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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sense of unity as Spokane celebrates Juneteenth weekend

UPDATED: Sun., June 20, 2021

Lisa Gardner, spokesperson for the City of Spokane, left, and Betsy Wilkerson, City of Spokane councilwoman, deliver closing remarks at Praise in the Park on the Sunday of Juneteenth weekend at Liberty Park.  (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Lisa Gardner, spokesperson for the City of Spokane, left, and Betsy Wilkerson, City of Spokane councilwoman, deliver closing remarks at Praise in the Park on the Sunday of Juneteenth weekend at Liberty Park. (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Amber D. Dodd Community Journalism Fund

Juneteenth weekend was a promising preview of the summer. A cool Friday night welcomed over 100 attendees to the Movie in the Park event in Underhill Park that featured “Black Panther.”

Saturday morning, the sun shined on. Few clouds interrupted. A light breeze cooled down attendees and only scattered papers untied by rocks or tape. Spokane’s 84-degree weather coordinated a perfect backdrop for Saturday’s Juneteenth festivities at 500 S. Stone St.

For the vaccination clinic, organization and job fair, groups stood alongside the MLK Family Outreach Center at East Central Community Center’s outdoor blacktop perimeter, offering aid against issues that stifle others.

“A lot of the community wanted to come together,” Michael Bethely, the co-founder of the Inland Northwest Juneteenth Coalition, said. The group has had its hands in Spokane’s Juneteenth celebrations for a decade. “Organizations reached out, and we were able to collaborate and come up with this.”

With many community entities present, King Peters was able to watch multiple dynamics of his identity as a nonbinary person intersect as the resource fair created space for the Spokane Spectrum Center. They also serve as a COVID-19 community health worker for the center and feel there’s more work to do in Spokane.

“A lot of Spokane is familiar in the churches I grew up in,” Peters said. “I feel safe in my network, but I know the larger city as a whole won’t be the friendliest.”

The latter half of the event turned into a block party, though organizers were still able to promote their causes. Jac Archer led Spokane Community Against Racism’s table, passing out informational pamphlets while lightly dancing to the Cupid Shuffle under the tent.

“We’re claiming community power at events like this,” they said. “We’re looking at relief and support from the bodies and entities that are meant to serve us. This type of coming together is often underrated.”

One hundred fifty-six years since the first Juneteenth celebration, Archer was surrounded around their Spokane community and their newest generation. Archer gave birth to their newborn baby, Raven, in March.

With the block party labeled as the baby’s first event, it gave Archer hope for equality in the next generation.

“This is one of her first major outings she’s been to,” they said. “I like to think that I’m showing her the kind of community I’m trying to build for her. I want this to be the rest of her life, surrounded by Black joy, not just Black tragedy.”

Fourteen-week-old Raven slept peacefully in a stroller among the camaraderie, a Spokane County Against Racism (SCAR) logo covering the newborn onesie and black Adidas shoes to match.

Clemm Rishad was the main performer of the event. The Tacoma native celebrated both Black Music Month and Juneteenth in Spokane. The rapper took some time from his Atlanta music haven to perform at the block party.

He performed tracks from his 2020 album “To Whom it May Concern” and is currently working on an album that reflects his life as a Washingtonian and the journey of dream-chasing. “To Whom it May Concern” is produced by a Spokane native.

“We got stuck in the snow for a week, so I recorded that whole album in Spokane,” Rishad said. “It’s been seven, eight years since I been back, so it’s cool to return.”

Praise in the Park at Liberty Park was the final in-person event held Sunday. Praise and worship serve as a spiritual kind of food, resting on the observance of the higher power while gathering to hear the word to navigate life’s hardships. One main cluster became a cohort under a large tree of shade, others planted themselves under spurts of trees surrounding the area for shade in the midday heat.

The Rev. Walter J. Kendricks of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church served as the moderator of the event for the more than 60 people who attended.

“From Thursday to now, it’s been a beautiful, marvelous celebration,” Kendricks said. “I don’t care who gets the credit because this is for us. Our community has came together as one.”

With Kendricks president of the Spokane Ministers Fellowship, he introduced Pastor Benjamin Watson, who delivered the sermon from the Book of Joshua. Watson preached the Bible story of the 12 stones planted on the bank of the Jordan River. Each stone represents a tribe that followed Joshua as a leader and crossed over the river with him.

In modern times, Watson referenced the dozens of stones as Black freedom fighters such as Jesse Jackson, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers, who represent the hardship and progress of Black liberation in America.

“These stones mean we have come a might long way, with the help of the Lord on our side,” Watson preached. “We understand that you cannot walk forward without (Him).”

Watson celebrated important pieces of the Juneteenth celebrations with an audience that included Spokane City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson and Lisa Gardner, the council’s director of communications and community engagement.

Wilkerson oozed with multitudes of joy: cultures and creeds coexisting, a park transforming into a place of worship, and pulling off an all-hands-on-deck Juneteenth celebration for Spokane.

“It was a resounding success on every level,” Wilkerson said. “We haven’t seen each other. All you saw was chatter and relationships. I saw more hope and possibilities.”

The weekend concluded with a Father’s Day Drive-Up Brunch. Patrons picked up a free plate of either chicken and waffles or shrimp and grits from the Emmanuel Life Center in honor of their father figures. With the success of Juneteenth, Wilkerson looks toward Unity in the Community in August, which will highlight diverse cultures of Spokane.

For now, she relishes in the abundant outcome of community as Juneteenth weekend concludes on Father’s Day and the summer solstice, which represents the world’s changing seasons.

“I saw more hope and possibilities as I was walking around Saturday,” Wilkerson recalled. “We’re all asking, ‘Are you connected to this person so you could partner with them?’ We had a sense of unity and hope for the future.”

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