Grand Thunder Parade

Bikers roll down Main Street in Johnstown, PA., during the Grand Thunder Parade at the city's 22nd Annual Thunder in the Valley motorcycle rally, Saturday, June 22, 2019.

We enthusiastically welcome the return of the Thunder in The Valley motorcycle rally, which roars through the region this week after a year off during the pandemic.

And we remind everyone that we’re getting important community events back because of our diligence with vaccinations and other virus precautions.

Thunder runs Thursday through Sunday in downtown Johnstown. Ebensburg’s Wheels & Wings is also set for Thursday.

“It feels so good to have everything back,” said Lisa Rager, executive director. for Visit Johnstown – which recently hosted the return of the popular PolkaFest.

We agree. After the difficult summer of 2020, when so many events fell from the schedule, the community has reason to celebrate in 2021.

Both positive tests and hospitalizations related to the coronavirus are down considerably.

For the past week, Johnstown has celebrated Juneteenth – a commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States, and now a national holiday. The gatherings, sponsored by the Johnstown branch of the NAACP, drew a crowd to Peoples Natural Gas Park last Saturday for a day of great music, and filled Central Park with fun and educational activities all week.

The Rev. Sylvia King, a Johnstown city councilwoman, called the establishment of a national Juneteenth holiday “a proud moment” and a teachable moment.

“This is why it is so important African American history is taught in the schools, so that they can learn about things of this nature that even the African American children may not have even learned,” King told reporter Katie Smolen.

COVID-19 awareness and African American history went hand in hand this week, with the Highlands Health free medical clinic and Richland Family Health Center offering free vaccinations alongside booths celebrating ethnic foods, clothing and jewelry.

Highlands Health Executive Director Rosalie Danchanko and her volunteers were giving away funnel cakes and chances on a Pittsburgh Steelers gift basket to entice folks to get their shots.

On Friday, our Dave Sutor reported that data show a distinct racial discrepancy for vaccination rates. In Cambria County, 50.1% of the eligible population had received shots, but only 20.4% in the Black community had gotten inoculated.

The statewide numbers are similar: 59.5% of all people vaccinated, but 34.8% of Black residents.

In This Together Cambria – which has led the charge against COVID-19 for a year – offered information about vaccines at Thursday’s Juneteenth gathering.

University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown biologist Jill Henning blamed “coordinated disinformation tactics” for some of the vaccination reluctance in all groups, but also pointed to uneven health care as causing trust issues for some in the Black community.

NAACP Johnstown Branch President Alan Cashaw said while getting more vaccines distributed involves “personal choices,” he also believes the visibility of vaccination clinics and information at Juneteenth events can help break down barriers.

Henning agreed.

“You can’t expect them to come to the water,” she said.

“You need to take the water to them.”

Thunder brings another opportunity to help people see the benefits of getting more people vaccinated.

If we love the food, the gleaming bikes, the merchandise and the music – and thousands do – keeping the virus at bay is the key to hav-ing such events going for- ward.

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