mexico, advisory committee chair, Raashan Ahmad says, “The fight that Dr. Lee has led her entire life for the understanding and recognition of Juneteenth is nothing less than heroic. I am humbled and excited to have the opportunity to meet this foundational civil rights leader. I hope many New Mexicans will make time to hear her speak.”

Sandra Session-Robertson, Vice President of Development &Donor Relations at the Santa Fe Community Foundation, adds, “I can think of no better honor than to host the woman whose perseverance over the years has made possible this national day of recognition as we introduce this important fund to the community. Both Dr. Lee and her granddaughter are deeply aligned with the fund’s mission of supporting Black life, arts, and culture in New Mexico.” 

Dr. Lee and her granddaughter will be the featured speakers at the event on Wednesday, May 29 from 5:30 – 7:30 PM at the St. Francis Auditorium inSanta Fe. Attendance is free, but registration is required by May 20 through the Santa Fe Community Foundation website: www.santafecf.org/events/opal-lee.

About Dr. Opal Lee

Known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” Dr. Opal Lee was present when President Joe Biden signed the bill that established “Juneteenth” as a federal holiday after her successful walking campaign and online petition that garnered over 1.5 million signatures for Juneteenth holiday awareness. She has received seven honorary doctorates, has been named 2021 Texan of the Year by the Dallas Morning News editorial board, the 2021 Unsung Hero of the Pandemic, Fort Worth Inc.’s 2022 Person of the Year, is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and most recently became the second African American to have her portrait hung in the Texas State Senate. At 97 years old, Dr. Lee still travels the globe to raise awareness about the significance of Juneteenth in American history. 

About Dione Sims

Dione Sims, President and Founder of Unity Unlimited, Inc., is a force for positive change. With a passion for unity and understanding, she’s the driving force behind impactful initiatives. Since 2015, Dione co-produced the Annual Juneteenth Fort Worth Celebration with her grandmother Dr. Opal Lee, engineered the Opal’s Walk campaign for national Juneteenth recognition, and created the Your Voice Unleashed enrichment program to provide youth exposure to vocational and cultural experiences. Not stopping there, she sponsors Opal’s Farm, tackling food insecurity and offering second chance training and employment. She was at the White House alongside Dr. Opal Lee for the historic bill signing, establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday. Mrs. Sims served as the Founding Executive Director and is a current legacy board member of the National Juneteenth Museum where she champions the powerful message of freedom embedded in Juneteenth.

About the Empower! Black Futures Community Fund

The Empower! Black Futures Community Fund, formerly known as the Earthseed Community Fund, was established in 2023 by the Santa Fe Community Foundation and Earthseed Black Arts Alliance.The Empower! Black Futures Community Fund is an identity-based giving circle dedicated to supporting Black life, arts, and culture in New Mexico. Contributions to the fund will help seed its permanent endowment, which will grow over time to ensure sustained support of Black causes in New Mexico in perpetuity. 


Lily Horwath
Director, Marketing & Communications
| 505.988.9715

Apr 16, 2024
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