More than 200 people gathered when Bainbridge Island celebrated its first Juneteenth holiday at the BI Senior Community Center and Waterfront Park Sunday, commemorating the end of slavery June 19, 1865.
Activist and BI School District Multicultural Advisory Council co-chairperson Karen Akuyae Vargas spoke about the opportunity to effect change on the island.
Vargas, who also curated a history exhibit at the senior center, said one of the things we need to talk about as society does race-equity work is the history. “Even though it’s hard, and many different atrocities have happened throughout our history, we want to make sure that we are healing and reconciling as we move forward.”
The center’s exhibit featured African artwork, textiles, historical documents and photos, books and questions for visitors to contemplate as they move through the displays.
BI resident Toby Champion, originally from London, spent said he never knew about sharecropping, adding, “I should be learning more and doing more.” Sharecropping is when the landowner rents property in exchange for part of the crop.
Vargas noted that everything changes. “We cannot stay stuck in our past. But, we’ve got to acknowledge our past and then we have to move our future forward. As we’re futuring forward with Juneteenth, we want to commemorate and to remember and to celebrate, to begin to reshape our history.
“We want to do that. That’s important for us to be able to shift the paradigm to be able to heal. Healing has to come forward, for our families and for our children, and for our entire nation because we are connected.”
The community has been working for more than 30 years, trying to break down barriers to build a coalition of allies, participants said.
Race Equity Advisory Council member Savanna Rovelstad said the most important message for her was learning to look within yourself while figuring out how you can help affect change. “It starts with you, and we’ve all got to do the work.”
Vargas said: “Behavior is what’s going to make the difference. It’s important for our children “to make a change, to make a difference and to interrupt the narrative; we have to continue to uplift and unify strength in the work. We need to do it for the next generation. We want our community to be better for them. They are our future.”
Peggi Erickson, another member of the city’s REAC committee, said she felt a sense of community, at the event. “There’s something about gathering together and acknowledging that we have work to do, and yet let’s take a minute and celebrate.”