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Utah Organizers Work To Continue Focus On Racial Equality Issues In This Year’s Juneteenth Celebrations

A photo of Salt Lake City citizens celebrating Juneteenth in 2020.
Ivana Martinez
Salt Lake City Juneteenth organizers dance in Washington Square Park during 2020 celebrations.

As weekend celebrations for Juneteenth begin, Utah organizers are working to keep conversations around racial equality going in this year's events.

Last summer, the national and statewide protests surrounding the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky put the June 19 holiday on the map for many Utahns.

The day is set to commemorate the final emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the U.S. It became a federal holiday this week.

Betty Sawyer, an organizer with Utah Juneteenth Festival, has been organizing an annual event in Ogden for the last 32 years. She said the day is meant to highlight the on-going fight for racial equality and celebrate resilience.

“That's what we do with Juneteenth,” Sawyer said. “We commemorate, we educate [and] we have that call to action.”

She said that includes not just talking about issues but working to dismantle unfair systems Black people face like housing disparities or dealing with racial trauma.

“This is modern history,” she said. “We're dealing with the byproducts of our racialized history each and every day, right here — in our current educational settings, in our current health settings [and] in our current criminal and juvenile justice systems.”

Daud Mumin, an organizer with Utah Juneteenth in Salt Lake City, said the movement is not just about acknowledging these issues when they become nationalized. He said it’s about keeping the conversation going even when it becomes an everyday topic.

“We're going back and reminding people, ‘Hey, we went through so much last summer. We went through so much pain, so much suffering, so much anger,’” Mumin said. “And we have to keep the pressure going to keep doing this work.”

He said events like these are a reminder of the work they’re doing but also a moment to come together and celebrate how far they’ve come.

Mumin said he was inspired to bring the event to Salt Lake City for a second year after one mother came up to him last year and said her family had never got to experience something like that.

“People in our communities deserve moments like this, regardless of the structural and institutional injustices we're fighting against,” he said. “People deserve moments of joy, whether it's one night a year for a few hours.

Ivana is a general assignment reporter
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