Minneapolis marks Juneteenth after official holiday recognition | Race issues

Minneapolis, United States – On a sunny summer morning in George Floyd Square, a gardener lights palo santo in a small wooden dish near Floyd’s now infamous black-and-white mural.

In a parking lot adjacent to the church, a bouncy house on the theme of SpongeBob SquarePants has been erected. Inside, kids bounce and kick an inflatable beach ball as hot dogs, burgers, and kids simmer on a nearby black grill.

“For Juneteenth this year it’s something special. We are focused on the future and the future is the children, ”James Johnson of Worldwide Outreach for Christ Church told Al Jazeera. “To make it a national holiday now, it’s something special and we want to express it.”

June 19, or June 17, commemorates the day Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas and told enslaved African Americans they were free – more than two years after the end of the Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation which declared all slaves free.

Celebrations began the following year to commemorate the event and the date has been celebrated as a second independence day in African American communities ever since. Over the past decades, the movement to make Juneteenth a public holiday has intensified.

A mural in northern Minneapolis [Cinnamon Janzer/Al Jazeera]

In Minneapolis, the city’s human resources department recommended in April that June 12 be made the city’s 12th paid holiday. On May 14, Minneapolis City Council made it official, followed by the country as a whole when President Biden signed the national independence day law of June 17 was promulgated on June 17.

As jubilant celebrations unfolded in Minneapolis and its “twin city” of St. Paul on Saturday, some events have nothing to do with recent actions taken by local and federal governments.

“That doesn’t change a thing,” Kevin Reese, founder of Until We Are All Free, a Minneapolis-based human rights organization run by formerly jailed people, told Al Jazeera.

He was preparing to host an afternoon community event at a cafe in southern Minneapolis, featuring local artists and performers as well as opportunities for prayer and community conversations.

“This is another symbolic gesture of America towards the descendants of slaves. It really doesn’t matter and there is nothing America can do except make repairs… which would satisfy me.

Prior to this year, Until We Are All Free has partnered with other community groups in the previous June, but this year they are hosting their own block party event due to the group’s continued growth. “This will be our first annual event,” said Reese. “We are preparing for 500 people.

Just weeks after Minneapolis designated Juneteenth as a public holiday, Mayor Jacob Frey began pushing for George Floyd Square, which has been barricaded by the community since Floyd’s murder, to be reopened to traffic.

George Floyd Square recently reopened to traffic [Cinnamon Janzer/Al Jazeera]

Members of the city council accuse the mayor of abuse of emergency powers during the pandemic, he had to sign a contract for $ 359,000 with a community group to reopen the intersection.

Tony Smith, who was spending the warm morning in a slice of shade in the plaza, believes the reopening is important for businesses struggling with the closure but memorials should be left in place and preserved.

He spent the month of June collecting donations for the city’s many homeless camps through Catholic Charities, a local non-profit organization.

“Usually I barbecue and [spending Juneteenth in] loneliness, ”he told Al Jazeera. “There is nothing to be happy about, Juneteenth. It’s a lot of anger you know… When I heard that [Biden] made it a national holiday, it allayed some of the anger.

Tony Smith sits in George Floyd Square, Minneapolis amid preparations for the Juneteenth celebrations [Cinnamon Janzer/Al Jazeera]

On the north side of Minneapolis, a vast parking lot-scale celebration with a handful of stalls and tents set up by community groups and yet another bouncy house, was quickly taking shape among a growing crowd.

As a passer-by chats with volunteers who set up a canvas tent surrounded by black, red and green balloons about a “national holiday that belongs to us on June 17th,” the founder and director of Black Bold and Brilliant and one of the event’s organizers, Wisdom Mawusi, is busy setting up a space she calls the Black Man Cave.

“We wanted to do something and recognize, celebrate black men,” she told Al Jazeera. “We are creating a beautiful space for black men to honor and respect them and everything they do and how important they are in our community. Sometimes they don’t get enough of this positive recognition. “

Across the park, with funk music playing in the background, Comer X. Henry, director of peer recovery services at the Twin Cities Recovery Project – an organization providing support and services to people in need. struggling with substance use disorders – is one of four men to erect yet another tent.

He tells Al Jazeera that Juneteenth is “a celebration of the so-called freedom of slaves. It means a lot to me in two ways – one is that we are physically free. The second, my truth, is that we are still mentally locked up and still dependent on everyone outside of ourselves ”.

When it comes to designating Juneteenth as a municipal and national holiday, Henry says, “It’s definitely a big step and I think we’re going in the right direction but it’s a little deeper and more complicated for me. [We’re] facing white supremacy and still suffers.

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