Juneteenth Celebration in Odessa Turns Confrontational

by Mary Lou Morga
NewsWest 9

ODESSA - What started out as an annual celebration turned into a confrontation between Juneteenth organizers and the Ector County Health Department.

Party-goers say the health department officials gave them a choice, get rid of their food or go to jail.

Officials with the Black Cultural Council of odessa and the N.A.A.C.P. say that they were disrespected and belittled by the demand of the Ector County Health Department employees to get rid of the bar-b-que they had prepared for about 600 people.

"There is no way we should be talked to like that, no one should be treated the way we were treated on the 19th of June," JoAnn Davenport, President of the Black Cultural Council of Odessa, said.

Juneteenth organizers cannot believe how this year's celebration turned out.

"The Juneteenth celebration is one that we do yearly. It's a celebration of freedom and to kick it off in this manner was very disheartening," Gene Collins with the Odessa N.A.A.C.P., said.

The problem started when employees of the Ector County Health Department made certain demands.

"You call who you want to, we're going to throw this meat out, because if you serve this meat, you are going to jail," Davenport said.

But that didn't stop the African-American community from taking part in the festivities.

"At that time, I said call the patty wagons, because we're going to jail, we're going to serve this food, there's nothing wrong with it, we have 600 plus people coming to join us, our guests, and we're going to serve this food," Collins said.

Food that according to the Health Department was not prepared adequately.

"They were told that the event required us to inspect the food, and that no food could be prepared at home," Gino Solla, Director of the Ector County Health Department, said.

According to Gino Solla, the county employees were simply doing their job.

"They are always told to confiscate the food if they feel its been prepared in a place it could not be wholesome," Solla said.

All of this to ensure the publics safety.

"Thats what our food service department does, if there is any kind of salmonella, any kind of an outbreak that we can be able to trace it, and avoid it spreading to others," Solla added.

To make sure this doesn't happen again, the Ector County Health Department is sending letters out with the regulations outlined to all board bembers and to everyone at this past weekends party.