Published: Jun 16, 2011 10:55 PM EDT
Updated: Jun 16, 2011 10:55 PM EDT

FORT MYERS, Fla.-- Fort Myers kicked off "Juneteenth" celebrations Thursday with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the revitalized Roberto Clemente Park and reopening of the Williams Academy Black History Museum.

Juneteenth is the celebration to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.

Roberto Clemente Park, named for the Hall of Fame right fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, looks like a different place with a new playground, more than 6,000 new plants and trees, a nature trail, multiple pavilions and new lighting. But one thing remains unchanged: the community's commitment to a brighter future.

"I hope the future of this city is that we can become one of the most improved in the United States of America," explained Dr. Veronica Shoemaker, a former Fort Myers City Councilwoman and longtime community activist.

Shoemaker has had her sights set on a new and improved Clemente Park for nearly three decades. "This is a park that we've been waiting for... It could not come at a better time."

Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson agreed following the ribbon cutting ceremony which brought the entire city council, past local leaders, and well over a hundred residents to the revamped park on Henderson Ave. and MLK Blvd.

"It's a happy day to see it come to fruition," Henderson said. "It just adds another layer of sophistication to our city."

The city's $1,079,173 revitalization of Clemente Park was partially funded by a state grant in the amount of $135,611 from the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program. The make-over expanded the park to 10 acres, but the gem of the newly improved park, isn't new at all.

The Williams Academy Black History Museum sits nestled among the new landscaping just south of the playground.

"The history of this building itself is it was the first school for black kids in Lee County and we were able to preserve it," said Reginald Billups with the Lee County Black History Society.

The hope is that the park improvements will draw larger crowds to the museum, which is currently featuring an exhibit on Civil Rights on loan from the Blanchard House Museum in Punta Gorda.

"We see the curiosity with the kids with their faces against the window looking in," remarked Billups. "It will allow a pathway to the museum."

Billups said the museum board is looking in to grants in order to hire full-time, paid staff to deal with the anticipated increase in visitors.

The City will continue the Juneteenth celebrations with a fish fry and a viewing of the film "Freedom Riders" Friday.

An all-day celebration including gospel choirs, dancers, and speakers is set for Saturday.