Juneteenth in Seattle: “…it’s a beautiful thing”

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Jameel Williams skated on the concrete rink in Judkins Park, dancing to the music of renowned black musicians, like Tupac and Outkast. He was among dozens of people who came out skating on Sunday afternoon to celebrate June 19.

“I love being a queer black man and just knowing that my community where I grew up does something like that…is a beautiful thing,” Williams said. “We have so many allies here.”

Juneteenth — a national holiday commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves — was celebrated in Seattle and across the country through community events. June 19 marks the date, June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers told the last enslaved people in Galveston, Texas of their freedom nearly two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

Dozens of people also gathered at Seattle’s Othello Park and at a festival at Jimi Hendrix Park in the Central District.

Many local black-owned businesses had tents in Judkins, including Ife Thomas, owner of Her Glow Candy Shop. Thomas grew up in the Central District and said being able to sell his merchandise at a June 19 event felt like “closing the loop”.

“I reflect on freedom and how far we’ve come as black Americans in the country,” Thomas said. “It means a lot. It’s a lot of pride and a lot of joy.”

The Judkins Park event was sponsored by Amazon, Boeing and Starbucks with support from 4Culture, Public Health – Seattle King County and the Northwest African American Museum. Free skates were provided and local food trucks were there.

Highlighting black vendors has a positive impact on the community, Thomas said, because money flows through the community and more people can see what black-owned businesses have to offer.

“It’s a way of bringing people together under the Juneteenth umbrella,” Thomas said. “But at the same time, we also celebrate black culture and black businesses.”

Thomas added that the city has changed a lot since she was a child and teenager and will continue to change. “It’s a challenge for black businesses to know where they stand and what that means.”

June 16 was recognized as a federal holiday last year, and Edoukou Aswan said since then there has been a change in the way people view and understand the historic day.

“Before it became a federal holiday, I was kind of trying to make people aware of what it was,” Aswan said. “Now it’s not so much about educating others as enjoying the day.”

Aswan, volunteer for Ride around Seatowna Seattle community skate group that participated in the Judkins event, said that since many people were off on Monday, they noticed that now more people understand why it’s being celebrated.

But making Juneteenth a federal holiday is only the first step, Williams said. “I’m scared of how things get monetized – everyone tries to do their own little something just to make a profit.”

“I appreciate the recognition,” he said. “Every dollar sold on June 19 should be given back to black communities. Begin repairs this way.

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