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Multi-day Juneteenth Event Celebrates a 'Liberated Future' of Unity and Diversity 

click to enlarge Serving up greens and plantains in the Mother's Cooking Experience stall at the 2023 Juneteenth celebration at Halvorsen Park.

Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Serving up greens and plantains in the Mother's Cooking Experience stall at the 2023 Juneteenth celebration at Halvorsen Park.

After spending four years celebrating Juneteenth with events aimed at educating the local community, Black Humboldt is shifting its focus to a broader theme of celebrating the Black experience.

"Our very first Juneteenth, we just had to have our Black partners trust us, that this is what Black communities did," says Monique Harper-Desir, the nonprofit's co-founder. "[When] we brought [Juneteenth] here, people were like, 'We don't know what this is."

Since Black Humboldt's founding in 2018, the organization has been working to build unity through community events like Juneteenth, and next week it will host the fifth annual festival, holding events and gatherings across Humboldt, including Fortuna, Eureka and Arcata, to commemorate the freeing of slaves.

Juneteenth is a national holiday celebrating the day the U.S. fully recognized that freedom, and dates to June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers, led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were free. President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, but due to the resistance of slave owners and a resulting delay in spreading the news, many slaves didn't know they were free until two and a half years later.

"I think it really represents how little this country has cared about African people or people descended from Africa that two years could pass," Harper-Desir says, adding the hope is this year's festival will continue progress in the face of adversity, noting, "This year's multicultural event focuses on the theme of 'visions of a liberated future.'"

Having lived in Humboldt for nine years, Harper-Desir, like many Black transplants who relocated to the area, says she found refuge in Humboldt County's natural beauty and rural quietness — a place the opposite of her previous home in New York City. But she was confronted with the stark reality of the lack of Black representation within the community.

According to the U.S. Census, Black people make up less than 2 percent of Humboldt's population in a county that's still 82 percent white. (Nationally, Black people make up 14 percent of the population.)

The holiday is increasingly important and empowering to Black communities throughout the United States, including those in Humboldt County.

Eureka NAACP President Kintay Johnson says it speaks to the local need for a Juneteenth event that it has survived, despite being started during the pandemic.

"It brings to the forefront the work that Black Humboldt does," Johnson says. "It's an opportunity to learn, but also celebrate each other."

Organizers of this year's event say its theme was born from the organization's belief in co-habitation and all-inclusive togetherness. "We're really trying to create that sense of community and belonging, and that we're all interconnected," Harper-Desir says.

The multi-day celebration will take place Wednesday, June 19, through Saturday, June 22, offering a variety of events accessible to community members of varying ages and income levels.

Black Humboldt also changed the tabling rules this year so organizations that provide a resource that's available and of benefit to the Black community can table and share information in exchange for a $50 donation.

"It gives people that don't belong to the Black community a chance to see our community in action, that connection and what it looks like when we come together," says Harper-Desir.

The four-day celebration is designed to offer something for everyone, kicking off with the Juneteenth Hip-hop Show at RampArt in Arcata on Wednesday, which will start with a free family fun time at 4 p.m. before a paid concert starts at 8:30 p.m., featuring musical acts including Krayzie Bone, Sloan Bone and EmCee Radio Active. The Cal Poly Humboldt Black Student Union BBQ will offer free food and refreshments from 3 to 7 p.m. the following day at Jefferson Park in Eureka before a 21-and-over Juneteenth Karaoke Takeover begins at Richard's Goat Tavern and Tea Room at 8 p.m., with costumes and themed outfits "highly encouraged." An open mic and art night at Eureka's Friday Night Market at the Old Town gazebo is free and begins at 5 p.m. Also on Friday night, the festival will host a Juneteenth Family Skate Night at Fortuna's Rohner Park from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

But the main attraction is the Multicultural Festival on Saturday, June 22, which will feature various educational opportunities, like a yoga class at 10:30 a.m. and a "Back to the Land Movement" workshop at 2:30 p.m., both at Adorni Center in Eureka. But Harper-Desir says organizers tried to "limit the number of speeches and focus more on the celebration."

"Personally, I remember growing up you go to the Juneteenth festival, and you just have fun," she says, noting this is a departure from previous local Juneteenth events. "The goal with our very first one, we were going to fill the park with Black-owned businesses and Black artists. There just wasn't many of us even calling ourselves a small business, and now we have over 22 businesses this year."

Harper-Desir says organizers also have been intentional about who they choose to platform and why.

"We're having this local band called Object Heavy," Harper-Desir says of the group scheduled to take the stage of 6 p.m. at Eureka's Halversen Park on June 22. "The lead singer is this lovely Black man ... the community loves Object Heavy. We brought the House of Marc Jacobs up because we've got a little like Pride. Every time we platform someone we're hoping that someone with more resources and access than Black Humboldt will say, 'Oh dang, I love this artist! I want to book them at my event or whatever it might be.'"

On the Black Humboldt website under the "Juneteenth celebration 2024" tab, vendors, local performers and volunteers, can sign up to be a part of the festival. Johnson, who noted he appreciates the city of Eureka's efforts to reduce red tape and make the events possible, says he hopes folks will come out and participate.

"Though we know it's a federal holiday, don't just take the day off — use that time to attend the event to learn and educate yourself," he says, noting that he's lived in Humboldt for more than 20 years and he's excited to see organizations tailor services and events for the local Black community. "This is something that is new for Humboldt."

Harper-Desir says she hopes people leave the events with a fuller picture of the Black experience and what's possible within it.

"I really hope they understand and grasp how many different types of Blackness there are, but some people think there's one way to being Black," she says. "Even Black folks think that, and we take [that] to heart at Black Humboldt. We're hoping that at this event, people are like, 'Wow, this is the future I see for myself as a community member myself, as an ally, and all the ways that the Black community is building.'"

For more details about the Juneteenth celebration starting June 19 and a complete list of events, as well as ways to participate in Saturday's festival virtually, visit blackhumboldt.com/juneteenth-festival-schedule.

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About The Author

Kelby McIntosh

Bio:
Kelby Mcintosh (he/him) is a fellow placed with Access Humboldt through the California Local News Fellowship at University of California at Berkeley, a state-funded initiative to support and strengthen local news reporting.

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