June 19, 1865. Union soldiers under the command of Major Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and told the last enslaved people that they were free. It was more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation — they didn’t know that the Union had won the war.
Juneteenth is the commemoration of that day, and one that the Seattle community celebrated in an annual event put on by the Central Area Chamber of Commerce in Pratt Park — named for Edwin Pratt, a local civil rights activist who was murdered in 1969 at his home.
This would be the 37th year of that celebration, but mass gatherings are still prohibited in King County due to the deadly coronavirus, which disproportionally impacts Black people in the United States. So, like with so many events, organizers are getting together to put the celebration online.
Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County, the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle and FW (Federal Way) Black Collective came together to put on a week of events running from June 15 through June 21, including a movie night, a panel discussion, self-care tips, a cooking panel and a Black Gay Pride event.
The organizations came together through joint census work, said Lyn Idahosa-Berry of FW Black Collective.
“The interesting thing about being in a nonprofit is we don’t talk a lot,” Idahosa-Berry said. “We don’t have time. We’re doing services.”
Planning a Juneteenth celebration together was a way to break out of those roles and organize the community around events that encourage health, self-care and celebration. That is especially important at a time when events like the coronavirus and the national uprising against police brutality have converged, said Maya Manus, advocacy and civic engagement coordinator at the Urban League.
“I would say we’re trying to provide nourishment for Black families,” Manus said. “That is our main focus through this time.”
It’s also a moment to continue talking about the decennial census and make sure that Black communities receive the resources they need. Census data is used to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars across the country, money that pays for social services and affordable housing. It also dictates congressional districts, directly impacting how much political representation communities have in government.
“We want people to see how cool this event is and let them know, now that you’re here, let’s talk about something that’s really important,” Manus said.
Efforts to increase census participation among marginalized communities have ramped up, even as the coronavirus has made it more difficult to spread the word. A new “trusted messenger” program has directed millions of dollars to organizations that have built up goodwill and confidence within communities to encourage people to participate.
On top of that, the political moment sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minnesota has gotten people from other communities more engaged with issues that affect Black people and imagining new ways that the world can work, Idahosa-Berry said.
“We’re going to see an activation of people wanting to understand how the world really works and understanding that there has been a lot of miscommunication regarding that,” Idahosa-Berry said. “There were 18 countries that participated in a protest in the U.S. I don’t remember a time when there was such representation.”
The confluence of events makes for a powerful time in which the needs of Black people are at the forefront of many minds, conversations and agendas. Over the course of two weeks, elected officials in cities across the nation have said they will commit to re-envisioning policing, dismantle or defund departments and reallocate that money to equitable social services. Schools are removing police from their campuses and universities are axing admission requirements around standardized testing that is considered racist and classist.
It’s a lot, at the same time the economy is tanking and people have to be focused on their material needs as well, something that the organizations will also be trying to support throughout the Juneteenth week with giveaways, self-care items and cash gifts, Idahosa-Berry said.
We’re remembering what we have done because as non-profit organizations, we had to work to meet goals set by funders versus best practices for the community, she said.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
Read more in the June 17-23, 2020 issue.