After a hard year, Betty Sawyer is ready to celebrate.
The Black community, she notes, has “had so much heaviness,” she says, between the coronavirus pandemic and the deaths of George Floyd and others at the hands of police officers. This year, it’s especially important for Black people to engage in what she describes as the “radical resistance” of self-care. A longtime advocate for the Black community, Sawyer was certain that “Black joy” needed to be a central focus of the various Juneteenth celebrations planned in Utah this year.
In 2016, the Utah Legislature designated the third Saturday in June as Juneteenth Freedom Day, an official state observance. The name Juneteenth (the contraction of “June” and “nineteenth”) refers to the day in 1865 that federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and emancipated 250,000 enslaved people, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed.
While Juneteenth has been an official state holiday in Utah for only a few years, it has been celebrated in the state a lot longer than that.
Sawyer has been organizing Ogden’s Juneteenth celebration since 1989. (More precisely, she has been organizing Ogden’s Juneteenth event as long as it has existed.)
Utah’s Black population has indeed grown since the 1980s — today, almost 48,000 Black individuals call Utah home — but that community is largely “dispersed,” says Cleopatra Balfour, another Juneteenth organizer.
So, to give Black Utahns the opportunity to gather and rejoice after a year like 2020 — when Juneteenth events had to be held virtually — organizers collaborated to plan three large events this year, on nonconflicting weekends. They will be on June 12 in Provo, June 19 in Ogden, and June 26 in Salt Lake City, all themed around the concept of “Black joy.”
Leaving a difficult 2020 behind, organizers “wanted to look forward to this brighter time, to this brighter future,” Sawyer says. She sees the focus on Black joy as a way to “talk about the strength, the courage, the resiliency of a people, who against all odds continues to have hope, continues to fight for justice, equity and inclusion.”
Balfour, who is organizing this year’s large Salt Lake City and Provo Juneteenth events, echoes that sentiment. Black joy, she says, is the ability “to see the joy that exists despite all of the other stuff. … Being able to call out and celebrate those instances and focus on those are acts of self-care.”
Below is a rundown of some of the many activities that will be happening at each of those free community gatherings, as well as other Juneteenth-related events that will be happening around the state.
The State of Black Utah Town Hall
When • June 11, 6 p.m.
Where • Weber State University Davis Campus, located at 2750 University Park Blvd. in Layton; the event will take place in Auditorium D-3 at WSU Davis.
What • The State of Black Utah Town Hall is focused on “Education Equity & Justice.”
FYI • The evening will include a screening of the civil rights documentary “Beloved Community Project” by Marian Howe-Taylor, with a discussion about the film afterward. For more information about the town hall, visit weber.edu/juneteenth.
Provo: Juneteenth Celebration and Black-Owned Business Expo
When • June 12, 1 p.m.-8 p.m.
Where • Automotive Addiction, an automobile museum at the Provo Towne Centre mall, 1200 Towne Centre Blvd.
What • Vendors will have a variety of goods for sale, and all will be Black-owned businesses. There will also be a Black art exhibit, live music and food trucks.
FYI • Admission is free, but if you register online ahead of time you can get a free raffle ticket.
Ogden: Utah Juneteenth Festival and Holiday Commemoration
When • June 19, noon-9 p.m.; June 20, noon-8 p.m.
Where • Ogden Amphitheater, in Ogden Park, 343 E. 25th St.
What (June 19) • Entertainment will include performances by Missouri singer and musician Zenobia Smith, Georgia rapper Young Dro, and local artists yet to be announced. The winner of the Juneteenth Essay Contest will also be announced, and high school and college graduates will be honored. Contestants will also compete in the Mr. & Miss Juneteenth Scholarship Pageant. A mobile clinic will be set up at the festival to administer COVID-19 vaccinations.
What (June 20) • A special Father’s Day tribune will be held June 20. Hairstylists can compete in the “Golden Clipper” Barber Battle and the new “Crowns” Braiding Battle, where they’ll be judged on style, creativity and precision. “We know that Black hair is important,” Sawyer says. “It speaks to a lot of areas of our identity.”
For more info • Visit weber.edu/JUNETEENTH.
Salt Lake City: Juneteenth Celebration and Black-Owned Business Expo
When • June 26, noon to 10 p.m.
Where • The Gateway, 18 N. Rio Grande St. in Salt Lake City. Rio Grande Street and the portion of 100 South that runs through the mall will be closed to vehicle traffic.
What • Vendors will have a variety of goods for sale, and all will be Black-owned businesses. There will also be Black art, storytelling, food trucks, kids activities, roller skating, spoken word performances, a movie screening, DJs and more.
FYI • Admission is free, but if you register online ahead of time, you can get a free raffle ticket and a free roller skate rental.
Juneteenth Screenings and Performances
June 15-16, 7 p.m.:, created in partnership with the Utah Film Center, will kick off Tuesday with a virtual screening of the 1972 documentary “Nationtime.” The following night will feature a virtual screening of “Amazing Grace,” the 2018 documentary about legendary singer Aretha Franklin. Both screenings are free, but tickets must be reserved in advance. Visit UtahFilmCenter.org for more information.
June 19, 8 p.m.: The Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin Quintet, led by the Salt Lake City jazz singer, will perform at the Gallivan Center in Salt Lake City as part of the Excellence in Community Concert Series. The performance will be streamed live on the organization’s Facebook page.