This past Saturday, June 19, at Othello Playground in South Seattle, people wandered in and out of stalls during a Juneteenth celebration hosted by “It Takes a Village.”
Adjacent to the booths, hip hop music played into the air while members of Double Dutch Divas jumped to the rhythm and children ran around with popsicles and animal balloons.
This is the fifth year Ann Okwuwolu, the executive director of the nonprofit It Takes a Village, has held this event, which centers around resources that benefit struggling community members. This year, people need help getting back onto their feet more than ever, and not everyone is aware of what resources are available.
“I tried to teleport myself back to those times of 1865, and if you’re now getting the news [of your freedom], you’re happy you’re leaving off the plantation, but I think realities set in,” Okwuwolu said. “What do we do now?”
After the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, thousands of slaves finally had some freedom of movement, but found themselves with no home, no money and very few belongings. According to Okwuwolu, some African Americans returned to working on large plantations because it provided some security over none.
“We’re still kind of in the same state,” Okwuwolu said. “We still need to know where to go to find the answers.” Okwuwolu wanted to create an environment that not only offered young people entertainment and educated them on Black history, but also provided a space for community members to be in front of professionals who could answer questions and walk them through enrollment processes.
Seattle & King County Public Health was a big player at the event, hosting a variety of booths for health insurance and discounted ORCA passses and connecting people with free COVID-19 vaccines.
Daphne Pie, a regional services administrator for Public Health, said celebrations like Juneteenth are a good way to engage with the local Black community.
“Our Black community still has some of the highest uninsured rates and some highest health disparities in King County,” Pie said. South Seattle and Skyway have a high concentration of Black people, Pie explained, and her hope is that bringing services directly to individuals will help eliminate health disparities among those demographics.
“A Black person was three times more likely to get COVID than someone who was white. So when we have an opportunity to bring the Black community out, one of the things that we know is we need to bring services to them,” Pie said.
At the end of the day, this year’s Juneteenth celebration delivered a diversified event. Now that it’s a recognized federal holiday, Okwuwolu hopes the event will grow bigger and attract even more people from the community.
Samira George covers real people living real lives in the Puget Sound. Follow her on Twitter @samirakgeorge.
Read more of the June 23-29, 2021 issue.