Happy Juneteenth!

Yakima celebrated its 2018 Juneteenth Weekend this past Saturday at Martin Luther King Jr. Park and it was a lot of fun, despite the wind, intermittent rain and even a freak hail storm! The highlights (for me) included eating the best gumbo and baked BBQ chicken I think I've ever had, running into an old friend I hadn't seen in over 8 years, and watching my 7-year old daughter become "royalty", as she won her first-ever pageant. Willow is Miss Juneteenth 2018! Yasss!

Friday night's Juneteenth Kickoff Event party featured a dance performance by the Fusion Dance Team, who performed a drill routine and the Cha Cha Slide dance. They were adorable!

Next, Ester Huey, the previous executive director of the Henry Beauchamp Community Center (formerly the Southeast Community Center), gathered everyone around the picnic tables as she shared the oral history of Juneteenth and its meaning to the African-American community. The DJ played some great "old school jams" in the background, which gave the event a very relaxed and fun family backyard barbecue feel. For a while there, I felt nostalgia rush over me because it reminded me of my childhood memories of chilling with family and friends back in my hometown of Nashville, TN! (I admit, I got a little teary eyed and homesick!)

While the DJ was "spinning the tunes", Ms. Huey and her family prepared absolutely mouthwatering "Freedom Foods" for sale (ooh, stop what you're doing and check out the menu in the photo gallery)! It was so hard for me to choose what to eat, but I ended up buying the gumbo. Let me tell you how amazing it tasted! The texture of the shrimp in the gumbo was perfectly tender, the seasoned beef was flawlessly tender, the soup was thick and savory, with a slight kick of heat! The gumbo tasted as if it had been simmered to perfection by the ancestors. It was SUCC-U-LENT! I even took some home in a to-go bowl!

Saturday's Juneteenth event brought out a bigger crowd than the night before. We didn't let the weather elements affect us; attendees mingled, danced, made new acquaintances and played catch-up with old friends, some of whom they hadn't seen in years. (For instance, I ran into an old friend of mine that I hadn't seen in over 8 years since she moved away to Arkansas! When we saw each other from across the park, we both screamed and ran to each other and hugged and cried. People near us started laughing because I guess we reminded them of that Celie and Nettie reunion scene in the movie, The Color Purple! HA! Good times.)

It warmed my heart to see several local non-profits and businesses bring their booths to Juneteenth because to me it showed they genuinely wanted to show their support for Yakima's African-American community.

Cheri Kilty, Executive Director of the YWCA of Yakima teamed up with its organization's Social Justice Committee (of which I am a member) to provide a "Reading Festival". There were nearly 100 free new children's books for each child to choose from and take home. Most of the books featured stories from African-American children's perspectives. (Willow, however, chose to take "The Secret Life of Pets".) The YWCA's Legal Advocate, Nancy Marnin, was very excited to get up on the stage and read "Giraffes Can't Dance" to the kids, most of whom listened to the story while jumping in the bouncy house.

United HealthCare was also present at Juneteenth, offering free games and prizes and medical insurance information. Central Washington University's booth offered college information. One booth sold small plants, 3 for $1. Free greeting cards were given out from DoItAllInTheMall.com, a small internet-based company that gives back some of the profits to the Yakima community. had a booth where teens could sign up for a free class that teaches youth ages 16-24 to learn how to code. The NAACP of Yakima also had a booth signing up community members to become a member of America's oldest and respected civil rights organization.

After lunch was served, it was time for the Mr. and Miss Juneteenth Yakima pageant. Contestants wowed the audience with their talents, which included singing, dancing and the reading of a very moving tribute to a family member. Jaxon Parks, age 7, won the Mr. Juneteenth Yakima 2018 crown & scepter, and (my daughter), Willow Cosby, also age 7, won the Miss Juneteenth Yakima 2018 crown and sash. Daisjia Watley, age 9, is the 2018 Miss Juneteenth Yakima First Princess.

I hope that you will make plans to attend next year's Juneteenth celebration and bring your family and friends! It truly means a lot when we see the community come out to support and enjoy a good time with us! If you would like to be a part of the 2019 Juneteenth Planning Committee, please contact Ester Huey at granhuey@aol.com, Adrianne Garner at adrianneg75@yahoo.com or Jasmine Garner at jylttle@gmail.com .

The 2018 Yakima Juneteenth Celebration event was sponsored by the Yakima Juneteenth Committee, City of Yakima Parks & Recreation Department and the YWCA of Yakima.