Project for Change to celebrate Juneteenth with Bemidji community event
Juneteenth, celebrated this year on Saturday, June 19, 2021, will mark 156 years since the end of slavery in the United States. Project for Change, an organization dedicated to social justice in Bemidji, will hold a free event for the community to celebrate and memorialize the day.
BEMIDJI -- Juneteenth, celebrated this year on Saturday, June 19, 2021, will mark 156 years since the end of slavery in the United States.
Project for Change, an organization dedicated to social justice in Bemidji, will hold a free event for the community to celebrate and memorialize the day.
The program will commemorate the abolishment of slavery with speakers, live music, dancing, bagged lunches, booths featuring area organizations and games for children from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 19, at the Rail River Folk School in Bemidji.
David Frison, Project for Change vice president, said the event will be a time of celebration, reflection and education.
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth, celebrated annually on June 19, is also known nationally as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, and symbolizes the end of slavery in America. It 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. Though Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had outlawed slavery more than two and a half years earlier, there were few Union troops in Texas to enforce the order.
Due to its historical roots, Texas was the first state to recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday in 1980. Since then, 48 states and Washington, D.C. recognize Juneteenth as either a state or ceremonial holiday. Hawaii and South Dakota have not yet officially recognized the day.
Juneteenth celebrations nationwide typically include prayer and religious services, speeches, educational events, family gatherings, picnics, festivals and dancing. Awareness of Juneteenth has seemingly grown in recent years following nationwide racial justice movements.
Education and reflection
“Juneteenth is one of the lesser-known holidays in the Black community. (The event will) be a process where we educate ourselves as well,” Frison said. “Some of our history has been absent in the history books and in the school system, so we're trying to learn some of those even on our own history. The community is open to come and be a part of that.”
In addition to educating people about the background of the nation’s civil rights and freedom movements, Frison said he hopes the event will energize Black activists and allies to continue their struggle for justice.
“Frederick Douglass was called once to speak on Independence Day, July 4. He asked, ‘Why would you ask me to speak on July 4, when I'm a slave, and my people are not free?’ It's a reflection back on those times, and those who have paved the way for Black people today to experience a certain level of freedom,” Frison said. “We haven't fully achieved what we wanted to achieve, but this is a moment of reflection and maybe even to recommit to goals.”
Juneteenth in Bemidji
Bemidji held its first-ever public Juneteenth event in 2019 at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, in coalition with the Bemidji Food Shelf and Our Revolution Bemidji.
Project for Change hosted a Juneteenth event in 2020, Frison said, although due to the pandemic, it wasn’t a public event.
“Come and learn and share and feel welcome,” Frison said of Saturday’s event. “It'll be a celebration, similar to what you would have at a Fourth of July party, people coming together as a community and family to fellowship.”
Frison said he wants the community to feel welcome. “Let's come out and just share culture and celebrate freedom from slavery,” he said. “Everyone was a victim of slavery, so it should be open to everyone to celebrate.”
Project for Change growth
Project for Change is a Bemidji area group that formed in the wake of the local George Floyd protests. The organization’s mission is to act as “a local, nonprofit, non-partisan change group, formed on building awareness, creating social opportunities and enriching the quality of life for historically marginalized, disadvantaged, oppressed and resilient Black and Brown communities through policy, accountability and action.”
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Project for Change aims to continue the conversation of social and criminal justice reform within the community with the goal of policy change that results in a more equitable Bemidji, organizers said.
Frison said he’s been involved in the group since before it was even known as Project for Change. During this time, he has seen the group transform, grow and become emboldened.
“I've seen the members and allies become a little bit more vocal, a little bit more apt to speak out on social injustices and inequities. I am feeling that they're feeling more of a sense of belonging to Bemidji, whereas before, there was an absence of community that some of the members have expressed,” he said.
More information about the Juneteenth event can be found on the Facebook event page. More information is also available on the Project for Change website.