'Feels like home for everybody’
As soon as the needle dropped on Young MC’s 1989 smash hit “Bust a Move,” Stephany King and a relative stranger couldn’t resist the call to the dance floor in front of the Pear Blossom Park stage.
The jubilant few minutes of big smiles and thumping bass between King of Eagle Point and Erika Wilson of Grants Pass — who’d never met each other before — was just one of the many vibrant, inclusive and happy sights at the first Juneteenth celebration in downtown Medford.
"I came here to be with every color and celebrate with every race,“ King said. ”I think friendly energy recognizes friendly energy.“
More than 800 people had confirmed on the Black Alliance & Social Empowerment Facebook page that they were going to the celebration in downtown Medford, according to BASE volunteer Jessica Freedman. The diverse crowd who celebrated the latest national holiday — which commemorates the emancipation of slaves — was clearly in the hundreds, but it was too scattered for further estimates.
“I don’t know what it (the number) is, but it feels good,” Freedman said.
Medford Mayor Randy Sparacino proclaimed June 19, 2021 as Juneteenth Celebration Day at the Thursday city council meeting to “celebrate the joys of liberty and justice for every citizen,” according to a Saturday City of Medford, Local Government Facebook post.
Freedman said that she had high hopes for the turnout, “but this is above and beyond.”
“The vibes are so good right now,” Freedman said.
Freedman said she used to live in New York, and remembers how people in the city would hold small block parties and just bring whatever they had to contribute in order to celebrate with their neighbors.
“Music’s bumpin,’ it’s a block party for sure,” Freedman said.
Freedman said she moved to Southern Oregon two years ago. She got involved with the volunteer community organization because Freedman wanted to make the Rogue Valley a more welcoming place for her young Black son.
“Once you have kids, you start viewing the world a little different,” Freedman said.
BASE first formed after Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2019 by SOU alums Vance and Tiffany Beach, according to Freedman and the group’s website at baseoregon.org.
The Beach family and others involved with BASE have children, so BASE worked to make kids activities a big part of the Juneteenth celebration with activities such as games and a bounce house.
Freedman said it can be tough for a kid when they don’t see other people who look like themselves — be it in TV and movies or within the community — so BASE wanted to dispel the notion that a Black Southern Oregonian is by themselves.
“You’re not — just look around,” Freedman said. “Feels like home for everybody!”
They hope to make the BASE celebration an annual event.
In addition to bringing "smiling Black faces and successful Black businesses“ together, BASE also seeks to introduce or reintroduce those locals to Southern Oregon’s greater community.
“We’re not trying to do anything by ourselves,” Freedman said.
Among those at the Medford festival were Ashland’s mayor and members of its city council, who held a listening booth. Ashland’s council committed to being part of cultural celebrations in other parts of Southern Oregon when they passed a sweeping social equity and racial justice resolution in July of last year.
Ashland City Councilor Paula Hyatt marveled at how the event brought people from different communities and different cities together.
“Ashland doesn’t exist by itself,” Hyatt said.
Ashland Mayor Julie Akins kept a solemn perspective, but enjoyed the inclusive vibe, good food and good music at the festival.
“We have a long way to go, but it starts with acknowledgment,” Akins said. “It’s all about being human together.”
Councilor Gina DuQuenne beamed out of her chair when she saw her friend Angela Decker, and gave her a hug.
“This is a family reunion for all Black people to come together,” DuQuenne said.