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After more than two decades in existence, the Juneteenth Festival finally has a permanent home.

Representatives of Marine Midland Bank were on hand today to help the not-for-profit community organization dedicate its new headquarters at the bank's former Genesee-Moselle branch, 1517 Genesee St.

Marine Midland, which will operate under the name HSBC at the end of the year, closed the former First Federal Bank branch in October.

"When we acquired First Federal we decided we had too many branches that were too close to each other, so we decided to close this one," said HSBC Chief Executive Officer Malcolm Burnett.

Largely as the result of efforts by Geraldine Sims-Hemphill, a vice president with Marine Midland and former manager of the Genesee-Moselle branch, the building was donated in November to Juneteenth Festival.

Mrs. Sims-Hemphill, who 10 years ago was chairwoman of a fund-raiser for Juneteenth Festival, has worked tirelessly to help the organization secure a permanent home, according to past Juneteenth President Luther Burnette.

The organization has been in existence since 1976, when it organized the first Juneteenth Festival, an annual event celebrating the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed African-American slaves. That first festival was held on Jefferson Avenue and in subsequent years was moved to Martin Luther King Park.

"Previously we worked out of a P.O. Box," said Marcus O. Brown, current president of Juneteenth Festival. "We have met at homes and churches, parking lots and in basements in order to get the Juneteenth Festival together."

In addition to donating the building, Burnett today also presented the organization a check for $15,000 that will help it with other expenses.

Those attending today's dedication ceremony included Mayor Masiello and other city and county elected officials. The Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts chorale provided entertainment.

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