by Chamidae Ford
Ann Okwuwolu, the creator of the festival, is a former medical technician who was inspired to start the celebration in 2016 when she recognized the lack of Black representation in New Holly Community events.
“Everything was geared towards other people. And so we didn’t have any visibility,” Okwuwolu said.
She decided to take the issue into her own hands and start an event to celebrate Juneteenth. In her initial organizing, she soon began to see how little people knew about the holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. and is not often studied in schools.
“White Americans want to tell you the story. They want to be storytellers. And if you’re a storyteller, you hold the power, and you can tell people who they are and what they should be worth and what they should accept, you tell them where they came from,” Okwuwolu, now the creative director of It Takes A Village — AMSA Edition, said.
Okwuwolu saw an opportunity to share the real story of Juneteenth through her festival. She has incorporated opportunities to learn more about the holiday and the significance it holds for Black Americans while offering an opportunity for the community to come together and celebrate. Through speeches, attendees will be able to hear stories of their ancestors and the significance the holiday has on the community.
“There’s a lot of Juneteenth events and there’s going to be even more Juneteenth events,” Okwuwolu said. She feels that her incorporation of education and teaching the history of the holiday will help to set the Othello Park event apart.
The event will also feature music, food, and vendors. The food will be made by Okwuwolu’s mother, Alice’s, business — Yabella Cupcakes Eats and Treats — and a wide range of caterers, such as The Comfort Zone Kitchen and Vegan Spirit Food.
“Food was really important on Juneteenth,” Okwuwolu said. “Even the colors of the food, red being a very significant color, for the blood and the sacrifice of people and their ancestors and the people who fought in the war and the bloodshed that was shed during slavery on the plantations, that’s really important.”
Okwuwolu also says the event offers an opportunity to keep ancestral and historic food alive, like a recipe her grandmother never wrote down for tea cakes. “That was one of the things that she would [make], before she passed away, for Juneteenth.”
DJ Remi, Logic Amen, and DJ MIXX America will all perform at the event. And Nikkita Oliver, a Seattle City Council candidate, and Elmer Dixon, one of the founders of the Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther Party, will speak. The Washington Diamonds Drill Team & Drumline will be performing, and there will also be a Twerkshop with Tricia Diamond.
The event is also unique in that it will offer access to a wide range of resources, from health care to job opportunities. One of the main vendors and sponsors of the celebration will be King County Public Health.
Daphne Pie, the regional health services administrator for King County Public Health, stressed that Public Health’s main goal in taking part in the festival is to introduce attendees to the many resources available to them.
“It’s a really great way to especially reach out to the Black community,” Pie said. “In public health, the one thing that we want to do is eliminate health disparities, make sure the Black community has access to health care, and really let them know the services that we provide.”
Public Health will be helping people sign up for health insurance, find out their eligibility for discounted Orca cards, and enroll people in food programs. There will even be a dental truck on-site providing immediate dental attention to those who need it. They will also offer COVID-19 vaccines.
“In order to eliminate health disparities, we have to get people to access care,” Pie said. “So one of the things we want people to do is we want them to get enrolled in health insurance. We want people to know what their health insurance options are.”
While the Juneteenth celebration in 2020 had to be canceled, Okuwolu is looking forward to getting back in person this year and helping her community get back on its feet. In addition to the public health resources available, Safeway and Swedish Medical Center will be on-site to hire for open positions with the two companies.
“The main goal of my event is for us to come together after this long trying COVID period, so the community can get the resources that we really need,” she said.
Editors’ Note: This article was updated after publication to correct some information — that Okwuwolu’s Juneteenth event in 2020 was not held virtually but rather canceled, and therefore this year’s event will be her fifth annual event, and that her mother, Alice’s, business, Yabella Cupcakes Eats and Treats, will be making food for the event (not Okwuwolu herself).
Chamidae Ford is currently a senior journalism major at the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. You can reach Chamidae Ford at IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.
📸 Featured Image: Ann Okwuwolu and her daughter at Jefferson Park in Seattle, WA. (Photo: Susan Fried)
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