Juneteenth rally brings celebration, education to The Oval

Serena Bettis

Amid weeks of Black Lives Matter protests, Northern Colorado residents came together at The Oval Friday afternoon to celebrate Juneteenth. Organized by FoCo BLM and the BIPOC Alliance, which was founded by Johanna Ulloa, Andrew Naves and Queen, the event aimed to continue educating citizens on the issues facing the Black community. 

“We wanted to support the BIPOC Alliance in … taking a break from the politics and the fighting and the protesting and kind of celebrate a victory in our history that had happened for our Black community, and so that’s kind of where our vision lies with doing this event,” said Benton Roesler, a Colorado State University student and representative for FoCo BLM.

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President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, declaring all enslaved people free. 

However, Gen. Robert E. Lee of the Confederacy did not surrender until April 9, 1865, and news of the emancipation order did not reach Galveston, Texas — the state located farthest west in the Confederacy — until June 19, 1865. This day, when the last of the Black enslaved people were freed, is celebrated annually as Juneteenth. 

Makeeba Helms, a Fort Collins resident and speaker at the rally, discussed the continuing degradation of Black communities after the Civil War, speaking specifically on the massacres in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921 and Rosewood, Florida, in 1923

When America was built, racism was and continued to be an accepted reality, but I believe the beauty of this country is its people, our resilience and the power we hold.” -Makeeba Helms, Fort Collins resident

“Although slavery had ended, that was not enough because we have to continue our fight to this day,” Helms said. “Equality has been something that we have been struggling (with) since the emancipation.”

Roesler said that FoCo BLM wanted the event to not only be a celebration but a chance to educate the community and bring more people together. 

“We want to build community,” Roesler said. “Our organization specifically is focused on bringing together as many organizations that have the same vision as we do about our future, that want to bring change to our future for our children, for ourselves, so that our country and our planet will continue to thrive and survive.”

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For Tatiana Torres, a high school student in Loveland, Colorado, the Juneteenth rally provided her with an opportunity to show up for Black lives, she said. 

“In Loveland, I know that it’s still a predominantly white culture, so it’s really hard to find anybody who’s a person of color and find ourselves represented, so we just need to find ways to expand that to the communities that are most oppressed,” Torres said. 

Fort Collins resident Nina Sobieski spoke on the juxtaposition of progress and pain currently present in the Black community. 

“I know it’s not the brightest of days, but it’s always bright when we’re around each other,” Sobieski said. “Colorado recently passed legislation with one of the most comprehensive police reform plans to date, so be really proud of yourselves on that. You made a lot of noise, and you guys are the ones that made that happen.”

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If you know about something, and you know that it’s an injustice … speak on it.” -Talani Black, rally speaker

At the same time that protests across the country are leading to new legislation and discussion, several Black people have been found dead, some hanging from trees, which connects to the history of racially-motivated lynching in the country

“It didn’t surprise me to see these cities burned, but what surprised me this week was to see Black men and women hanging from trees,” Sobieski said. “This is not a world I am comfortable being in. … I don’t want to see that here.”

Speaker Talani Black said that even in difficult times, everyone has the personal agency to make change in their communities, and educational awareness is a key factor of that. 

“Once you know about something, you can’t just know it and then kind of just let it slide,” Black said. “Even in our everyday lives when we have discussions with family members or friends, if you know about something, and you know that it’s an injustice … speak on it.”

Sobieski discussed the prevalence of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado and said that it was not until 1974 that schools in Denver and the rest of Colorado were desegregated. She said without knowledge of the past, the community has no foundation for progress. 

“Although there is a lot of current and past pain being brought up, we must learn from it all in order to grow and create a better world for future generations,” Helms said. “What we do with this moment in time is the legacy we leave for our children and their descendants. When America was built, racism was and continued to be an accepted reality, but I believe the beauty of this country is its people, our resilience and the power we hold.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article listed Queen’s full name and has been updated to reflect her preferred name.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated Aug. 16 to reflect more accurate information regarding the founders of the BIPOC Alliance. 

Serena Bettis can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @serenaroseb.