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South Salt Lake Journal

South Salt Lake holds Juneteenth celebration

Jun 28, 2021 03:54PM ● By Bill Hardesty

Children enjoyed learning African rhythms at South Salt Lake’s Juneteenth celebration. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

The first-ever South Salt Lake Juneteenth celebration was held on June 18 at the Columbus Center. It was a small event with about 100 individuals attending.

"It was small, but at least it is a start," Sharen Hauri, Urban Design Director, said.

"I'm excited for all of us to feel a sense of belonging. Belonging is so important to cultivate a community in unity," Natalie Pinkney, Councilmember at large, said, "Juneteenth is about cooperation and unity."

Drums and food

Deja Mitchell provided interactive entertainment. She taught African drum rhythms and dance to children, teenagers, and older individuals, including Shane Siwik (District 5), Sharla Bynum (District 3), and Pinkney.

Mitchell started studying African music and dance in 1996. She studied in Mali three times. With participants sitting in a circle with drums from Ghana, she taught a fishing rhythm and a Coming-of-Age rhythm. Children loved to dance in the middle of the circle.

"The music and dance just captured me," Mitchell said.

Mitchell pointed out that African music and dance is what is called polyrhythm. Polyrhythm makes use of two or more different rhythms simultaneously. In other words, drummers are not beating out the same rhythm. They are expressing their feelings with the drum or through dance. It is much like a jam session in jazz.

"Because there are so many layers, a dancer's feet might express one rhythm while their hips express another," Mitchell said.

Makaya Caters, who specialize in Haitian cuisine, provided the food. They served a bowl of rice, beans, and either pork, chicken, or Tofu topped with a veganese sauce. Veganese is a sauce made of coconut milk, bell peppers with Haitian spices.

Juneteenth importance

James Brown, executive director of and podcaster of Living and Aging with Pride, and Betty Sawyer, director of project success coalition and executive director of Utah Juneteenth Freedom and Heritage Festival, explained that Juneteenth, which is celebrated on June 19, is not a Black holiday.

"It is a day to commemorate the freedom of all people," Sawyer said. "It is an American holiday. An American time for celebration and education. We like to say a time for healing and reconciliation."

"Most importantly is uniting the country," Brown said. "Creating a national holiday clears the path for all of the American people to reside and do well."

Celebrating Juneteenth is not new. Salt Lake City has marked it for over 75 years. For the past 32 years, Sawyer's work has been to move it from Salt Lake City to the entire state. The biggest celebration is held in Ogden.

Sawyer and Brown want to send the Juneteenth message of united in hope.

"People need to know the Juneteenth freedom story. We encourage people to do some research. Read or watch a documentary and come to know why this holiday is important to all people," Sawyer said.

"We need to shed our skins and stop talking with a diverse methodology," Brown added, "Juneteenth is about coming together."

Brown suggested tying three Independence Day holidays together. Starting with Juneteenth, which recognizes freedom for all. July 4 commemorating freedom for non-slave Americans, and July 24 acknowledging the freedom of Mormon Pioneers from persecution and mob violence.

"So, June and July can be this day of recognition and a day that we all understand that we all go through the same kind of things," Brown said.

Sawyer wants all people to remember the word "Ubuntu," which is a Swahili term that means "I am because we are and because we are therefore I am."