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Kiantha Duncan will be keynote speaker Juneteenth celebration in Pullman

June 17, 2022 Updated Sat., June 18, 2022 at 8:59 a.m.

Kiantha Duncan, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, will be the keynote speaker for a Juneteenth celebration on Sunday in Pullman.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Kiantha Duncan, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, will be the keynote speaker for a Juneteenth celebration on Sunday in Pullman. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

To celebrate Juneteenth, the Pullman community will celebrate “Freedom Day” with music, book readings and a smoked barbecue.

Juneteenth on Sunday marks the day the last of enslaved Black people were notified that all slaves were freed under the Emancipation Proclamation.

Pullman’s Freedom Day is sponsored by Palouse Council on Racial Equity and Washington State University.

Deena Bayoumi is one of the organizers of Freedom Day.

“To me, (Juneteenth) means that freedom is not truly won until the last member of your community has gained it,” Bayoumi said. “Freedom is such a fundamental part of how we define ourselves as Americans, but it can mean so many different things.”

The festivities will run from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center in Pullman.

The mastermind behind Freedom Day is Allen C. Sutton, executive director of WSU’s Office of Outreach and Education. Since 2005, Sutton has worked on equity and inclusion issues at educational institutions such as Texas Tech University, Auburn University and the University of Alabama. A Mississippi native, his work spans nationally across student engagement, multicultural events, and diversity, equity and inclusion.

“I have always viewed this work through the lens of tearing down oppressive systems, not people,” Sutton said. “The Civil Rights Movement showed me that this work cannot be done without investment from the community and people from all walks and backgrounds of life.”

He bridged the gap between WSU’s sponsors, local organizations and businesses to create awareness about Freedom Day. This year’s event is a relaxed barbecue atmosphere of fun, food and music. At Texas Tech, Sutton saw the traditional Juneteenth celebrations in Texas where cookouts were a prominent part of celebration.

“Long before President Biden signed the bill to make Juneteenth a national holiday, Black Americans, especially in Texas, would celebrate this holiday by having parades, putting food on the BBQ grill, eating red foods and drinking red soda as a way to honor our past,” Sutton said in an email.

Red-dyed food is significant because the color red represents prominent African tribes like the Yoruba who were sold during slavery.

Kiantha Duncan is the keynote speaker for Freedom Day. Duncan’s commencement address at the University of Idaho sparked the Council on Racial Equity’s interest in having her at Freedom Day. Jessica Samuels, another organizer involved in Freedom resonated with Duncan’s message of building community from the ground up while also centering equity.

“As a group, we were interested in having someone relatively local that would reflect on what Juneteenth means in this part of the world, as opposed to someone who came from a larger city, or from the South where the community and history is quite different,” Bayoumi said. “If you watch any of her recorded speeches, she really promotes an idea of equity and community building by finding common ground rather than focusing on differences. That’s a message and a path we don’t see enough of and I hope it inspires people to think a bit differently.”

Along with her rising role in public speaking, Duncan also serves as Spokane’s NAACP president. She owns Conversations with Kiantha and does speaking engagements in areas of diversity, equity and inclusion. Duncan said her responsibility as Freedom Day’s keynote is “to be honest and hopeful.”

“I want to share with them a vision of what could be and how our world could look.” Duncan said.

For Duncan, equality is also the perfect message for Juneteenth. She wants to incorporate the history of Juneteenth while also expressing the significance of celebrating the holiday.

“When we unpack the history of that, you understand the necessity of us to find ways that we are similar and you understand what happens when all people don’t have equitable options for living,” Duncan said. “You get to see it in real time during Juneteenth.”

In times where many are looking to unify the nation, Duncan thinks Juneteenth is an opportunity for everyone to acknowledge one another’s humanity and cultures.

Duncan will lend her voice as the reader of author Alice Faye Duncan’s “Opal Lee and What it Means to be Free,” a children’s book about celebrating the history of Juneteenth.

After the speech, Daryl Singleton and Horace Alexander Young will perform “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” The song, written by J. Rosamond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson, is considered the Black American national anthem and is a song that references freedom, hope and courage in the fight for equality.

The Pullman High School Black Student Union also will perform, including a drum circle, slam poetry and a free children’s books giveaway. Joe Williams with the Lumberyard, a dine-in spot in Pullman, are providing free food.

Throughout the festivities, Sutton and Freedom Day organizers are hoping that people leave educated about Juneteenth while also investing in each other’s community and humanity.

“We want them to feel welcome, to learn about Juneteenth and experience community and camaraderie, and to leave feeling full, not just from food, but from a genuine interaction and connection,” Sutton said.

Editor’s note: This article was changed on June 18, 2022 to correct the location of Pullman’s Juneteenth celebration.

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.

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