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Central Oregonians create a space for learning and rest at Bend Juneteenth celebration

People playing traditional drums
Courtesy of Ken Maurice 
The Father's Group
FILE: A group of people playing drums at a Juneteenth Central Oregon celebration in Bend, Ore., in 2022.

This weekend, central Oregonians will celebrate Juneteenth with a festival in Drake Park for the fourth year in a row. The two-day celebration will have entertainment, food and games like double-dutch, but true to the event’s foundation, there will also be a big focus on education about Black history.

Central Oregon organizers created the event in 2020 with the goal of educating people about the more than 150-year-old holiday, which did not gain official recognition in Oregon until 2022, and about Black history in general, as well as giving Black people in central Oregon a place to gather, celebrate and rest.

“I’ve had people come up to me personally with tears in their eyes just talking about how they can breathe. And that right there is worth the time it takes to build a festival of this size,” said event communication chair Kenny Adams.

In Bend’s Drake Park, 120 volunteers are expected to help Adams and other event organizers put on the two-day event from 11:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on June 15, and 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on June 16.

Adams said the event’s education department has expanded. Event-goers will be able to visit the Deshaun Adderley Education Plaza — named for the Summit High teen who died by suicide in 2017 as a result of racist bullying. At the plaza, people will be able to learn about Black history, Adams said.

“Unfortunately, more often than not, our story doesn’t get told the way that it actually happened, so we wanted to make sure that that narrative is done properly and it does justice to our ancestors.”

Juneteenth has been celebrated by Black and African-American people since 1866, a year after the last enslaved people in the U.S. were notified of their freedom in Galveston Bay, Texas in 1865, two years after the emancipation proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

Throughout the weekend in Bend, Adams said, people will learn about Black inventors and the Black pioneers of food, music and dance.

When the first central Oregon Juneteenth celebration took place in 2020, Josie Stanfield said maybe 300 to 400 people showed up. Stanfield co-organized the first celebration.

Stanfield no longer helps organize, but has attended every year and plans to be there this year as a vendor. She owns a candle company called WitchCrafting with Josie and says Juneteenth is the event where she sells the most candles.

This year she’s bringing twice the amount of candles than usual and is hoping she doesn’t sell out on the first day.

But even if she wasn’t vending at the event, she said she would still be attending. Stanfield lives in Prineville and said there aren’t a lot of places where Black people can go in central Oregon and “let their guard down.” She said there are almost no places where Black people can go to exist in parity or as the majority demographic.

But Juneteenth is a celebration where that’s not the case, Stanfield said, it’s where she finds kinship, community, comfort and empowerment.

Kathryn Styer Martínez