Bemidjians gather in celebration of freedom for 4th annual Juneteenth event
Braving the nearly 100-degree temperatures, about 50 people gathered on Sunday to commemorate Bemidji’s fourth Juneteenth event in celebration of freedom and equal rights for all.
BEMIDJI — Braving the nearly 100-degree temperatures, about 50 people gathered on Sunday to commemorate Bemidji’s fourth Juneteenth event in celebration of freedom and equal rights for all.
“We’re just here celebrating our freedom and our rights,” Project for Change board chair Jacob Wiley said ahead of the event.
Also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, Juneteenth commemorates the reading of President Abraham Lincoln's General Order No. 3 on June 19, 1865, in Texas, which announced the freeing of enslaved people.
Texas was the first state to recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday in 1980, but on June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed a bill into law to make June 19 a federal holiday commemorating the end of the legal enslavement of Black Americans.
“We are here remembering what our people have gone through so we can continue to work toward progress,” Jeanine Wiley, a Project for Change board member, said at the start of the event. “Please enjoy yourselves, visit with one another, eat lots of food and thanks so much for coming.”
Ashley Charwood, an event organizer and Project for Change board member, welcomed and handed out tickets to each person as they arrived so they could be entered into the drawing for door prizes later on.
After eating some dinner and visiting for a while, everyone gathered around for a small presentation from David Frison, chaplain and vice-chair with Project for Change.
“Storytelling is so important to the African culture, we tell stories to communicate, to share history and knowledge, and to learn about each other,” he said. “So I just want to share some stories with you today so you can see how storytelling is used in our culture to teach morals.”
“The Creator, our God, used the animals to communicate messages to us and how we are to use those animals for moral growth,” he said before telling a story about a lion and a forest fire.
In the story, he explained how most of the animals didn’t pay attention to the fire and made excuses about helping or simply didn’t pitch in. But the hummingbird, one beak full of water at a time worked hard to help put the fire out.
“The hummingbird said ‘No matter how small it is, I’m going to do my part,’” he said. “So all the animals took their cues from the hummingbird and eventually started each doing their part to put the fire out. If we can learn from the animals and each do our part, no matter how small it might seem at the time, it will make a difference in the world.”
Frison then told a handful of stories about different birds, paralleling them with good leadership and sticking together as a group to make positive changes.
After Frison concluded his storytelling, 9-year-old Adele Reopelle read the poem “Hey Black Child” by Countee Cullen aloud to the attendees.
Described as a poem of inspiration and hope, it was written during the Harlem Renaissance when Black people moved north after World War I in search of better opportunities.
After migrating, new opportunities became available to them in cities such as Chicago, New York, and Harlem. The city of Harlem was mostly populated with African Americans, and poets such as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Gwendolyn Brooks made the Harlem Renaissance what it was, according to an article about the poem’s history.
After the poem reading, Project for Change board member Juanita Reopelle sang “We Shall Overcome.”
“In the spirit of hope, I’m going to sing an old Negro spiritual and if you know it sing it with me,” she said before she began to sing and others joined in.
Organizers then gathered together an assortment of door prizes, including some donated gift cards and items from Starbucks and Papa Murphy’s in Bemidji, along with several gift baskets, T-shirts, towels and wall hangings.
One by one, tickets were drawn and people stepped up to claim their prizes.
Though the handing out of the prizes concluded the event’s planned activities, attendees continued to mingle and visit with one another enjoying ice cream and other cool snacks to try to fend off the intense heat of the hot summer day.