‘A step in the right direction’: Great Falls hosts inaugural Juneteenth celebration on Saturday
More than 150 people gathered at Gibson Park in Great Falls on Saturday to celebrate the city’s inaugural Juneteenth commemoration, featuring speakers, entertainment and a barbecue.
Juneteenth, the newest federal holiday, commemorates June 19, 1865, when federal troops entered the last remaining unoccupied region of the Confederacy to declare an end to slavery.
The event in Great Falls included speakers from the YWCA, the Great Falls Public Library and Malmstrom Air Force Base’s Diversity and Inclusion Team and the beautiful sound of The Alexander Temple’s New Birth Choir, according to the announcement from the city.
“Washington finally listened to small towns and made (Juneteenth) a federal holiday,” said Great Falls Mayor Bob Kelly, who delivered a proclamation on behalf of the city and commission. “Thank you for making this community as inclusive as we know it to be.”
Shyke Smalls, who grew up in Great Falls, said he thinks the city should host a Juneteenth celebration every year.
“It’s a step in the right direction. There weren’t a lot of events, outside of church events, like this when I was growing up. Having the city of Great Falls put this on is pretty cool. I’ve never experienced that before,” he said.
Shameka Reynolds, a member of the Alexander Temple’s New Birth Choir, called the event “a good beginning.”
“I think we should be doing more of this. It’s good, especially for children to be learning about this stuff,” she said. “We opened the door in this community, not just for African Americans, but for any nationality. It’s a good thing to bring everybody together.”
Dakarai James, a senior airman at Malmstrom Air Force Base who’s from Atlanta, emceed the event. He said when a friend told him about the celebration, he knew he wanted to help out.
“I think it’s pretty cool. Especially for someone who’s not from here, there’s not that many African Americans, there’s not a big culture up here, but the fact that they still try and that they still want to recognize Black history and Black culture is very important to me. So I just wanted to be a part of it in any way I could,” he said.