The celebrations of June 17 belong to Eugene. Here’s what to expect
Last year, Drea Smith helped deliver Eugene’s first June 15th celebration since the 1990s. Smith, Xcape Academy dancer (and owner) Vanessa Fuller, and area event producer , Shea Hardy-Baker, hosted the event in a whirlwind launched from the Hardy-Baker living room.
“It was like nine days,” Smith said. “We say to ourselves: ‘Juneteenth is coming’. What are we going to do?”
In response to the protests and marches almost daily after George Floyd’s death, the trio wanted to bring healing to the lingering wounds suffered by blacks in this country. The celebration of Juneteenth would recognize and transcend this wound with an embrace of black culture.
“We all need to know our places where we’re from,” Fuller said. “One of the things that is really important in raising our young children and our families is to focus on black joy and black excellence.”
Honoring the success and contributions of black people in this field and in communities around the world drew hundreds of people to Alton Baker Park for last year’s event. This year, the Black Led Action Coalition (BLAC), Honoring Our New Ethnic Youth (HONEY) and Xcape Dance Company are partnering with local leaders to showcase the arts, education and speakers participating in the second “Official Celebration of the 16th. June ”. Speakers, artists and educators will help spread the festival’s theme, “Turning Trauma into Joy”. At this commemoration, 35 Black and BIPOC business owners will be posted.
‘The official celebration of June 15’
What: Juneteenth events will commemorate the freedom of African Americans and focus on education and achievement with three keynote speakers, dance performances, live music, over 40 BIPOC businesses and food vendors.
Who: A joint effort between the Black Led Action Coalition (BLAC), Honoring Our New Ethnic Youth (HONEY) and Xcape Dance Company
When: 12:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday June 19
Or: Alton Baker Park, 200 Day Island Road
How? ‘Or’ What: Free with encouraged donations; facebook.com/events/598153104913383
More inside: Medusa the goddess Gangsta comes to Eugene for the celebration. Read more about her and her journey on page 4B.
A partner spark lights up the horizon
Oregon was founded as an “exclusion state,” prohibiting black Americans from settling here, owning real estate, voting, or using the legal system. These exclusionary laws would not begin to be removed until 1926. Even then, racial discrimination was not prohibited in Oregon until 1953, just a few years before the Fair Housing Act of 1957.
As a result, even after almost a hundred years after the repeal of laws requiring racial exclusion , the US Census Bureau estimates that about 83% of Eugene is white while only 1.6% is black.
When the black community came together last year to condemn the violent protests, Smith realized she never realized what remarkable people would stand up together.
“I look around the room and there’s the commissioner (from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission), a black man, and there’s a surgeon, a black man who has his own nutritional wellness program,” said Smith. “There are all these people I’ve never heard of and this is my 11th year at Eugene.”
Part of the solution offered by the organizers Juneteenth is a public presence. This includes speeches from education leader Dr. Johnny Lake, podcaster Ayisha Elliot, and journalist and community organizer Kokayi Nosakherem; dance performances by Xcape Dance Company, Michael Tumelo, Alaja Badalich, Carlos Rasmussen and the black dancers of Elite Dance Company; and live music, including a DJ battle with DJ Smuve and Kingsley Strangelove, M5 VIBE, The Atmospheres, Aminta Sky, Clippa Cartier, DEF Davyne and Medusa headliners with SageCrow the Flock.
Local black businesses and organizations will participate, including Trusting Hands Midwifery, HAPI Hair Studios and Elev8 Cannabis. To refuel during the fun, vendors like Yardy Eugene, Hayward’s Kitchen, Justice Shave Ice, and Tony’s BBQ will be offering fresh food and drinks.
“(Businesses in the area) are stepping up to support fundraising efforts not only to cover the overhead costs of the event, which is important for this scale of event, but the dollars are helping to support the black community. in several other ways throughout the rest of this year, ”said Hardy-Baker.
It all adds up to something positive for the black population here, according to Hardy-Baker.
“Fortunately, I think the community at large is starting to open their eyes and become realistic with the experience of the black community here in Eugene,” said Hardy-Baker.
These businesses include Cornbread Café, Daisy CHAIN and the Town of Eugene, Juneteenth’s biggest sponsor to date. Hardy-Baker said the city backed his support for the black voices.
The June 17, 2021 membership, however, was more difficult a year after social movements broke out across the United States. Organizers applaud the efforts to gain more visibility and membership for and from the black community, but recognize that there is still work to be done.
Uplifting black voices
Fuller of Xcape Dance Academy was born and raised in Eugene and was often the only black child in his class. Now as a parent and business owner, Fuller’s mission is to fuel and accelerate this push to establish an active and vibrant black culture here. June 17 was an important step towards achieving this goal.
“Last year was one of the first years people took the time to contact me and ask if I needed anything,” Fuller said. “People are trying.”
The movement was on fire and there was momentum in 2020, Fuller said, leading to a fully funded Juneteenth in less than two weeks.
“It’s a step. And it’s there. It’s important to this community, and it’s important to Eugene, ”Fuller said.
Ironically, Juneteenth is now recognized in one form or another in almost every state, but without daily parades in the streets, what was once a problem has started to decline. The organizers of Juneteenth want people to recognize that black rights and visibility are just as important now as they were 365 days ago.
“A lot of people didn’t know what to do, so they would give anything that was black, which they thought was going to make them socially responsible,” Fuller said. “This year, that fire is definitely not here. Fundraising was much more difficult. It’s not hot right now, but the problems are still there.
One person bringing these issues to the airwaves is “Black Girl From Eugene” podcaster Ayisha Elliott. Her “raw, uncensored monologues and conversations about race relations” are, like Fuller, about being a black woman by Eugene and establishing black culture in the Pacific Northwest.
“Now that we have the technology and we have the empowerment of children, we have platforms available for people to speak up and what they say can be amplified,” Elliott said. “We’re doing what it takes in Eugene to build a much stronger presence and a workable culture. “
Elliott came from a proud black family, his parents having lived in the more diverse neighborhood of St. Louis.
“I had a very bicultural experience,” Elliott said. “I was black at home and had to deal with the white culture outside my home.”
At 15, Elliot moved with his family to Costa Rica and then to Houston. As an adult, she lived in Hawaii for eight years and several in Southern California before returning to Eugene. With a still married mother and father, six siblings, 16 nieces and nephews, and these children already building their own families, Elliott has always had a strong identity to build on.
Elliott said these roots are important for understanding and sympathizing with black people who settle here as children or adults in a culture that contrasts with their experience elsewhere.
“Being able to balance that contrast and that culture shock is something I do quite naturally,” Elliott said. “I love hearing from people’s experience, where it works and where it doesn’t and where they can actually find their match.”
Like his podcast, Elliott will speak and educate at the events of Juneteenth, discussing “what is seen, felt and discussed on a daily basis while living in black” here in Eugene and countless other cities across this country.
“The needle moves slowly when you are dealing with the culture of white supremacy,” said Elliott, who is encouraged by the movement that has taken so long to gain traction. “At the same time, I really see the effort and the camaraderie around this.”
Turn black trauma into a joyful embrace
Alongside Elliott, Ashland resident Kokayi Nosakhere from Alaska will talk about his personal mission to spread kindness, writing personal handwritten letters that he hands out throughout town. He is working on letter no.5266.
“He’s a person who is really going to put it in your face, and not going to water it down,” Smith of Xcape Academy said of Nosakhere. “The way he talks, you feel like you’re at Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ceremony where they’re just preaching.”
The aim is not only to celebrate black culture, but to make it known and to offer it to all the inhabitants of this place, for better or for worse.
“We’ve gotten to a point where we don’t have to knock on someone else’s door, asking them to let us in,” Smith said. “We can create our own stuff and support our own stuff for us. And if these people who are not BIPOC want to be part of it, they really have to understand what an accomplice is and practice it in everyday life. It’s more than just saying it.
To that end, part of the Juneteenth events will be a discussion space where speakers like Dr. Johnny Lake – a renowned speaker and storyteller and an administrator now on a special mission with the Eugene 4J School District advocating for the needs of at-risk youth – can engage with audience members in a question-and-answer environment.
“It’s one thing to hear a speech, and it’s another to talk about it,” Smith said.
For Hardy-Baker, who has worked for years with women of all cultures in the world of childbirth, that commitment is long in coming.
“It is high time there was a concerted effort, both in the private and public sectors, to come together to support a thriving black community here in Eugene,” said Hardy-Baker.
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