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'To celebrate Black culture': OU Black student organizations to host Juneteenth festival; seek to 'bring allies together'

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2021 Juneteenth Committee

Members of the Juneteenth Committee pose with flyers. 

The OU Black Student Association, Black Graduate Student Association and the OU NAACP chapter will host a Juneteenth festival with Norman Parks and Recreation department and Men United of Norman from 6-10 p.m., June 19 at Reaves Park.

Juneteenth originated on June 19, 1865, when U.S. Army Gen. Gordon Granger and other troops traveled to Galveston, Texas, and informed enslaved people of their freedom. This day was more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, enacted by then-President Abraham Lincoln, who declared enslaved people free Jan. 1, 1863.

Oklahoma recognized Juneteenth as a holiday in 2020 after Oklahoma State Rep. Jason Lowe introduced legislation to declare the day a state holiday. Last year, OU’s BSA, BGSA, NAACP chapter and Norman Citizens for Racial Justice put together a celebration for the historic day in the Mercury Center on Main Street.

While proud of the initiative, OU BGSA President and second-year human relations master’s student Tyra Jones said she wants this year’s Juneteenth festival to be “bigger and better.”

The festival will offer food, music, performances and games, as well as an opportunity for allies to come together. OU BSA president and biology senior Ushyra Raymond said she “encourages the community to attend the festival to celebrate Black culture and bring allies together.” Norman Regional Health System will also be in attendance to administer COVID-19 vaccinations, according to a city of Norman press release.

Jones said BSA, BGSA and the NAACP chapter are using the momentum from last year’s festival to make this year's event better. She said having the city on board brought in a lot more funding and support for the organizations to get a better location and include a fireworks show.

“I grew up going to Juneteenth festivals in Oklahoma and Texas, and they’re very fun,” Jones said. “It’s just a fun moment of connection in the community, so I wanted to bring that to Norman where Black people and people of color don’t always feel welcome.”

Though the event is in celebration of the freedom of Black people in America, all community members are welcome to the event to learn about Juneteenth and enjoy the festival activities in the park.

Raymond said Juneteenth makes her feel “empowered” knowing the hardships her ancestors overcame while not letting that tarnish future generations.

“The festival is going to showcase a lot of talent and good businesses,” Raymond said. “This just shows how far Norman (has) coming along, and thank you to Mayor Clark for that because, without her, I’m sure a lot of this wouldn’t be done.”

Mayor Breea Clark supported last year’s Juneteenth festival and connected Norman's Parks and Recreation department with OU organizations like BSA, BGSA and the NAACP chapter to create an “inclusive event supported by Norman officials.”

“Now that critical race theory is not allowed, it’s more important than ever for communities to step up and offer fun opportunities people can learn without realizing they’re learning,” Clark said. 

This year’s Juneteenth committee is looking for additional vendors from the community, including food trucks, clothing businesses, hairstylists, make-up artists, small businesses and more. Interested businesses can contact Jones at tyra.jones-1@ou.edu for questions about how to get involved in the festival.

OU BSA, BGSA and the NAACP chapter are planning to have an annual Juneteenth festival with activities and opportunities for the community to come together and hope for participation to increase over the years.

“By adding (Juneteenth) to our lineup of city festivals, we are showing that it is a holiday worth celebrating, worth knowing about and worth educating yourself on,” Clark said. “I hope we get to educate some residents on history and get them to celebrate the diversity within our community.”

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