Ancestors honored at Portland's Juneteenth festival
Ray Colbert is dancing like it's his first Juneteenth ever — and it is.
The 42-year-old grew up here in Northeast Portland, and hasn't left town yet. He says love of God drew him to the festivities for the first time on Saturday, June 15.
"I'm celebrating not only myself, but my neighborhood, our community," Colbert explained, getting the party started well before a parade of local residents arrived at a grassy corner of the Legacy Emanuel Medical Center campus.
"This ain't just for black folk. It ain't just for white folks," he said. "It's all of us."
The marchers had a police escort to shut down traffic as they traveled from Northeast Ainsworth Street at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the conglomeration of tents, food and fun at the corner of Monroe Street and Williams Avenue, across the street from the Urban League of Portland.
At the head of the parade were this year's Miss Juneteenth, Aceia "Ace" Spade, and Little Miss Juneteenth, a 12-year-old named Victorina Tchivandja.
But the holiday is about a lot more than having a good time. Juneteenth, traditionally observed on June 19, commemorates the triumph of freedom and abolition over the horrors of American slavery.
Spade, 15, can draw a straight line between the two. Her grandmother was born in 1935. Her great grandmother was a slave.
"Juneteenth is a reflection of me and what my ancestors went through," the Eugene resident said.
Ash Martin helps lead Brown Girls Rise to combat the racism of today. Her beret-wearing troup marched in the parade, but on any other day they're learning about "playground patriarchy" and participating in workshops on social justice.
"We're trying to create a radical sisterhood of young femmes," said Martin. "We didn't see a lot of people who look like us."
"It's fun to be in a safe learning space where I'm not be punished for what I do or don't do," noted Kamilah, 10, of Beaverton.
After the parade, a crowd gathered to sing the Black National Anthem and to hear an official proclamation from Mayor Ted Wheeler.
"For the black community, this is the most gentrified neighborhood in our city," the mayor said in an interview, praising the Albina Vision and the city's N/NE neighborhood housing preference policy for pushing back against the urban renewal efforts and development that priced out residents.
"We have an opportunity to recreate the center of the city," he said, "not to make up for what happened but to create a new path forward."