Community celebrates Black independence while looking to the future

Published: Jun. 13, 2020 at 7:49 PM AKDT
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June 19th, or Juneteenth, is celebrated in America as a day of Black independence. The date marks the day the last black slaves in America were freed following the emancipation proclamation.

The holiday was celebrated a little early this year in Anchorage as community members gathered at the Northway Mall Saturday for a day of dancing, singing, poetry, and discussion about the future. Jasmin Smith, president of Juneteenth Anchorage, said that organizing the event this year made for a bit of a challenge because of COVID-19, but because of other national events, it was important to come together.

“I think with just the national movement on Black Lives mattering, and racism, and the struggle for equity and justice, this year it has significant weight to our community and our people,” she said.

Because of that national movement, this year’s festivities highlighted efforts to fight police brutality and systemic racism. Black Lives Matters shirts and signs were common, as were masks and shirts saying “I can’t breathe.” A community wall featured ideas for how to improve the community as people of color, and several organizations offered voter registration and absentee ballot applications.

“We are a voice,” said Tikata Parker, a member of the Alaska Black Caucus who was helping to register people to vote. “And we are an organization and community of members that can come together to make sure that everyone’s rights have been heard.

While Juneteenth Day celebrates the freedom of former black slaves, speakers welcomed everyone to join in, and attendees said they were happy to celebrate with anyone who showed up.

“It’s a time for us to be happy, you know,” said Harold Wilson, who attended with his family. Wilson is black, but he welcomed everyone willing to fight for equality.

“Times are really tough right now with what’s going on,” he said. “And this is something, everybody’s coming together, and it’s peaceful, and it’s a celebration of our freedom.”

That celebration drew in people of all kinds, including a group from the Alaska Center, one of the many organizations helping to register voters. Evan Anderson, civic director for the center’s education fund, said they were also trying to educate white attendees about how they could better support the fight for equality.

“I want to speak to other white people, I want to be in a relationship with other non-native people, and I want to let them know that there is work we can do together when we’re doing it in partnership with people of color,” he said.

That idea of coming together to support each other is one of the things Smith said she hoped to see come out of the celebration.

“If we’re gonna have any real change, we’ve got to work together,” she said. “And that starts with mutual respect, and sometimes sharing space.”

If you didn’t get a chance to attend the celebration Saturday,

will be held on the 19th at UAA.

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