POWER 9® PEOPLE
An ongoing series about people improving their well-being
Putting the Power 9 into Play
Fort Worth is the largest certified Blue Zones Community® in the country. Each month we talk to a different member of our community and find out how they experience well-being in their neighborhood. This month’s featured guest is Dione Sims, youth minister and founder of Unity Unlimited, Inc. You can say that working for social and economic justice runs in this Fort Worth native’s blood – Sims is the granddaughter of the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” Opal Lee. Sims serves as the current producer of Juneteenth Fort Worth, a community commemoration about the abolition of slavery.
Q: What is the focus of your non-profit organization, Unity Unlimited?
Unity Unlimited is about education, entertainment, and empowerment, and not just one day of the year because freedom is 365. We work to provide financial, health, economic and educational freedom through scholarships and resource fairs to uplift the individual. At Christmas, we help grandparents raising their grandchildren in the Fort Worth ISD. Last year we assisted 127 young people with clothing and supplies.
Q: As a way to commemorate Juneteenth, your grandmother Opal Lee leads a 2.5-mile walk, representing the two and a half years that it took to enforce freedom following the end of the Civil War. Are you planning a walk this summer?
A: This year we’re walking on Monday, June 19, which is the day of the actual national holiday. Opal’s family home was destroyed Juneteenth of 1939. From a legacy perspective, I feel the pull of bringing people together just like she does. It’s in my DNA.
Q: Before national holiday legislation, Juneteenth commemorated the day that enslaved Black people in Texas learned that they were free, but is that what it really meant?
A: For years, it has been said that Texans were the last slaves to be freed. This isn’t true. My goal is to do away with the “myth-information” that has been repeated. The Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slaves in the rebellious states. When the Civil War ended, there were still slaves in the border states, who were freed in December of 1865 with the ratification of the 13th amendment. Juneteenth now celebrates the freedom of the enslaved, no matter when emancipation came.
Q: Opal’s Farm provides fresh vegetables to people who may not always have access to these things, but you’re also providing a pathway out of economic injustice for some people?
A: At Opal’s Farm, we’re helping folks to have the freedom of access to good and fresh produce, and we’re working with the criminal justice system to help reduce recidivism. Tarleton State has become an educational partner to help develop programming for the previously incarcerated, using their time served to obtain an agriculture degree. This restores the power of the individual, helping them to become good stewards of their families.
Q: Tell us a little about the National Juneteenth Museum, slated to open June 2025. It’s on your family’s land in South Fort Worth.
A: There’s been a Juneteenth Museum on that land since 2005. It’s something my grandmother always wanted and believed in. The mission of the national museum is to tell the story of freedom, from the past to modern day liberation. It’s a way to allow the nation – not just Black people, not just Texans – to make sure that they can find themselves in the Juneteenth story. We will talk about the abolitionists, the Quakers, and the Southern Underground Railroad into Mexico from Texas and Louisiana. Mexico abolished slavery in 1824, and a lot of enslaved people found their way to freedom there.
Q: The plans also include bringing a little economic justice to that corner of Rosedale and Evans Avenue. So it’s more than just a museum, isn’t it?
It’s actually going to be a campus. Before we came into the picture, Jarred Howard (Fort Worth Chamber) had a vision of economic development, to bring culture and revitalization to the south side – but he didn’t have any land. He called it the Black Whole – a center for commerce with a food hall and a business incubator with office space and training. There’s also a theater to allow the Leon Bridges of the world a place to hone their skills in their own community. There are also plans for three apartment buildings, with retail on the bottom.
Q: Are you concerned that the current political climate is impacting the telling of the Juneteenth story?
Legislation that may block the teaching of historical events that have been taught in Texas schools for years seems counterintuitive. Because the state standardized test includes a requirement that Juneteenth be taught, educators can teach it since it’s about Texas history. The rest of the nation doesn’t have this requirement, yet. Maybe now that Juneteenth is a national holiday, things can change. History is history. History happened.
Learn more about Opal’s Walk for Freedom and register at opalswalkftworth.raceroster.com.
For more information about Blue Zones Project, visit LiveLongFortWorth.com