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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.

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Project for Change board members and event organizers Ashley Charwood, left, and Juanita Reopelle set out door prizes on Sunday, June 19, 2022, during a Juneteenth celebration at Movil Maze Recreation Area.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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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.

Organized by local nonprofit Project for Change, the event was held at the Movil Maze Recreation Area and included yard games, dinner and some stories and songs celebrating Black history.

“We’re just here celebrating our freedom and our rights,” Project for Change board chair Jacob Wiley said ahead of the event.

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Jacob Wiley, Project for Change board chair, makes his way through the food line on Sunday, June 19, 2022, during a Juneteenth celebration at Movil Maze Recreation Area.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

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.

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“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.”

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Project for Change board member Jeanine Wiley welcomes attendees on Sunday, June 19, 2022, during a Juneteenth celebration at Movil Maze Recreation Area.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

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.

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David Frison, Project for Change board vice-chair and chaplain, tells a story on Sunday, June 19, 2022, during a Juneteenth celebration at Movil Maze Recreation Area.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“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.

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Attendees listen as Project for Change board vice-chair David Frison tells a story on Sunday, June 19, 2022, during a Juneteenth celebration at Movil Maze Recreation Area.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

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.

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After Frison concluded his storytelling, 9-year-old Adele Reopelle read the poem “Hey Black Child” by Countee Cullen aloud to the attendees.

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Adele Reopelle, 9, reads the poem “Hey Black Child” on Sunday, June 19, 2022, during a Juneteenth celebration at Movil Maze Recreation Area.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

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.”

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Juanita Reopelle, a Project for Change board member, sings “We Shall Overcome Song” on Sunday, June 19, 2022, during a Juneteenth celebration at Movil Maze Recreation Area.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“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.

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Samara Tobeck receives a Malcolm X T-shirt door prize on Sunday, June 19, 2022, during a Juneteenth celebration at Movil Maze Recreation Area.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

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.

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Brian Reopelle, 7, plays a round of ladder ball on Sunday, June 19, 2022, during a Juneteenth celebration at Movil Maze Recreation Area.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Kiara Wiley makes cotton candy for young event-goers on Sunday, June 19, 2022, during a Juneteenth celebration at Movil Maze Recreation Area.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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About 50 people gathered on Sunday, June 19, 2022, to celebrate Bemidji’s fourth Juneteenth event organized by local nonprofit Project for Change at the Movil Maze Recreation Area.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Related Topics: BLACK LIVES MATTER
Annalise is the editor and a photographer at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is a Mass Communication graduate from Bemidji State University. Her favorite pastime is exploring the great outdoors and capturing its natural beauty on camera. Contact Annalise at (218) 333-9796, (218) 358-1990 or abraught@bemidjipioneer.com.
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