A Community Coming Together: The Importance of Juneteenth
On June 19, hundreds of people gathered in Bowling Green to celebrate Juneteenth for the first time as a federal holiday.
In January of 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation declared “all persons held as slaves are and henceforward shall be free.” Unfortunately, this only applied to states that had seceded from the United States during the Civil War.
It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, that the remaining enslaved people in Texas learned they were freed. Juneteenth marks that moment of history.
One of the many communities celebrating Juneteenth was Bowling Green. There were numerous free events, including block parties and concerts. The Bowling Green-based group “Essence in Harmony” sang at a local NAACP pre-Juneteenth event. Through the songs they sang, the group showcased what makes Juneteenth a different type of holiday than what we would normally see on Memorial Day or 4th of July. Those holidays celebrate a collective national history.
Juneteenth is a day that brings Black communities together to celebrate a shared history. Those taking part in the Bowling Green celebrations used the day to not only reflect on slavery, segregation, and racism, but to also make plans for future progress and to promote Black liberation.
In the 90-degree heat, Black entrepreneurs and groups had dozens of booths set up at different events to provide community resources that people may not have access to or know about, like BLK Girl Narrative. Nitaya Walker, a Bowling Green native with the group, said their primary focus is mental health.
“Often times minorities are overlooked in general, but specifically in the minority communities,” Walker said. “We need to let Black people know that it’s okay to have anxiety, it’s okay to have depression, it’s okay to go to therapy, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
While BLK Girl Narrative works to remove the stigma around mental health in the Black community, Matthew 25 AIDS Services Prevention Coordinator, Leon Hloko, said his group does the same for HIV and AIDS.
“It’s really difficult to get all of our people at the same time, to get this type of audience,” Hloko explained.
The Black Dollar
Meanwhile, there were many local vendors and organizations that provided information and merchandise. Like the George Washington Carver Center, a Bowling Green non-profit the provides community services and works on historic preservation in the Shake Rag District.
Other spots provided the usual barbecue, sweets, and a way to heal the heat as we found out at an event in the historic Shake Rag neighborhood at a lemonade stand.
Sissy’s Lemonade may have been one of the best cups of lemonade that we’ve had. Nine-year old Midori has been making lemonade with the skill of someone twice her age for three years now. Her mom, Syleethia Williams, says being at the Juneteenth party meant more than just a chance for the young businesswoman to flex her skills.
“We started talking about Juneteenth and what it is and we went into depth,” Williams said, adding that Midori wanted to be involved once she knew the significance of Juneteenth.
“She was just like, ‘Ay Ay, why aren’t we a part of that? We live right here in the neighborhood, we are Black, let’s celebrate us! And I can sell my lemonade to people who look like me.’”
Many participants in Bowling Green's Juneteenth event echoed a similar sentiment: the need for more Black-owned businesses, which will allow Black people to support more Black entrepreneurs.
That was a common thread that appeared throughout the day: a community coming together to support itself. Destiny Wynn started Yoni Nurse Magic last fall in Bowling Green to provide all genders with natural treatment options.
“We have to realize our importance in the medical world, amongst the medical spectrum,” Wynn said. “We have to advocate for ourselves.”
Shake Rag Barbershop owner Chris Page echoed that sentiment.
“There was a time in America where the Black dollar circulated in the community about 30 or 40 times,” Page explained.
“Now that’s down to about 3 or 4 times. It’s important that the Black dollar circulates in the Black community, so the only way it can circulate in the community Black people have to start opening Black businesses.”
Knowledge is Wealth
The Bowling Green Freedom Walkers organization capped off Juneteenth with speakers and performers. Founder Karika Nelson said the important thing is education.
“That’s our big thing for the BG Freedom Walkers. We want to teach them (the Black community) as well as have fun.” Nelson said. “I want them to take knowledge with them as well.”
She said the group is looking forward to doing it again on August 8, with a celebration commemorating the day enslaved people in Kentucky were made free.