NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, June 19th, 2021

Juneteenth ’21 at Jimi Hendrix Park: a Black-led parade, celebration, and call to action

For the sec­ond year in a row, North­west res­i­dents came togeth­er from across the region to cel­e­brate June­teenth, the nation’s old­est African-Amer­i­can holiday.

Last June, 35,000 peo­ple marched through the Cen­tral Dis­trict to protest the mur­der of George Floyd in Min­neapo­lis, and oth­ers like George. This year’s June­teenth Free­dom March and Cel­e­bra­tion was sim­i­lar­ly well-attended.

Before the march began, a trib­ute was made to the late DeChar­lene Williams, who passed from can­cer in 2018. Williams was a bar­ber in Seat­tle’s his­tor­i­cal­ly Black Cen­tral Dis­trict for fifty years. A small busi­ness own­er, she estab­lished the Cen­tral Area Cham­ber of Com­merce to bring pow­er to Seat­tle’s Black entre­pre­neurs in the face of ram­pant discrimination.

Start­ing at 22nd and Madi­son, a block away from Williams’s his­toric salon, the parade marched south along 23rd Avenue, the heart of Seat­tle’s his­tor­i­cal­ly Black Cen­tral Dis­trict, to Jimi Hen­drix Park.

Far from the solemn protest of last year, the march, led by drum­line, moved briskly. Billed a New Orleans-style sec­ond-line parade, the atten­tion was focused on the Black com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions who were shar­ing their cul­ture and talent.

At the park, the cel­e­bra­tion began — and it was mas­sive. There were plen­ty of Black artists per­form­ing Hip Hop, R&B, Afrobeats, Reg­gae­ton, and Gospel.

Lead­ers of King Coun­ty Equi­ty Now, the orga­ni­za­tion behind the parade and cel­e­bra­tion, addressed the crowd along­side oth­er Black com­mu­ni­ty leaders.

Hun­dreds of Black ven­dors giv­ing atten­dees the chance to con­nect with Black-owned busi­ness­es in the com­mu­ni­ty. There were also play areas for kids, vac­ci­na­tion sta­tions, advo­ca­cy train­ing, “Black grad­u­a­tion” cer­e­monies, and more.

King Coun­ty Equi­ty Now (KCEN), a “pro-Black 501(c)(4) pol­i­cy and advo­ca­cy insti­tute ded­i­cat­ed to achiev­ing equi­ty for all Black peo­ples,” orga­nized the event.

In a press release pre­view­ing the event, KCEN’s Isaac Joy empha­sized that while the event is about Black joy, it is wrong to inter­pret that as a sign that racial jus­tice is achieved.

This June­teenth is not about sym­bol­ism. In a region where Blacks earn one third the income of whites, own homes at half the rate, where Black busi­ness­es are twelve times less valu­able than the aver­age white busi­ness, whites have twen­ty times the wealth of Blacks, and there’s a ten-year white expectan­cy gap depend­ing on where you live, this June­teenth cel­e­bra­tion is about bring­ing equi­ty to the local Black com­mu­ni­ty now.” [Empha­sis added.]

June­teenth has risen quick­ly to the fore­front of the Amer­i­can consciousness.

This is a won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ty to edu­cate the rest of Amer­i­ca about Black his­to­ry, and to cel­e­brate Black cul­ture and the Black experience.

How­ev­er, sim­ply pro­vid­ing a day off from work or school for a fed­er­al hol­i­day is not a recipe for real, last­ing, and mean­ing­ful change.

Con­sid­er that Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. Day has been observed for almost forty years, and Black orga­niz­ers are still mak­ing many of the same demands today as they did back dur­ing the Rev­erend’s time. Still, it is promis­ing that a year after the largest racial jus­tice protests in a gen­er­a­tion, the com­mu­ni­ty’s desire to seek out and sup­port reme­dies to injus­tice remains strong.

This June­teenth, and for the June­teenths to come, let’s remem­ber to lis­ten and cen­ter Black voic­es. June­teenth is a day to cel­e­brate Black cul­ture, Black joy, Black suf­fer­ing, and the Black expe­ri­ence. Let’s keep it that way.

Take a look at some of King Coun­ty Equi­ty Now’s “Free­dom Actions” below.

Hap­py June­teenth from all of us at NPI!

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