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!