Juneteenth Celebration at FRCC

Juneteenth has been around since 1866: it commemorates the anniversary of the day when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, and free the slaves. As this occurred on June 19, 1865, it has been tradition to celebrate slavery’s abolishment every June 19th since, hence the name of the holiday.

However, Juneteenth, long celebrated by African American communities, was only recognized as a federal holiday starting in 2021, with Governor Jared Polis officially signing it into Coloradan calendars in 2022. This year marks the second official time the holiday has been celebrated at a state-wide level. Despite this holiday only officially making it into Coloradan calendars starting last year, several places have already jumped in to celebrate the holiday. FRCC is no exception: to celebrate Juneteenth this summer semester, there are no classes on June 19th.

In addition to this, Student Life hosted a Juneteenth BBQ last Wednesday the 14th at the Multicultural Center. Aside from the person at the desk welcoming people in as they entered the Multicultural Center, a computer was set up, providing brief information on the tradition of eating red foods on Juneteenth.

Signs were also placed around the Center: one was an illustration celebrating Juneteenth, and the other sign was a QR code which linked to a Juneteenth informational hub, provided by the National Museum of African American History & Culture.

A computer screen educated the attendees of the barbecue of the tradition of having red foods on Juneteenth and its history.

The primary draw of the event was the free BBQ, a perk advertised on the hallway signs leading people to the event. Regular and veggie burgers, hot dogs, brownies, red velvet cake, chips, red punch, water, and plenty of condiments and toppings were available. The burgers and hot dogs were consistently being brought into the Center from the entrance close to it, with a grill consistently cooking for the event’s duration.

Meanwhile, in the background, music from African-American artists in genres with African American origins was being played on the TV in the Center. It was primarily rap and soul, sometimes politically charged, all to further represent the African-American population that Juneteenth celebrates.

Emilia Morales, the Coordinator for Cultural & Leadership Programs at Student Life, helped host the event. She shedded light onto why a Juneteenth barbecue was held at Front Range: “Juneteenth is about the Proclamation of Emancipation [for enslaved peoples]. … We had students that wanted to plan kinda like a Juneteenth event at the Boulder County Campus and with … the One College model, we all wanted to replicate that event.”

Harris Armstrong, the Coordinator for Equity & Inclusion at Boulder County Campus, added that “[the event] is an effort to, first of all, make people more aware of history, as well as putting [an emphasis on the fact] … that we revisit these kinds of holidays and these kinds of celebrations. Partly an effort to recognize what has been done, but also recognize what still needs to be done.”

But why in the Multicultural Center, and why that day?

Armstrong mentioned that “visibility is often the first step to make students aware that we are looking to support them directly. So when it comes to celebrating these holidays, it’s about letting students know that we’re looking to support our Black students specifically.”

Morales, meanwhile, mentioned that a lot of forthcoming Student Life events will focus “on diversity, equity, and inclusion work as we’re moving, you know, to becoming a Hispanic serving institute … we want our students to feel represented and heard.”

People line up to get food at the Juneteenth event in the Multicultural Center.

Both of them also added that there had been a Juneteenth event on the Larimer Campus the previous day, and that there was going to be one on the Boulder County Campus the following day. They also brought up the obvious: the college was going to be closed on the 19th, the day of the actual event, so they would not be able to host a Juneteenth event that day.

As for why there were separate events at each campus on different days, Armstrong said that “[if] you can spread out the events, you can show up and that way students know who I am, who my executive director is. … I think it’s important to know who their advocates are.” He also mentioned there being a college-wide team for Equity and Inclusion, and that it was easier to support each other by spreading out these events as well.

To close out each of their interviews, both Morales and Armstrong were asked how Front Range students can further support African American students in light of Juneteenth.

Morales replied, “I would look into your local Juneteenth events. I know Longmont, they’re doing a local Juneteenth event. Get educated. … I think it’s about education and just allowing students to feel like they can find those resources to get educated and then seeing what [the local community is doing].” She also mentioned the QR code sign that had been in the Multicultural Center as an example of this education.

Armstrong suggested that students keep up with the various events that “we are always looking to have, like, a diverse set of, like, experiences for students to come and expand their own knowledge … Learn what we have to offer, what we’re trying to and then give us feedback.” He stressed the importance of giving feedback.

Was this representation effective? To begin, many of the attendees of the Westminster Juneteenth event were not actually Front Range students, but actually from somewhere else. Those who were students or staff only came for the food, evident from leaving the Multicultural Center just as quickly as they had arrived.

The sign that linked to the NMAAHC hub on Juneteenth.
The sign that had an illustration celebrating Juneteenth for 2023.

Although there are not many African American students on the Westminster Campus (though it has the most out of the three FRCC campuses), some of those students did have things to say about Front Range celebrating Juneteenth, primarily on how Front Range does not have classes that day.

Rebecca LaStrap felt Front Range was not genuine in giving African Americans representation for Juneteenth:

“I feel like they’re only doing it because an African American woman runs the school, not because they want to celebrate Juneteenth Day. It does not feel like they’re like “we’re trying to appeal to our students.” Because if you wanted to appeal to us, you’d give us two days off like you’re giving white students for July – for 4th of July, where they get two days, and we get one. When this celebration is barely starting in this country.”

Matthew Brandon-Sellers had an opinion on Juneteenth as a whole: “it’s kind of like [the] Black History Month celebration for me. It’s American history in general. So it’s kind of odd to pick a day … [it] feels kind of just like a bandage, more or less, rather than acceptance of, you know, America’s wrongdoing, wrongdoings to its own people and slavery.”

Being some of the few African American students on campus, they were also asked on how they felt FRCC currently represented African American students.

LaStrap felt similarly negatively about this aspect of FRCC, replying that “the African American teachers [here] have a way different vibe than some of the ones usually that I’ve had … you can always sense it. And it may not be on purpose, but it feels very off-putting [and biased against African American students].”

She continued on to discuss Dr. Simpson’s involvement in the local community, adding that “when I went to college in Flagstaff, the mayor of the city was at the Juneteenth everything, and he was an old white guy in his 60s and he’s like “Yeah, I loved Juneteenth. It’s the best kind of holiday.” … And I don’t see [Dr. Simpson] in the community. If you want the community to be about you and your college, you have to actually be in the community and doing things for them. And I don’t see that.”

Both she and Brandon-Sellers notably had not known the current President of FRCC was African American for some time.

On the other hand, Brandon-Sellers felt more positively, saying that “[they’re] doing what they can: taking the day off, doing the barbecue. It’s something!”

The sign pointing to the Juneteenth barbecue, with “Free Food” written in all capital letters on its right side.

So how can FRCC better represent their African American students?

Both of them felt it was difficult to come up with a solution.

LaStrap mentioned that there is not a large population of African Americans in Colorado and said, “you have to just go with what’s unfortunately in the area and you have to just make your own community, which is so sad.” She also mentioned the lack of support in the community, citing the lack of advertisement for the campus’s services, such as tutoring and the school pantry.

Brandon-Sellers did not have much of a solution, though he had positive feelings toward the incentive of free food at the Juneteenth event and taking the day off to celebrate Juneteenth.

Although some feel that African American representation may be lacking at FRCC’s Westminster Campus at the moment, there is the possibility of more representation in the future. Whether or not this representation will actually come to light is something that only time can tell.

A wide shot of the Multicultural Center’s Juneteenth celebration.

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