June 19. It’s a significant milestone in Black history and considered a second Independence Day in America. In 2021 Washington legislators made a historic decision by making Juneteenth an official state holiday. Visit Spokane asked Lisa Gardner, Director of Communications and Community Engagement for Spokane City Council and Executive Committee member of the Spokane Chapter of the NAACP, what exactly Juneteenth is, what it means for the Spokane community and how we can all celebrate.
Visit Spokane: Let’s start with the basics. For anyone who doesn’t know, what exactly is Juneteenth?
Lisa: Juneteenth is the celebration and liberation of the last American slaves in Galveston, Texas. Two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, June 19th, 1865, commemorates the liberation of all enslaved people. In 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery but some states didn’t observe this and the reality was that slaves were not instantly freed. Galveston, Texas was the last state with slaves. Juneteenth is also called Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, or Emancipation Day.
Visit Spokane: How did it feel this year when the Washington Legislature passed House Bill 1016, declaring Juneteenth an official state holiday?
Lisa: Very exciting! Working with the city council, I saw that it was something buzzing around legislation. I was fortunate enough to get Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson to testify on behalf of Eastern Washington to get Juneteenth a legal state holiday. It’s about time if I’m being honest. It's a testament to the progress being made in the state of Washington. I hope Juneteenth is celebrated the same way July 4th is celebrated. It is our independence day. Unfortunately, The Fourth of July doesn’t have a significance for some in the black community.
Visit Spokane: It must have been a wonderful feeling to see this step forward. How do you see Juneteenth evolving in Spokane over the years?
Lisa: I see it evolving into a celebration beyond just black Americans and being a celebratory time for everyone. I want to see the entire city get behind Juneteenth even if it's neighborhood by neighborhood. The community is showing up this year and I want that to be the same momentum in the years to come. This is a community celebration and organizations are coming together to support it. I hope to see this continued momentum of togetherness in the years to come.
Visit Spokane: What kind of events does Spokane have planned to celebrate Juneteenth this year?
- Friday, June 18th from 8 pm -10 pm Movie in the Park at Underhill Park showing Black Panther. The location is key to these events and is centered around Betsy Wilkerson’s 5th Avenue Initiative. Underhill is a forgotten park but it is important to those who live in the East Central Neighborhood to breathe life back into the park.
- Saturday, June 19th from 2 pm - 6 pm Block Party MLK at East Central Community Center. Come enjoy music, a free photo booth by Gesa Credit Union, free ice cream by Numerica Credit Union, vendors, community Health Corner that includes CHAS Dental Clinic, SRHD, Providence, and Better Health Together, free dental kits for kids, vaccination clinic, job fair, and more. This is more than a celebration. We are providing resources and opportunities to those who don’t have access or know how to gain access. Plus, there will be a petting zoo, and booths from Hooptown USA, fun sidewalk chalk art by Terrain and Spokane Arts.
- Sunday, June 20th, Praise in the Park at Liberty Park from 1 pm - 3 pm. Again, location is important with Liberty Park as this signifies liberation. Praise is presented by Spokane Ministerial Fellowship. The event also features a Comcast book fair with books for all ages, kindergarten to 12th grade, all with children of color.
- Sunday, June 20th, Father’s Day Brunch at Emmanuel Life Center from 2 pm -4 pm. An inclusive event bringing the glue back to the black community and celebrating the state holiday made possible by the Inland Northwest Juneteenth Coalition, the originators of the 10th Annual Juneteenth Celebration and Father’s Day Brunch.
Visit Spokane: The Spokane community always rallies around its major events. What can the community do to get involved, raise awareness and elevate Juneteenth?
Lisa: I would say, attend all the events! Attendance is key because that motivates us to continue. And this is who we are doing it for. It’s not just for the black community. We should all celebrate the liberation of Blacks in America. Black Americans have always celebrated Juneteenth on their own but it’s bigger than just the black community. We want to be inclusive to everyone. Let’s celebrate that slavery ended. We put a lot of celebration in other cultural events but, we overlook the black community. Everyone rallies around celebrating holidays like Cinco De Mayo and St. Patrick's Day. We don’t wait on Irish-Americans or Hispanic-Americans to celebrate these national holidays and we shouldn’t wait for blacks to celebrate Juneteenth either. It’s our holiday but we want everyone to celebrate with us.
The last thing I’ll say is to continue supporting the Inland Northwest Juneteenth Coalition, highlight the vitality of the East Central Neighborhood and continue to support businesses in East Central. Investing into the neighborhood is key.