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SLC Juneteenth Celebration Gathers New Attention To Social Movement

Jun 19, 2020, 8:33 PM | Updated: 8:44 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Juneteenth 2020 is getting new attention because of the social uprising underway that is challenging systemic racism in America.

The holiday, observed in 47 states, commemorates the emancipation of the last slaves in America on June 19, 1865.

The woman who has organized that celebration in Utah for more than three decades says this is the beginning of the work we all need to do.

“We have to say something. We have to do something,” said Betty Sawyer, Utah Juneteenth Freedom & Heritage Festival director. “And their doing something resulted in the world coming together to say enough is enough: we have to address these issues.”

United in Hope: that’s the theme of this year‘s Juneteenth commemoration in Salt Lake County.

Dozens gathered at the Salt Lake County Government Center Friday morning for the raising of the Juneteenth freedom flag.

Betty Sawyer has been carrying the mantle for Juneteenth in Utah for 31 years. She didn’t believe that we would still be struggling with systemic racism in our country in 2020.

The Juneteenth freedom flag

“But we are still here,” she said. “And in the words of Fannie Lou Hamer (a voting and women’s rights activist), I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

The social movement and protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in custody of Minneapolis police brought new attention to the holiday. If we are united in hope as a community, Sawyer said, everyone has a role to play.

“Enter with your whole soul, and enter with the commitment to do what is necessary, and oftentimes that means standing alone,” said Sawyer.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson urged everyone to set aside their biases and have a conversation about equality without their own agenda.

“To those of you who are engaging and learning and opening your hearts and minds, thank you,” said Wilson.

The county was doubling down on its commitment to listen and engage with everyone in the community, she said, to strive for true equality.

“It will take a very very deep change within our community, and that means for those of us who are Caucasian, like me, we have to not be afraid to have the conversation,” Wilson said.

A conversation, which Sawyer believes includes self-examination in order to make positive progress.

We all have to be true to ourselves, she said.

“What do I believe? What are my core values? Do they go across-the-board, or do I treat certain people one way and others a different way? If I believe that, where did those beliefs come from?” she asked.

Once we can have that dialogue with ourselves, Sawyer said, we can spread the truth to our families and friends.

“There’s a roadmap for us to do this work. But we have to want to do the work. We have to commit to do it,” she said.

Juneteenth is observed as a holiday in 47 states, including Utah, since 2016. It’s not a paid day off but many are pushing for that now on a state and national level.

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SLC Juneteenth Celebration Gathers New Attention To Social Movement