DES MOINES, Iowa — For the second consecutive year Juneteenth will be recognized as an official holiday by the city of Des Moines. For Iowans celebrating the events across the metro this weekend, like the one at Western Gateway Park near downtown, it is a celebration of freedom from past slavery, creating more equality today and inspiring the future generation.
“These were enslaved people who were not even able to name themselves and finding out they were free they changed their names. To me we are celebrating the freedom that was taken away that they slowly were able to get,” said Dwana Bradley who serves as the Iowa Juneteenth Chairperson.
The event has grown into a large scale effort and moved from Evelyn K Davis Park to shutting down streets in downtown Des Moines due to its growth in the community.
Miriam Lewis recently moved to Des Moines from Atlanta. She has noticed Iowa’s support for Juneteenth and believes it helps make the area stronger. “It’s a great responsibility for all of us to participate and also to make sure the next generation is equipped and understands both the struggle and the joy of this work.”
Courtney Beherens lives in Des Moines and took advantage of dozens of vendors from the community selling merchandise and offering services. “Just being curious about people who are different from us and learning that and wanting to know more and understand what is our collective history,” said Beherns.
Bradley hopes Iowans, not just Black Iowans, will treat this like any other day of reflection and celebration. “This is for everyone,” she said. “It is a moment to educate you on the things we dealt with in our past and what we are currently dealing with so we can have a better future.”
Marcia Blanshan agreed saying “it is a way to connect and maybe deal with some of the divisiveness in our country. Just getting to know people.”
Organizers are seeing a growth that proves to them that the event is necessary. With dozens of small businesses alongside state and local organizations taking part as vendors and sponsors, Bradley says Iowans of all backgrounds want to be involved in the celebration of Juneteenth.
“This was our best year ever for sponsors and vendors. We doubled in size from what we had last year and it tells me people want to know more and they want to learn more,” said Bradley. A chance for Iowans to celebrate African-American history together. “Everyone is out here celebrating today and that’s what it is all about. Being one community. One Iowa.”