Idaho’s Black communities celebrate Juneteenth with joy, food, dance and community

With live performances, local vendors, food and dance, community members gathered in celebration for the fourth annual “Family Function” Juneteenth event on Saturday at Julia Davis Park in downtown Boise.

For a weekend of celebration, Juneteenth Idaho and the Black Liberation Collective partnered with local organizations and Black-owned businesses such as The Honey Pot CBD, 2C Yoga, Honey’s Holistics, Cut-N-Up, Amina’s African Sambusas, among many others.

Last year, the state and federal government signed a law designating June 19 — known as Juneteenth — as an official holiday. Though it was declared a public holiday only as of last year, Juneteenth has historically been celebrated by Black communities across the country to honor the emancipation of enslaved African Americans during the end of the Civil War.

“On June 19, 1865 — over two years after President (Abraham) Lincoln declared all enslaved people free — Maj. General Gordon Granger and Union Army troops marched to Galveston, Texas, to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation and free the last enslaved Black Americans in Texas,” the federal proclamation declaring the date a federal holiday said.

The Boise community was not the only city in Idaho celebrating Juneteenth this weekend. Holiday celebrations took place across the state with events happening in Twin Falls and Lapwai. Students at Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg will also celebrate the date on Monday.

“Juneteenth is a space of so much Black joy for people across the diaspora. It’s just empowering to know that people who look like you and who share a common heritage are all here in Idaho, even if we don’t see each other often,” said Prisca Hermene, a Boise resident originally from the Congo who volunteered and performed at the Boise event.

Throughout the celebration, organizers were actively reminding attendees to stay hydrated, well-nourished and aware of COVID-19 considerations.

Concerns after Patriot Front arrests in North Idaho

Community organizers expressed safety concerns for the Juneteenth event after a group of men from the white nationalist group Patriot Front appeared in Coeur d’Alene the day of a Pride event. The Patriot Front members were arrested on June 11 for conspiracy to riot after a 911 caller alerted the police to a group of men crowding inside in a U-Haul truck.

Nonprofit leaders participating in the Boise Juneteenth event expressed their personal thoughts on the incident.

The Idaho Black Community Alliance’s booth at the Juneteenth celebration on June 18, 2022, in Boise, Idaho. (Mia Maldonado/Idaho Capital Sun)

“It’s terrifying and triggering. You never think, ‘Oh that U-Haul truck holds people who dislike me because I’m Black,’” said Whitley Hawk, the co-founder of Inclusive Idaho. “There are groups of people that say racism doesn’t exist, but then you have people who feel comfortable enough to come to a state that they don’t live in to endorse it.”

There was a shared sense of sadness, fear and tragedy among the leaders who ran booths on Juneteenth. However, some expressed a sense of gratitude toward those who stopped the potential riot.

Shari Baber, the president of the Boise Soul Food Festivalvice president of the Idaho Black Community Alliance and board member of the mentorship organization Brown Like Mesaid she is proud of the person who decided to call the police to prevent something that could have been devastating.

“Am I sad that groups like this still exist? Yes. But to me, I would have been more devastated if they were all from Idaho. Most of them came here from somewhere else, and what that says to me is they had to go outside of our community to get their numbers,” Baber said.

Baber recommended people step out of their comfort zone as one way Idahoans can make people of color feel safer in their communities.

“If you pull out your camera, and in every one of your group photos everybody looks only like you, then you’ve probably got some work to do. Step out of your comfort zone and come to these events, support a Black business or go to the Idaho Black Community Alliance website to find over 85 Black businesses located right here in Idaho.”

Despite the recent events in North Idaho, this year’s community-wide Juneteenth celebration represents Black residents’ ability to grow and uplift their close-knit community in the state.

Juneteenth organizer, Claire-Marie Owens, lived outside of her home state of Idaho for about 12 years. After living in Paris, New York and Dallas, she decided to come back. Has she considered leaving Idaho permanently because of feeling unwelcome? No. Her identity as a Black woman and an Idaho native is who she is.

“My mom’s family has been here for five generations. Idaho is where I am from. It is where I love and where I want to be,” Owens said.

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