Between a global pandemic that refuses to go away, the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests heard round the world and the trial for former MPD Officer Derek Chauvin, 2020 and 2021 have been rocketed by fear, anxiety, anger and grief. But there are also incredible pockets of Black joy in the form of celebrations like Juneteenth and Rondo Days, cookouts with extended family members, and church barbecues.

And those happy occasions allow Black Minnesotans to take off the mask they wear in every other part of their lives and just be themselves, together in community, enjoying whatever is on the grill and a can of Big Red.

So for this final episode of Trial & Tribulation, we caught up with four local movers and shakers to ask the question: What makes community gatherings so necessary for Black joy?

READ THE TRANSCRIPT OF THE VIDEO

Arthur Buckner, Musical Genius/ Host of Sound Field:

One of the greatest representations of Black joy is a Juneteenth celebration, a Rondo Days celebration.

Sani Brown, Ultimate Entertainer:

It’s the one sacred place where Black people can just be Black.

Amanda Green, Twin Cities PBS Employee/ Arts Enthusiast: 

I can really celebrate myself, celebrate my race.

Melvin Carter III, Mayor of Saint Paul: 

I think has long been a balm to help soothe some of the stresses and trauma that have always been associated with being African American.

Sani Brown: 

We want what everybody else want: family, love, communion, friendship, support. I mean, that’s what everybody want and that’s what you get at the cookout.

Kyeland Jackson, Host/Reporter:

Hey y’all. Earlier this year, the President made Juneteenth a federal holiday. It’s a decision that marks the emancipation of many of our Texas ancestors. And that recognizes the struggles they faced in gaining their freedom. The Lone Star State may be hundreds of miles away, but a lot of our church picnics, our family gatherings and celebrations share the same themes and values that Juneteenth does. And those have become essential to building our communities. So here’s the question: What makes community gatherings, like Juneteenth and Rondo Days, so necessary for Black joy?

Arthur Buckner:

As soon as you hear… As soon as you hear that, everybody gonna scream. And you dancing right now.

Sani Brown:

Barbecue, like the cookout, I feel like that’s the one place – and I feel like this the older I get – I feel like that’s rebellion. That’s a space that we’ve created for us and our families and people in our communities where we can just be joyous and not have to put on a mask. There’s a joy and a freedom in that of just being and not always having to feel the need to explain who you are, why you’re here, why you matter. I think that’s really what the cookout is.

Melvin Carter III:

Our kind of African-American community in particular, I think is a very interconnected bunch, you know. As many of us grew up with our family, our cousins and then like our play-play cousins, right?

Amanda Green:

The celebrations that we have, it provides a sense of security in so many ways that I think we don’t even understand and know that we do have a community. We are loved, we are cared for and there are high hopes for us, for our future.

Arthur Buckner:

Black people have mastered happiness. Black people have mastered fun, musical genius, we’ve mastered that. But when it comes to love, showing love, I think Black people have mastered the act of coming together in community, right? And these festivals, these parades, these celebrations, the carnivals, the whatever we’re talking about, the cookouts, that’s like the full embodiment. And you can see the complexity of Black people.

Kyeland Jackson:

A lot of places are hostile to us. So it’s important that we have gatherings like these to feel seen and to feel heard. But really, it’s about more than just that. For a lot of us, these are spaces where we can be the truest version of ourselves.

Sani Brown:

It’s just, I want to be unapologetically Black. I want to be able to wallow in my culture and say certain things. Not disrespectful things, not hateful things, but it’s just a certain way that your grandma might say something like, “You don’t believe fat meat is greazy.” Somebody outside be like, “What the heck is you talking about?” But it’s a saying, and it has a meaning and it has history and it has culture. I want to be able to talk like that and not always have to be like, “Okay, this is what this means.” Or, “Oh, I didn’t mean it like that.” You don’t always want to have to be on.

Amanda Green:

When we celebrate together, there’s a closeness, there’s a known-ness, there’s an awareness, there’s a connectedness that cannot be denied.

Melvin Carter III:

Those celebrations, those acknowledgements have been an important part of my story. They’re an important part of who I’ve become.

Sani Brown:

So that was one of the big things that I liked was to come and share my successes as a young person and have my people be like, “Right on, you doing your thing.”

Arthur Buckner:

And you’re seeing the entire spectrum of Blackness. You see nerds, and you see hood people, and you see old churchy, churchy, churchy people, real spiritual people, and you have everybody else in the middle. You know what I’m saying? The diversity that’s represented within Blackness is all showcased at all them events.

Sani Brown:

You’re at the cookout, and not only is you surrounded by food that you don’t normally eat. I mean, you really loose, you know what I’m saying? And then you’re going, “Man, this happened at the job.” And your cousin goes, “Man I know that nonsense, they’ve been doing that the last this, that and the other.” And you feel seen. It’s literally, it’s the one place, it’s the one sacred place where Black people can just be Black.

Kyeland Jackson:

And the cookout brings more than just good ribs and Big Red soda to the table. It’s a place where we can learn about our history. Where we can connect with our loved ones and get in touch with our roots.

Melvin Carter III:

We would go to Rondo Days and we’d have fun. We wanted to go every year, we would see the step competitions and we’d get some good food and we’d see all of our friends and we’d hang out in the park. We’d try our best to get some money from our parents and then get as far away from our parents as we possibly could. But the truth is, we were just having fun in the park. And it took years beyond that to learn, “Wait a minute, this is about something.” Juneteenth is the exact same way, right? We grew up having fun in the park, drinking soda pop and, you know, playing with kids and trying to meet new people and things like that. And then you learn later that Juneteenth isn’t a party in the park.

Amanda Green:

There were even times and especially at the end of our gathering, usually an elder would send us off. And within that closing session of our celebration, there would be some history shared because they would remember our ancestors.

Melvin Carter III:

The ability to have those moments where we as a community teach ourselves a story, like Juneteenth. Teach ourselves a story, like how our old Rondo community was uprooted or the Tulsa Massacre. Those types of history that are so important to understanding where we are today and the challenges that our community faces right now. The ability for us to carry that history for ourselves is absolutely critical. It always has been and it will continue to be, even as we see Juneteenth to become a federal holiday.

Amanda Green:

I always knew that it was a big party, a big celebration for family, but now I knew that it had a purpose.

Melvin Carter III:

Just saying, “We’re gonna put this marker on the calendar” does not erase all of those social and economic and cultural ills that our community still faces.

Amanda Green:

Healing is a major part of it because not only could they remember and make sure that it’s never forgotten, so that we can carry on their work, but because it was healing for them. And it’s healing for us to know that perspective, that history, who we are.

Melvin Carter III:

It’s a remembrance to honor. Rondo Days is the same way, you know. We celebrate the community that once was and the unlimited potential of the community that is today. But that event where our community was uprooted is one of the most painful things. I mean, we think about those two events in and of themselves. They are markers of two of the most painful things that have happened to our African-American community here, in particularly in Saint Paul. And so maybe therein is the proof that this is a direct result of people saying “We’ve been through this incredible, unimaginable heart-wrenching pain, and the only way for us to survive it is together.”

Kyeland Jackson:

You and I have gone through a lot of trials and tribulations together. We searched for healing after George Floyd’s death. We explored how race affected the Derrick Chauvin trial. And when Chauvin was sentenced, we asked about what’s next for society. But for now, this is goodbye. Our show is taking a break as we figure out what to do next. But with any luck, I’ll see you at the next Rondo Days or Juneteenth. Be safe, family, be well. And as always peace and love.

Special Thanks: Sani Brown, Arthur Buckner, Melvin Carter III and Amanda Green
Production Team: Jess Bellville, Kevin Dragseth, Danae Hudson, Kyeland Jackson, Brad Keely and Nathan Reopelle

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This story is part of the digital storytelling project Racism Unveiled, which is funded by grants from the Otto Bremer Trust, HealthPartners and the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation.

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