From its Galveston, Texas origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond. President Biden signed legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday. The measure was passed in the House and Senate with bipartisan support and went into effect immediately.
“All Americans can feel the power of this day, and learn from our history,” Mr. Biden said at a ceremony at the White House, noting that it was the first national holiday established since Martin Luther King’s Birthday in 1983.
He said signing the law was one of the greatest honors he will have as president.
In Denver, the organizers of the celebration planning to make this Juneteenth leave an impact far beyond the festival.
Fathima Dickerson sees the need for support and investment in Denver’s historic Black neighborhood, Five Points. She and her family have owned the Welton Street Cafe restaurant for decades.
“We sacrifice friendships, relationships. We sacrifice our bodies with the labor. It’s not easy. Restaurant work is not easy,” said Dickerson.
Still, there’s nowhere she’d rather be than inside her family’s restaurant.
“It is the family reunion. It is where we gather, and food is why we gather,” said Dickerson.
However, the place of love and soul is struggling to stay open.
“Surviving COVID as Welton Street Cafe has been a quiet storm,” said Dickerson.
Her loyal customers are keeping the spot alive but her family doesn’t own their building, and rent in addition to maintenance is tough to afford.
“We always see a lot of pretty stories about being in business, and nobody likes to talk about the shortcomings or the downfalls, the failures that balance out success.”
Dickerson’s watched many Black-owned businesses struggle around her but she knows the neighborhood’s success will only help all those around it too.
“This needs to continue to be the hub for us to call home so that we can get the resources and the services we need to better our families because that way we build a better community,” said Dickerson.
She has hope that this neighborhood will survive and thrive, and this year, the Juneteenth celebration may help start that change to boost Denver’s Black community.
“When you think about it being larger than a weekend, it is. I’m Black every day, every single day. And when you’re a Black business owner, you need support for your business every single day,” said Dickerson.
“We look at it as a launchpad,” said Norman Harris, the President of JMF corporation and the lead organizer of Denver’s Juneteenth Music Festival.
Harris is organizing for partnerships with companies like Amazon and has web developers helping Black-owned businesses build websites for free.
He wants to make sure this festival is helpful beyond all the fun; that it is growing businesses, too.
Some of the proceeds of the event itself will go to businesses like Welton Street Café, so whether online or in person, this year’s celebrations will help boost Black-owned businesses.
“When you get that type of synergy that happens within our community spaces, it’s priceless,” said Harris.
Denver’s online and in-person plan to boost businesses is modeling the way for Juneteenth celebrations across the country, a movement Fathima wants to last.
“Juneteenth is a lifestyle. I will say that it is. It is what I breathe, how I move. Juneteenth is representing and supporting the culture of Black people,” said Dickerson.
Historian Dr. Vern L. Howard said it’s these moments of collaboration that can build Black wealth for generations to come.
“That is what the Emancipation Proclamation was about,” said Dr. Howard, Chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission. “And that is what Black businesses are about, is to leave a legacy and an inheritance to your offspring.”
And the chance to pass this business down is a dream Dickerson isn’t willing to let go of.
“You save Welton Street Cafe, you save Five Points. You save Five Points, you save Juneteenth. You save Juneteenth, you save the Black community. We are trying to save a life,” said Dickerson.
How are you celebrating Juneteenth in your community? Leave your thoughts in the comments.