A BLM flag on Juneteenth
A BLM flag on Juneteenth

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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