by Annie Prafcke
17 June 2021
On June 19th, from 12pm to 7pm, nonprofit Faith4Hope Scholarship Fund is hosting their first ever Juneteenth Freedom Celebration at Lindenwood Park in Fargo. It is free and open to the public. Established by Faith Dixon and C. Hope Shields, Faith4Hope strives to empower low-income F-M area families. They provide food at their North Fargo pantry as well as outreach programs such as child care scholarships and Money Management classes.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19th, 1865, when US troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to declare freedom for all enslaved people, two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. African Americans began celebrating this historic moment the following year, in 1866.
This year’s Juneteenth Freedom Celebration in Fargo comes only two months after North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed into law ND SB 2232, which recognizes Juneteenth as a state holiday. Fargo Democrat Sen. Tim Mathern introduced this bill, along with Grand Forks Republican Sen. Ray Holmberg. North Dakota is the 48th state to recognize Juneteenth. Only South Dakota and Hawaii have not declared it a state holiday.
High Plains Reader spoke with Faith4Hope Scholarship Fund’s co-founder and managing director, Faith Dixon, about her organization’s 2021 Juneteenth celebration. This interview has been edited and condensed.
HIGH PLAINS READER: Across the country, Juneteenth is celebrated in diverse ways - from barbecuing to fireworks to rodeos. What can we expect to see at Faith4Hope’s celebration this year?
FAITH DIXON: I haven’t had the chance to go to a big Juneteenth event but I had the opportunity of looking at one online last year and when I saw it, it was just phenomenal. It was a Juenteenth celebration in California and what I saw was a festival full of people of all walks of life coming together to really celebrate African culture.
What I put together is a lineup of great artists - from dancing to singing to public speaking. I just wanted to make sure that we got a variety of different ways that we can celebrate our culture. We’ll also of course have free food. We have one of the best barbeque chefs in the Fargo-Moorhead area - Chef Diezel from Holy Smokes BBQ. We’re also doing bouncy houses for our children. We’ll have hair extensions and braiding done by Joseph’s school. We’ll have an array of vendors as well. It will be a place where kids can get temporary tattoos and face painting. We’ll have coloring stations where kids can learn about and color some of their favorite heroes.
We’ll also have a speaker, Leslie Redmond. She’s a civil rights advocate and the former president of the Minneapolis NAACP. Her mission is “Don’t Complain, Activate.” I’m just excited about that day.
HPR: How does this Juneteenth celebration fit into Faith4Hope’s mission?
FD: We’re all about community giving and what a great way to show it. People say, “Oh, just because you’re African American of course you would do this day, but no. I like to do a lot with diversity and culture. We want to make sure everybody can feel a part of who they are and represent their culture. This year we just happened to take on Juneteenth because we’re about community. We’re about resources. We want people to feel welcome when they walk into the doors of my food pantry. On this day, we want them to celebrate and educate and also liberate.
HPR: I didn’t hear much about Juneteenth celebrations in Fargo-Moorhead until recently. Was Juneteenth widely celebrated in the years you’ve lived here?
FD: No, it hasn’t been celebrated in the past. Last year, I helped a friend do a Juneenth celebration, but nothing of this magnitude. In other cities, you can see it is a day of celebration, a day where a community can come together and celebrate Juneteenth, but here in North Dakota, I never ever saw it celebrated. I’m so excited to be one of the first to do that.
I also spoke at Legislation to get [ND SB 2232] passed. And I was so excited when I got the phone call from Senator Mathern to tell me that it had passed. We were so grateful to all who showed. It was really a large quantity of people that came out to support - that spoke, that wrote letters. I was just super excited that it did finally pass, not just as a city holiday but as a state holiday.
HPR: As you mentioned, up until recently, North Dakota was one of only three US states that didn’t recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday. What do you think is the significance of celebrating Juneteenth here specifically?
FD: I don’t want to bring a dark cloud on what we experienced last year, but when I heard George Floyd’s daughter say, “Daddy changed the world,” he really did. He did more than just bring reform into police departments. He also woke up something that people have been trying to lay dormant -- and that’s diversity and the end of racism. I think that this is just one step for this state in acknowledging that racism is a problem and systemic racism is an issue in this area. For years, people have been trying to make Juneteenth a state holiday and it just happened to happen after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor that it woke American up. Now we’re able to see some of the fruits of the labor.
HPR: Do you think George Floyd’s murder and the Derek Chauvin trial contributed to the bill being passed?
FD: I do. I believe that it pushed them to see that there is no reason why we cannot celebrate a day that is commemorated amongst our people. Why can we celebrate St. Patrick's Day or Valentine’s Day, but you can’t celebrate a day in which we want to celebrate our freedom? It was very disheartening to see that this was even something that was still on the table that had to be argued over. I’m happy that it passed, but I’m sad that it took a man losing his life in order for it to pass.
HPR: Do you see celebrating Juneteenth as political?
FD: No, it is not a political event. I don’t believe it should be put on as a political event. It’s the same as celebrating MLK day and others that have lost their lives for our freedom. I don’t want to say it’s political. Some might argue that, but I don’t think so. I’m just happy that [ND SB 2232] finally passed, North Dakota being one of the last states to do it. It shows just how back in time we really are. And we need to start doing better in this community and in this region.
HPR: Do you think Juneteenth celebrations will change in light of increasing awareness of racial profiling, police brutality, and the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement?
FD: I think that it most definitely will bring some awareness. It will offer resources, but Juneteenth has always been there. I think it will allow more people in the community to see that systemic racism is real and it does happen. Racism is in our community. I’m hoping that this Juneteenth celebration will bring more awareness to our culture and diversity. That’s my hope and prayer for it. But for me, it’s all about being able to educate and being able to offer it every year for our community. My hope is that even if Faith4Hope does not put it on, it will get put on by other activists and other agencies in this community.
HPR: You said that you don’t see Juneteenth as a political celebration, but in addition to celebrating Black culture and diversity, do you also see it as a way for people to understand the importance of Black lives and Black issues?
FD: Absolutely. That’s our culture. It’s who we are. It’s something that we have to fight daily, so, yes. I believe not so much in the organization of Black Lives Matter but really just understanding African American culture -- our dance, our food, our background, our history. When people think “Black lives,” they automatically think of the BLM crew, but really [Juneteenth] is about all the Black lives that we have lost to police brutality, to systemic racism, to our veterans who have died and never got honored, so that’s a wide variety of issues that we talk about on Juneteenth and we recognize. It’s not just one group. Black lives are a big part of that now that we’re living with the deaths of so many Black men and women. It will be at the forefront of what we will be discussing on June 19th, but that doesn’t mean that it will take away from the accomplishments and the celebration that we will be having on that day.
HPR: Is there anything else you want to add?
FD: I wrote this down when I was testifying for this bill [ND SB 2232]:
“The future of Juneteenth looks bright as the number of cities and states creating Juneteenth to be a state holiday continues to increase. I am proud to say that Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday now in North Dakota! But let's not forget as it takes on a more national, symbolic, and even global perspective, the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten, for all of the roots tie back to this fertile soil from which a national day of pride is growing. Juneteenth today celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures.”
We said that slavery ended in the United States ended on June 19th, 1865, but we’re still fighting it every day. Don’t be a part of the problem. Be a part of the solution. I just want to invite everyone out and let’s celebrate. There has been a lot of darkness that we’ve had to face over the last year with the deaths of our Black men and women and children and on this day, I just want to bring some joy and celebration to this community. Come out as we celebrate this event, on June 19th.
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