What’s old is new again on Juneteenth

Juneteenth 2021 Spokane

It was Juneteenth 2021, but it might as well have been 1981 again as I visited a special place in my life journey this weekend.

Four decades ago, I found my voice as the Editor of a small monthly newspaper in East Spokane while working as an intern for the neighborhood community center. That experience sparked a career in journalism, but it formed me in so many more profound ways.

I had grown up in ignorance of racial disparities in our country. Our family mostly lived in white-majority bedroom communities and my hometown always hovered around a Black population of 2 percent or less. A significant part of that community called East Spokane home.

Yet, instinctively, I felt at home every day I entered the doors of the East Central Community Center. I would chat with staff, check into my office to see if there were any stories to pursue, and headed out to sell advertising. I loved my diverse, welcoming adopted community.

I wandered away from East Central over the years, only occasionally seeing mentors such as Ivan Bush at the annual MLK march that he founded in our city. I returned to East Central in full spirit for Juneteenth 2021, its first year as a national holiday but one long-celebrated here.

Michael Bethley, left, and Alan Jones

Michael Betheley, a former Eastern Washington University student of mine, and Alan Jones are co-founders of the current iteration of Spokane’s Juneteenth. It was the 10th annual gathering for this format, which is sponsored by the nonprofit INW Juneteenth Coalition.

The parking lots of the East Central and Martin Luther King Jr. community centers were filled with vendors and families. Post-COVID hugs were exchanged, longtime families and friends posed for pictures, and talented DJs and artists kept the music coming. I was home again.

I was most uplifted by the sense of revival at work in the neighborhood. There is clear momentum underway to invigorate the Fifth Avenue business corridor. As I headed home, a bald eagle flew overhead with its eaglet in tow, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young sung about freedom and justice. It is my prayer that Shalom will rise in our city from East Central.

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