Rexburg celebrates the new federal holiday, Juneteenth

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Photo credit: Julia Brunette

By Julia Brunette and Spencer Callister

Red, yellow and green decorations ruffled in the wind at the sides of the Beehive Pavilion. Children ran with water guns and with glitter in their hair. Volunteers and participants laughed and danced together to the music that filled the air in Porter Park.

Members of the Rexburg community gathered from 4-9 p.m. over live performances, free tacos and games to celebrate and acknowledge the new federal holiday, Juneteenth.

The crowd cheers and claps after the singing performance of a little girl.
The crowd cheers and claps after the singing performance of a little girl called up from the audience. Photo credit: Julia Brunette

On June 17, President Biden signed a bill to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Idaho State Senator Doug Ricks attended the event for the second year in a row.

“We talk a lot about freedom in our nation and freedom for everybody,” Senator Ricks said. “This gives some recognition that these folks in the black community did not have full citizenship back in the day and I think it’s good for them. Obviously, right here they are celebrating and I think it’s a good thing.”

A dance group in their final pose, after performing for the crowd.
A dance group in their final pose, after performing for the crowd. Photo credit: Julia Brunette

The Black Student Union, a social club for BYU-Idaho students, planned the event all semester. The goal of the event was to celebrate and acknowledge what Juneteenth is.

Raquel Villalovos, a sophomore studying business management, and Michaela Mack-White, a sophomore studying music, volunteered and planned for the event. They both agreed that Juneteenth isn’t talked about enough.

“Everyone is always kind of lacking knowledge when it comes to thinking that Fourth of July is the right day,” Villalovos said. “We’re not trying to say that it’s the wrong day, but we’re trying to say, hey, the better day would be Juneteenth because that literally includes everyone in the history of America if that’s how you want to see it.”

William Riggins, the Chief Inclusion Officer, attended and volunteered at the event. Riggins said that even though the school isn’t affiliated with these groups he wants students to know that there is still support for them and these events.

William Riggins, the Chief Inclusion Officer for BYU-Idaho blows a kiss to the audience after being recognized.
William Riggins, the Chief Inclusion Officer for BYU-Idaho blows a kiss to the audience after being recognized. Photo credit: Julia Brunette

About twenty performances entertained the audience, ranging from dance groups, singers, and even a fire baton twirler. A few performed poems or songs directly related to Black history and Juneteenth.

Food vendors lined up along the edge of the street and Paul Mitchell The School in Rexburg provided free hair services. The event was free to all and ended with a dance party.

A baton twirler performs for the crowd.
A baton twirler performs for the crowd. Photo credit: Julia Brunette

“It’s a great way to bring our community together,” said Charly Morency, a sophomore studying exercise physiology. “We know that the purpose of this event is to celebrate something that’s meaningful and beautiful to us. We want to share that with everyone else out here. It’s a good reason to come out here and have a good time with everyone else.”

Kassandro Alves, a sophomore studying business management operations, said that the activities have been fun but his favorite part is seeing everyone come together.

“There’s a lot of diversity here, but sadly you don’t get to see everybody come outside and show the diversity here,” Alves said. “Right now you can see all the different cultures together with us.”

A local dance group performs for the crowd at the Juneteenth event.
A local dance group performs for the crowd at the Juneteenth event. Photo credit: Julia Brunette

Mack-White said she believes it’s important to have Juneteenth events because it corrects the rewriting of history. She mentioned that a lot of people believe freedom came to the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation when in reality it did not come to slaves in Galveston, Texas until two years afterward.

“I think that is such a big social reckoning because not only does it show that we were freed from actual slavery, but it shows where we were at,” Mack-White said. “It shows how far we’ve come as a people and sets a precedent for how far we have to go.”