With the sounds of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” flowing from the speakers, the Black culture fair celebrating Juneteenth — which commemorates the abolition of slavery in the United States in 1865 — was underway at Mercerdale Park on June 19.
Organized by the Mercer Island High School (MIHS) Black Student Union and sponsored by the city of Mercer Island, the four-hour Juneteenth Festival featured a host of participants setting up tables to “showcase the critical impact Black people have had on art, dance, music and history in the United States,” according to the city’s event page.
Prominent figures like Baptist minister and activist Martin Luther King Jr., agricultural chemist George Washington Carver, actress Dorothy Jean Dandridge, musician Jimi Hendrix and many more were represented in photos and descriptions of their vital achievements. Attendees visited the eight tables and engaged in Black history discussions as the music from Black performers filled the air courtesy of the students and staffers running the KMIH 88.9 The Bridge booth.
“The most important message to me is even though we’ve made a lot of progress, there’s still more progress that we need to make,” said Lea’Asia Lane, a Black Student Union member. “That’s why we’re having this event so people can learn about it, be educated about it and not just be like, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s important,’ so they can know why it’s important.”
Added Brooks Kahsai, also a Black Student Union member, “To me, this day is supposed to be acknowledgement of Black history, a celebration of Black history.”
Kahsai has high hopes for the future. He wants to elevate minority voices, live in a world where people look beyond others’ appearances, mannerisms and other traits to become acquainted, and end tug-of-wars between two sides in order to achieve a more peaceful coexistence.
“Ever since African Americans became free, there has been progress in order to provide them with equal rights to other American citizens,” Kahsai added. “It has been a slow and arduous process that is still going on today, but at the same time, today should be a recognition of how far we’ve come and how far we intend to go in the future until all Americans are equal.”
Red, black, green and gold balloons were being secured into place when Danielle Damasius of ONE MI (Organizing Network for Equity) noted that city officials contacted her group to organize a Juneteenth event. Damasius reached out to the Black Student Union to bring those Islanders’ voices to the forefront.
“I think it’s just really cool to have their voices heard and to see their vision come to life,” she said. “More and more of the community work we’re going to do is going to have student voice in it because we want to encourage student advocacy, students finding an expression for the things they’re passionate about.”
Good feelings abound when Lane is surrounded by other Black students at MIHS who want to present events like the Juneteenth Festival and educate Islanders about Black history, she said.
On the community front, Island resident Dr. Jonathan Harrington helped assemble the table presented by the Congregational Church on Mercer Island — United Church of Christ. The table featured the Juneteenth story and textbooks from Harrington’s racial justice, social justice and climate justice courses at North Seattle College and more.
“We need to keep fighting for social justice today. It’s not just in the far past, not just in 1865. (We’re) just trying to educate people about that,” said Harrington, adding that the Island has become more diverse over the years and he was pleased to help enact change at the Juneteenth event. “We really need to have more activities that reflect the diversity of the community.”