'This is not the time to sit back': Juneteenth comes to life in Fort Collins

·4 min read

After an overcast afternoon, sunlight streamed through the parting clouds — seemingly on cue — as Denver band Soul School took to an outdoor stage at Foothills mall Friday evening.

With the sun's rays casting over the mall's packed east lawn, people settled onto their picnic blankets and Adirondack chairs as event organizers introduced Soul School, shot off a pair of confetti cannons and left the stage with a final message booming through the crowd: "Happy Juneteenth!"

The Friday evening concert kicked off Fort Collins' first full weekend of events honoring Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the day in 1865 when news of the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed enslaved people in the Confederate States, finally reached Galveston, Texas, 2½ years after it was signed.

The weekend of events, coined the FoCo Juneteenth Celebration by the FoCo Juneteenth committee, concludes Sunday and has been centered largely around Midtown Fort Collins with events taking place at Foothills Mall and Rolland Moore Park.

Looking out onto the packed mall plaza Friday, with families dancing and kids cartwheeling on the lawn, planning committee lead Bridgette Johnson said she felt rejuvenated — surrounded by a sense of excitement and "a lot of good energy."

"It's important people understand the significance of Juneteenth," Rickey Frierson said while resting on the lawn Friday. Frierson, a FoCo Juneteenth committee member and director of diversity in Colorado State University's Warner College of Natural Resources, said he moved to Fort Collins from Houston three years ago.

In Houston, Juneteenth is marked with concerts, festivals and parades, Frierson said. And now — one year after President Joe Biden proclaimed Juneteenth National Independence Day (June 19) a U.S. federal holiday — Fort Collins is upping its offerings in step with larger cities.

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Fort Collins' Juneteenth committee was formed last fall with the goal of this year’s celebration being a big event, Johnson said.

“My theory has always been if we're gonna do something, let's do it big,” Johnson said.

While businesses and groups have hosted smaller Juneteenth celebrations in the past, Johnson said she felt there’s always been the desire for a larger Juneteenth celebration in Fort Collins to celebrate and honor the Black community and its contributions to the city.

“We're doing this first and foremost for ourselves, as a community, to be present with who we are and how much we've grown and to take up space, saying that we're not going anywhere,” she said.

“We're truly a united group of people who have given a lot to this society, very specifically to the city of Fort Collins (and) Larimer County, and some of our efforts have and continue to go underlooked.”

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This year’s celebration, she hopes, will be a time for the Black community to be proud of its contributions and for allies and others to educate themselves on history.

“We have several great allies in our community, and we know that they're standing with us and working in scores, making this community more inclusive,” Johnson said. “(So) while this is for us, by us, everyone is welcomed.”

The event has a number of community sponsors, including United Way of Larimer County, Nutrien, the city of Fort Collins, the Bohemian Foundation, Colorado State University and more.

Deirdre Sullivan, president of United Way, said being a fiscal sponsor and helping with planning allowed their organization to demonstrate how its support and “commitment to racial equity” can elevate others in the community.

And while this is the first big, three-day celebration of Juneteenth, Sullivan hopes it’s not the last.

“We hope it’s the beginning of many years to come celebrating and just increasing the visibility of our Black and African American community here,” she said.

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What are the events?

The weekend's events have celebrated dance, music, art, theater, health, wellness and BIPOC-owned businesses in the community.

On Friday night's kickoff, there was also a night of activities for teens at the Boys and Girls Club of Larimer County in Fort Collins.

Saturday’s events include a family bike ride at Foothills mall, yoga with Black yogis, art and theater presentations, live music and dancing, booths for BIPOC-owned businesses and an official welcome by the FoCo Juneteenth committee.

Sunday will see a Father's Day 5K starting at Foothills mall, followed by a day of activities — including a 3-on-3 morning basketball tournament, Father's Day tribute and live music — at Rolland Moore Park.

If you’re on the fence about attending the events, Johnson encouraged all to attend.

“I respect that a lot of white allies are thinking, ‘I want to give you all your space and this is a celebration for you all.’ And we appreciate that, (but) this is a time to actually join forces," she said. "This is not the time to sit back. You should come. This is the time to get up, bring your family and enjoy all the festivities.”

For more information on the events of the weekend, visit focojuneteenth.com.

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Molly Bohannon covers education for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @molboha or contact her at mbohannon@coloradoan.com. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Juneteenth in Fort Collins expands with full weekend of events in 2022