'Moving toward the freedom we really want to see': Spokane's 11th Annual Juneteenth celebration features a weekend of community events

Jun. 16—Though Juneteenth only has been recognized as a federal holiday since 2021 , Spokane's Black organizations are gearing up for their 11th annual Juneteenth celebrations.

The holiday originated in Texas, the final state that notified slaves they were free after the Emancipation Proclamation. Now, a century and a half later, the holiday is celebrated by Black communities nationally through events tailored to the community.

"We're excited about gathering our community and celebrating each other, enjoying good food, enjoying the opportunity to uplift each other through entertainment, dancing and all of that," said Michael Bethely, one of the organizers of the Inland Northwest Juneteenth Coalition along with Alan Jones. "We're able to bring different elements together in a certain amount of spaces."

The Inland Northwest Juneteenth Coalition will host the annual PILLAR Awards as part of the celebration to recognize community service in Spokane. Categories include local individual efforts, businesses, nonprofits and churches. Bethely called the event an opportunity to "uplift those who've made community sacrifices." The awards also shine light on a distinguished person who exceeds their community duties with the Heartwood Award.

"The heartwood is the center of a tree, the oldest and strongest part of the tree," Bethely said. "We give out the Heartwood Award because we want to represent that community member that's been a real strong part of the community and building it to where it is."

Peggy Trout, a former Heartwood Award recipient, will serve as the awards' keynote speaker.

One of the newest additions to the Juneteenth weekend is A Night of Sisterhood, a new event created by educator Stephanie Courtney to celebrate Black women throughout the Spokane area.

Courtney, a military child, grew up in Spokane. As a young Black girl, she easily could see missing pieces in the community and established A Night of Sisterhood to fill the gaps of sisterhood in Spokane and create "an informal space of healing" from Spokane's historic trauma.

"We have to acknowledge the historical trauma of the past, especially in spaces where people collaborate, and this is a space that is going to allow people to just be," Courtney said. "Not be a title, not be a mother, wife, partner. It's a space for us to be present and work on healing and understand what it means to be in Black spaces where we can trust and heal each other."

It also will be a chance for Spokane's Black leaders to network and connect beyond the Juneteenth holiday.

The all-white-apparel event is free. Though all are invited, Courtney said the event brings attention to Black women in the community, and hopes more connections create additional support systems. A Night of Sisterhood will take place from 6 to 7:45 p.m. at Nectar, 120 N Stevens St.

"This is definitely for those who seek out healing, space to discuss issues that impact our daily lives, and in Spokane there is not a lot of space to talk about cultural experiences that impact our mental and physical health and our way of life," Courtney said.

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center is hosting a block party, food, games and other activities to celebrate the holiday. There also will be a Black business expo, which also will be part of the celebrations, giving space to business owners gearing up for the summer. Saturday night festivities conclude with Movie in the Park. Families will gather at Underhill Park and enjoy Space Jam: A New Legacy on a megascreen, along with snacks.

On Sunday, Praise in the Park at Liberty Park will highlight spiritual and religious practices within the Black community. Churches are multifaceted institutions in the Black community, serving as spaces of social support among anti-Black discrimination, to discuss how change can happen and as resource centers for those in need of a hot meal or a safe place to stay.

Praise in the Park is an outdoor Sunday service that features sermons from pastors with the Spokane Ministers Fellowship, including a centerpiece sermon from a special guest. With Father's Day coinciding with the Juneteenth weekend, organizers will close the weekend with a Father's Day Brunch from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Emmanuel Family Life Center. Bethely said the free brunch is an opportunity to celebrate Black father figures.

"I think it's important that we emphasize the fathers that are there, the Black fathers that have been part of their children's lives," Bethely said. "This goes in line with building the community, because fathers are a big foundation of how our community can develop and grow. Fathers being there helps us raise more powerful young men and women."

Bethely said the Juneteenth Coalition is excited to commemorate the Juneteenth holiday while also celebrating Spokane's current community. The weekend-long event is filled with opportunities to support and strengthen the bonds throughout the city.

"It's exciting to have Juneteenth as an opportunity and a day of freedom, and a day that represents community," Bethely said. "Let's just celebrate that in itself. We're moving toward the freedom that we really want to see."

Amber D. Dodd's work as the Carl Maxey Racial and Social Inequity reporter for Eastern Washington and North Idaho primarily appears in both The Spokesman-Review and The Black Lens newspapers, and is funded in part by the Michael Conley Charitable Fund, the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, the Innovia Foundation and other local donors from across our community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper's managing editor.