Amber Reed/The Broadside
On Friday June 19 the people of Bend gathered at Drake Park in Downtown Bend to celebrate Juneteenth as a community. Everyone was brought together by two local groups the Central Oregon Black Leaders Assembly or COLBA and the Central Oregon Diversity Project or CODP. Both groups share a common goal of uplifting people of color and solving issues within central Oregon that affect them, so they teamed up to organize a celebration and protest in honor of Juneteenth.
The event was organized to celebrate Juneteenth and the liberation of slaves in Texas 1865. It became a holiday celebrated mainly in Texas 155 years ago when Union army general Gordon Grander arrived and announced that the slaves were to be freed. This year the holiday has gained more attention across the country leading to public celebrations like this one.
Riccardo Waites the leader of COLBA stated during his speech that although he has lived in Central Oregon for 20 years this was this first time that he was able to celebrate with others outside of his family. Adri Aquarius another organizer of the event and an administrator for CODP stated the personal significance that Juneteenth had to her life. Aquarius said that to her it was “Freedom Day, the day that my ancestors were freed, and their chains were broken”. While this holiday sprouted from Americas dark past this was a celebration of life. The stage was set up, music was played by black creators, and stands were set up in the grass there was free shaved ice, and dumplings. Each stand that gave food for free had a jar for donations that went to the CODP’s organization. There were also tables set up selling masks, t shirts, and earrings some of which were donated, and the proceeds of those sales also went to CODP. No one from the Bend Police department attended either the celebration or the march.
Many of those who attended came with signs, and one activist who chose to remain anonymous took the opportunity to spread the word about what is happening in their community in Prineville. They covered a tree with posters about protest organizer Josie Stanfeild who has recently received death threats since her involvement in the movement. The tree was covered in posters calling for justice for Josie and playing cards featuring the queen with the words black queen under siege in reference to Stanfeild being on lock down. They stated that they will continue to protest peacefully in this way to draw attention Stanfeild current situation.
After the stage was set at one, leaders gave speeches to the crowd starting with pastor Morgan Schmitt from First Presbyterian church in Bend. Schmitt spoke about her experience of attending her first Juneteenth celebration working to uplift the crowd and ended with a reminder that “while we may be physically distanced, we can still be socially connected”. Adri spoke next followed by Riccardo Waites. After this first round of speeches there was an intermission to allow for people to talk to each other and walk around to the booths.
The closing speeches followed which featured a recorded statement from senator Jeff Merkley that was sent to Adri. The statement was about the protests and the senators feelings about the current political climate, after the recording ended Adri gave her thoughts on its contents saying “ I agree with what he said, but what I see is that so far I have gotten two letters from him but no action. Actions speak louder than words” she then opened the stage up to the crowd and encouraged attendees to speak their minds on the topic.
After the closing speeches the group met back at piolet butte in a march to take back the butte. This was led by Mylea Parker a member of COBLA who stated that the goal of the march was to “educate Bend on its racist roots, silence the ghosts of Bend’s past and to prove that our city is united in solidarity with black lives.” The group marched to the top of Piolet Butte to symbolize a change for Bend and progress for the people of color who live in Central Oregon.
Amber Reed/The Broadside