A space to celebrate culture and community was created on Friday, June 17, as dozens gathered at Clackamas Community College's Oregon City campus in honor of Juneteenth and Pride Month.
CCC's inaugural multicultural event Summer Connections invited people of all walks of life to come as they are and enjoy cultural performances, family activities and more while learning and reflecting about history, systemic injustice, resiliency, identity, allyship and pathways toward equity, college officials said.
Juneteenth commemorates the date June 19, 1865, when the last legally enslaved Black Americans were freed in Texas two years following Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
After the first Juneteenth commemorations began in Texas in 1866, annual celebrations of the holiday began being held nationwide. Over 150 years later, in 2021, the day was named an official state and federal holiday.
"Juneteenth is a holiday that marks freedom for Black people, yet also serves as a reminder of how much more we still have to dismantle white-supremacy culture and racism in all of its many forms," said Casey Layton, the college's chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer and lead organizer of the event.
Tory Blackwell, biology professor at CCC, explained that among the lasting impacts of enslavement is the incomplete archive of records kept about Black Americans during and after the 400-year time period, fragmenting the documentation of their presence in recorded histories of families and of this country.
After his son, Gavin, 14, took the stage to read the Emancipation Proclamation, as is traditional on Juneteenth, Blackwell, who is Black, recounted attempting to assemble a family tree to connect his children with their relatives during the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet found records omitting critical details about multiple family members before the early 1900s.
"I sat down and began piecing through our family members, talking to our family elders and developing a family tree," Blackwell said. "But I got back to my great-great grandfather, his siblings and other relatives from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many of them had disappeared."
"We knew they were born, we knew where they lived," he said, adding that the documents didn't include information about "what they did, or who they really were. The documents really said: 'We do not know what happened to these people.' They were lost."
He explained that additional contributing barriers included "limited access to formal education, limited ability to own land and systems that may have seen them as free, but did not yet treat them as equal."
Blackwell said that when the connection to family and community is eroded, people can be left unseen in the eyes of history and voices can be silenced.
"When we all work together to develop community, it makes the space for people like me to say, 'I am here; we are here; we are not hidden. And along with that, we need to know that community exists to build all these groups up."
Pride is the LGBTQ+ celebration movement that has been commemorated for over 50 years following the Stonewall riots for queer rights in June 1969, when police and bar patrons clashed at the Stonewall Inn, a noted New York City gay bar.
Since then, pride has grown into a worldwide movement celebrated often with parades throughout June, and was first federally recognized in the United States in 1999.
Rep. Karin Power, one of 10 openly gay state legislators in Oregon's history, said the state is currently a "stronghold" for gay rights, but has come a long way in a short amount of time.
"Less than 10 years ago, it was still illegal for my wife and I to marry," Power said, citing the state's official ban on gay marriages from 2004 to 2014.
Power said that queer representation in elected government roles is steadily increasing, however, the numbers still remain lopsided amid a wave of anti-gay legislation being adopted across the country.
"Currently, there are only 1,021 LGBTQIA elected officials serving nationally in all levels of government. To achieve equitable representation, the national Victory Fund estimates that voters need to elect an additional 35,876 more LGBTQIA people to office," she said.
Discussing the importance of solidarity among social intersections of race, age, gender identity and sexual orientation, Power then highlighted queer activist Craig Rodwell, who was denied membership into the national Mattachine Society for gay rights which, founded in 1950, only allowed members over the age of 18.
She additionally spotlighted Bayard Rustin, a gay Black man who worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr. and served as a lead organizer for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.
"It's no coincidence that our history sanitizes and omits our intersectionality. There have been, and always will be forces that try to keep us in the closet, to remove our right to exist. Our fight for justice and for equality is always stronger together," she said.
The inaugural festival, hosted by CCC in partnership with the county and the Clackamas County Equity Coalition, additionally featured food, Latino music and dance performances and a Chinese Dragon Dance performance.
Martine Coblentz, Clackamas County's equity and inclusion officer, and co-organizer of the event, said she could "feel the love" in the room.
"We're stronger together," Coblentz said. "This is about building connection and community and ensuring that we are creating a community where all people thrive, where everybody is honored."
Tim Cook, CCC president, said the school has been working on diversity and inclusion efforts for many years including "doing what we can to diversify our faculty and staff so that our students see themselves reflected in their instructors and our staff members," as well as including diverse perspectives in curricula.
Denyse McGriff, who in 2019 became the first Black woman and person of color to serve on the Oregon City Commission, said that inclusive and welcoming spaces like the event can help broaden one's idea of what community means.
"When you're here, you are the community," McGriff said, adding, "in a space like this, you see all different types of people so that you become aware that you're not the center of your own universe — that they're a part of your orbit, you're a part of their orbit, and it just makes everything work better."
The Summer Connections event was sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, which for 12 consecutive years has been recognized by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Healthcare Equality Index, a tool evaluating the equitability of hospitals' health care services offered to LGBTQ+ patients.
"Representation matters," said Ofelia McMenamy, an engagement specialist with the hospital chain who said that being a part of CCC's event celebrating inclusivity meant a lot to her as a CCC graduate of El Salvadorian descent with a multicultural family.
"I want to be able to show (people) that we see you, we're here to support you, we're not going anywhere. Change doesn't happen overnight, but we're trying to keep this momentum going," she said.
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