This year’s Juneteenth celebration, set for June 17-20, is the second time the city of Greensboro has recognized it as a holiday, closing city offices and offering paid time off . But organizers in the Gate City — particularly Black women — have been hosting celebrations around the official freeing of slaves for years. One of the main organizers of the movement, April Parker, describes how this year’s celebration came together after last year’s event was forced to go online. For a full schedule of events, visit Juneteenthgso.wordpress.com or follow JuneteenthGSOFest on Facebook.
Featured photo: Artist and activist April Parker says that she and other Black women have been hosting and celebrating Juneteenth in Greensboro years before the city recognized it as an official holiday in 2020. (photo by Irving Allen)
How does it feel to have a full Juneteenth celebration in conjunction with the city for the first time after last year’s event was moved to be all virtual?
It feels like Black joy.
I was really excited because this is the first year there has been this huge cultural shift. I’m really thankful for the movement and I’m excited to be celebrating Black liberation in a big way. It feels good that it has grown like this.
I want to give thanks to Princess of Royal Expression Contemporary Dance School because she had the foresight to apply for funding to do a Juneteenth event. And it really feels like Black joy; it does feel like Black power in the ways that a lot of us have never worked tougher. This committee is the first time we have worked together. It’s nice because I don’t own Juneteenth. It’s about honoring the people who are new to Juneteenth but also to celebrate people who fought for Juneteenth.
I just think that Black women have fought so hard for this to come to fruition and I’m thankful for my elders and to Black organizers. It’s the first time that we’re working together on something like this and we were able to lean into our relationships.
It felt like family and making sure the rest of our extended family was taken care of. I’m just so thankful for that
Why was it important for you to have the city recognize Juneteenth as a citywide holiday?
Because Black people are not the minority in Greensboro and the city has passed itself off for a very long time as being this racial harmonious place, but we’re really tethered to this idea of integration which dilutes the idea of Black power and Black experiences, so I appreciate that we are doing something that is explicitly and overtly Black outside of Kwanzaa.
I’m excited that we are honoring the rituals and traditions of Black people and recognizing that July 4th is a fallacy. The city has spent a lot of money to celebrate the Fourth of July and my people were in bondage. There’s no way I can wear my red, white and blue and know that the holiday is not for Black people. So if we’re going to invest in Fourth of July, we’re going to damn sure celebrate Juneteenth.
You and others worked so hard and for so long for Juneteenth and it seems like it took the death of George Floyd to make it a citywide holiday. Do you feel like there is a necessity of Black pain to force change in institutions?
I think Black joy is the one of the most enduring things. That even in our pain, in our collective pain and collective grieving, we know that there will be an end to that where we will experience Black joy. It’s not an either/or, it’s never going to be an either/or.
I think it’s powerful that we have a nation and a state government that is trying to suppress critical race theory. I would challenge Greensboro now. At the board of education, no one is collectively speaking for antiracist education.
They’ve been out-organizing us for centuries. I think that that’s happening now. We can’t get comfortable. We’re still not wielding the political power that we need and I hope that Juneteenth helps us centralize us after the isolation, because we need to come together as an act of resistance. I hope Juneteenth can be that without an uprising because somebody else was murdered. It’s like, how can we help each other survive and thrive? And we don’t need another tragedy to make that happen.
What significance does Juneteenth have for you?
When I came to Greensboro, I was talking about Juneteenth when nobody really knew what Juneteenth was. I’m an Aries; I like resuscitating things. I like Sankofa and bringing things that we may have lost as a culture back; I love bringing that shit back.
I like the fact that our Juneteenth’s are queer and our Prides are Black now. So even though there is still struggle and conflict that we’re ironing out, I appreciate being a part of that work. I appreciate being a part of folks’ traditions. As a queer person, we’re very traditional people. We just love having rituals and so much of that gets taken away from us when we have to build family outside of our biological family. I might not have had this experience when I was younger, but we’re building up our community for our children.
What would you like non-Black people and white people to know about the holiday and how to support it?
It’s on white people to do the heavy lifting. Hopefully this will be another eye-opener to plugging in to do their own work.
I also think that Juneteenth should be handled fundamentally like July 4. Like whatever your policies are for July 4, they should be for June 19. And for white folks, instead of starting your own thing, you should look to see how you can support community-driven initiatives. Even though we got financial support from the city — they gave us about $1,200 to use LeBauer Park — there should be no balance.
I think that it should be handled with the same reverence and we’re paying all of our artists so I would say donate to the committee who’s driving this. Everybody who is involved is being paid a little bit.
It’s not reparations, but it’s our money. So yeah, I think that’s a way to support. That’s why it’s downtown in a way. Because we want to it be as accessible, but to show that this is bigger than one person.
In the meantime, we have a lot of white organization and I think there should be time so we can start the cultural shift. White organizations:Iif you want to give space, money, the day off to your employees, that’s what needs to happen right now.
What are your future visions for Juneteenth?
I would really like to do strawberry contests or pie contests because I know that was a thing recently emancipated Black people were a part of. And especially now that everyone is a gardener, I think that a beautiful thing would be to lift that up. Like have Miss Mary’s prize squash or whatever. Black farmers have been really centered in this time and people returning to the land. I would love Juneteenth to celebrate that.
Even things like watermelons. Black people were selling them after Emancipation and white people didn’t like that so they made it into that very racist thing. And I would like to kind of have some type of celebration where we’re unveiling some of those things that happened after Emancipation. White people worked really hard to discredit the work of a free Black man and I really think Juneteenth could be something that works to eradicate that.
I’d like to see wagons and people dressed up in white with white flowers and they didn’t have DJs back in the day, but they had their fiddles. I want to bring some of that stuff back.