Juneteenth at the Ames Public Library and Bandshell Park

Juneteenth at the Ames Public Library and Bandshell Park

by Ben Schrag

“What’s going on?”

“It’s a surprise,” replied her mother.

Cassandra thought for a moment. It wasn’t anyone’s birthday.

“What kind of surprise?” she asked.

“A Texas tradition,” said her father, as he bent down to kiss the top of her head. “You’ll see.”

So begins Carole Boston Weatherford’s picture book “Juneteenth Jamboree”. On the cover of the book we see a Black family releasing colorful balloons on a perfect summer day. They appear excited, but also at ease. The whole image feels peaceful and yet also full of energy.

Weatherford’s book centers on the experience of Cassandra, a young Black girl moving to Texas. Cassandra’s family introduces her (and the reader) to the holiday of Juneteenth.

“It means June 19th,” Dad explains. “President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. But news didn’t reach Texas until more than two years later. Nobody really knows for sure what took so long, but you’d better believe folks rejoiced when they finally found out.”

Also called Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation day, or Emancipation Day, Juneteenth is a holiday that can be celebrated in many ways ranging from memorials and lessons to parties and parades. For Cassandra and her family, Juneteenth means enjoying all the local Juneteenth celebration has to offer; shows, parade, crafts, music, and food!

The book “Juneteenth Jamboree” was published in 1995. It’s hard to say exactly how old Cassandra is in the text, though the rite-of-passage quality of the family interactions suggest 10-12. 

Today, Cassandra would be almost 40. How would the intervening years have affected her? How hopeful might she be? How weary?

Last summer Juneteenth was officially recognized as a Federal Holiday. While to some it might seem like this is a new holiday, in reality Juneteenth has been celebrated for over 150 years. The first federal legislation to recognize Juneteenth was introduced in 1996 in the U.S. House of Representatives by Michigan Representative Barbara-Rose Collins. The fact that Juneteenth itself waited so long to become a federal holiday feels like an especially pointed reminder of the need for this celebration and the chasm that too often exists between our nation’s declared intentions and the actual arrival of justice. 

(At the time of this writing, the Buffalo mass shooting and hate crime is still fresh news and the latest example of a long history of threat and harm to Black bodies in America.)

As we celebrate Juneteenth this year, it may feel burdensome to take on the heaviness of that history. We may feel discomfort acknowledging this lack of progress and the persistence of white complacency, white silence, white violence. We may struggle to balance hope with history and current events.

Juneteenth encapsulates both memorial and celebration. And when we celebrate Juneteenth, we celebrate more than the act of liberation; we celebrate the strength and resilience of a people seeking liberation. We celebrate the rebelliousness, the resourcefulness, and the audacity of a people who fight for freedom. We celebrate Black joy. We celebrate life.

This June the Ames Public Library will be part of a big Juneteenth celebration. Like Cassandra, you are invited to enjoy a variety of vibrant and delightful experiences for all ages. Events, activities, and more will be at both the Ames Public Library and Bandshell Park.

All month long, the Library will host the “Degrees of Freedom” Art Exhibit by the Jordan Brooks. 

On June 15 at 7pm the Ames Public Library will have a discussion of the film “BlacKkKlansman”. Watch on your own and arrive ready for conversation.

Saturday, June 18, at 10:30 AM we will have a special Juneteenth Storytime at the Ames Public Library. Children of all ages are welcome for music, books, and a special Juneteenth craft.

Saturday, June 18, from 3-10pm, Bandshell Park have food trucks, fun activities, live performances, and vendors from across our community. Also look for bounce houses, face painting, and lots of surprises! And the Bookmobile will be on site and packed full of books by Black authors and illustrators.

At 6pm Bandshell Park will get really lively with a line dance party and DJ.

At 8pm, at Bandshell Park, bring a blanket for an outdoor movie showing!

See you then!