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My great-great-granny Momma Martha, my great-granny Madea and my granny Jonnie saw the remnants of slavery, the peak of Jim Crow, witnessed MLK Jr. speak and experienced so many other pivotal Black moments that I’ve only read about in books. Growing up in East Texas, everything granny Jonnie did felt like Black History Month, her life lessons to me always focused on education, the trials and tribulations I’ll face as a Black man, the importance of looking back to our ancestors, and honoring those who paved a way for us to be here.

I lost Madea and Momma Martha to sickness and old age, and they never saw their small peanut farm of grandchildren grow into the thriving adults we are today. I remember conversations with them fantasizing about having a Black president, and that if I work hard, I could be that president.

Though I didn’t understand then, I realize now that most of their lessons came with the baggage of lived trauma and a time where Black joy was secondary. Though I know it existed, listening to their stories, it felt like Black joy more often came with consequences. The harrowing Billie Holiday song “Strange Fruit” was their lived experience and, in some ways over time, it became mine as well. But later in life, Juneteenth would help shift my perspective, teaching me it’s OK to celebrate yourself.

Though I was taught the origins of this historic moment in grade school (thank you, Texas History), as a kid, it was sold to me and other Black kids as a white savior story, though way before I knew what that term meant. As that story went, a white man signed a piece of paper that says Black folks are free, after which another group of white men came to tell us we were free — saving us from the bad white oppressors. It sounds like a Marvel movie to me.

My local hip-hop station 102.7 FM The Blaze had been throwing Juneteenth parties on the Whiley College campus since I could remember. My granny’s house sat four blocks away from the campus and on Juneteenth I could smell the barbecue smoke wafting on the air into my bedroom. You could hear the drumline in full swing throughout the neighborhood, along with the laughter of kids running around and playing games, the hip hop and R&B music booming.

There’d be the random forming of a Soul Train line at a family cookout or the Electric Slide that would have even granny “shaking some tail feather.” What I’ve come to learn about Juneteenth is that it’s an underrated holiday eclipsed by Black History Month. Both are important, acknowledging the history of how far we’ve come, but Juneteenth doesn’t have the same educational burden as Black History Month because it’s associated with Black celebration. It’s Black joy at its finest.

Now I’m a Black man living in Humboldt, a place known for its love of Bigfoot, cannabis and big-ass redwood trees.

Though I’ve done stories on communities and organizations of color, like Black Humboldt, this area can be forbidding to people of color. It can make you feel alone. So hearing Black Humboldt was throwing its fifth Juneteenth festival, I was excited to see, “Where my people at?”

It also made me wonder what a Juneteenth festival would be like in a place far beyond my deep South’s Bible-Belt bubble of influence. Juneteenth in Humboldt wouldn’t be Texas with family.

But just like I would see back home, underneath the dew-dropped isolation and the challenges people of color in Humboldt face finding community, I saw the African dance circles on the day of celebration, heard Kendrick Lamar’s “Not Like us” at least three times and found joy in watching a mixed community of kids share Double-Dutch and other outside games. As Jerk Kitchen and Taste of Bim were firing on all cylinders, the delicious smells of barbecued jerk chicken, rice and peas, and other island spices filled the Saturday air.

Another highlight was the Black talent that had rocked the Old Town Gazebo the night before. Seeing Emcee Radioactive perform at the festival was awesome, especially because I’d met him at The Epitome Gallery days before the Juneteenth performance. We had talked about art and community, and he even gave me this dope sticker he designed, and I felt that connection when I saw him perform.

Perhaps most importantly, these four days brought out the biggest concentrations of Black and brown people I’ve seen together in one place since relocating to the North Coast.

Black Pride was in full effect on Juneteenth, as well, with local drag queen Garlic Bread, representing as the only Black drag queen in Humboldt, incorporating traditional and newer drag styles, along with a Vouge performance from the Los Angeles ballroom scene’s House of Marc Jacobs. Watching the leather-clad ballroom dancers Vouge, all I could think was, “They gotta be hot in all that leather.” Seeing Kintay Johnson’s face when one of the dancers flipped from the stage to in front of the audience was priceless.

What makes Juneteenth great here in Humboldt is that it isn’t trying to be Juneteenth in Texas, because Blackness isn’t a singular experience. We’re a small group here in Humboldt, and Juneteenth offered a space for us to celebrate together as a diverse, nurturing, intentional community, uniquely Black in Humboldt.

How we celebrate an event like Juneteenth is up to the people in the community, and though I have my own Hulk-sized bias of childhood nostalgia, what I saw these four days in Humboldt captured the joyful essence of Juneteenth — which is especially precious in a place where I don’t regularly see many people who look like me.

Since June of 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce the end of slavery after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln, Black people have continued fighting to find acceptance. My granny always said, “Your problems aren’t what makes you, it’s how you handle them that does.” After this past week, I feel validated that Juneteenth does what Black History Month can’t fully do, making time to celebrate unapologetically, to enjoy ourselves, knowing we’ve survived a history birthed from pain and the myriad of issues we face, and that we still look to be inclusive and strive for cohesion.

Though I better understand the cultural moment Juneteenth represents, I can’t and won’t compare Black Humboldt’s multiday festival to my experiences in the South any more than I would compare kinds of Blackness. These things aren’t a monolith, nor should they be.

But for once, I didn’t feel like an outsider. I felt seen, not as the reporter looking from the outside who was trying to get the story, but as someone who is part of the Black community. What this past Juneteenth festival taught me is that even in a place where we’re on the outside, Black folks will always find a way to express themselves.

That’s what I love about Juneteenth, that we’ll always find a way to spread Black joy, whether behind the Redwood Curtain, in the deep South or wherever we reside.

Kelby Mcintosh (he/him) is a California Local News Fellow placed with the Redwoods Listening Post (RLP). The California Local News Fellowship is a state-funded initiative to support and strengthen local news reporting. Kelby’s reporting comes courtesy of a partnership between RLP, North Coast Journal Inc., and Access Humboldt. For more on the California Local News Fellowship, visit fellowships.journalism.berkeley.edu/cafellows.