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'Juneteenth is like freedom': Twin Ports community celebrates

The Twin Ports Juneteenth event Saturday at Barker's Island included over 36 businesses owned by Black, Indigenous and people of color.

Bernice Pepper holds a T-shirt that says "shine a light on black excellence"
Bernice Pepper shows one of the T-shirts she is selling at her booth Saturday at the Twin Ports Juneteenth celebration on Barker's Island in Superior.
Laura Butterbrodt / Duluth News Tribune
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SUPERIOR — A day in advance of the federally recognized holiday, hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds came together at Barker's Island to celebrate Juneteenth on Saturday. The event included business and organization booths, local food vendors, music and speeches.

Bernice Pepper, who sold T-shirts, mugs, jewelry and artwork, said despite the cold weather, the event was "heartwarming."

“Everyone’s on the same plane. We’re here to have fun, to eat food, to celebrate, and all the community is together,” Pepper said. “We have so many people coming together from diverse backgrounds. You’re exchanging information and talking, and you don’t have any sort of preconceived notion for anything. You’re just here enjoying yourself. And the food is excellent.”

Pepper's wares included T-shirts with affirming sayings on them about Black excellence, which she hopes will inspire children and remind them they can be successful. She also hopes to teach and remind people of Black history moments in America.

Bernice Pepper stand with her wares at her booth
Bernice Pepper stands with her wares at her booth Saturday on Barker's Island in Superior during the Twin Ports Juneteenth celebration.
Laura Butterbrodt / Duluth News Tribune

“We started off in Africa and then we came here, enslaved," she said. "Juneteenth is like freedom.”

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More than 36 businesses owned by Black, Indigenous and people of color were present Saturday. Several vendors said they were grateful to be there to present their business to the community and to network with other Black-owned businesses.

Deyona Kirk talks with customers at her booth
Deyona Kirk of Divine Konnections Inc. talks with customers at her booth Saturday at the Twin Ports Juneteenth celebration on Barker's Island in Superior.
Laura Butterbrodt / Duluth News Tribune

Jacob Bell, executive director of Family Freedom Center, said earlier this year the vendors came together at an event called Ujamaa to ensure the business owners were prepared for Juneteenth. This included helping people get tents and tables to display their items or literature, and helped form connections with each other. Bell said it ensured everyone came Saturday "with their best foot forward."

“I think that the amount of people that we have here and the amount of entrepreneurs we have here that showed up to put this on, I think that speaks volumes about the community,” Bell said.

Family Freedom Center, Family Rise Together and Superior African Heritage Community organized the Twin Ports Juneteenth.

Children play in an inflatable castle
Children play in an inflatable castle Saturday at Barker's Island in Superior during the Twin Ports Juneteenth celebration.
Laura Butterbrodt / Duluth News Tribune

“Ultimately, for me personally, Juneteenth is a day for us in the Black community to celebrate the work that we have to put in every other day just to get by and survive. And we make it happen every day," Bell said. "Juneteenth, for me, is kind of a celebration of all the entrepreneurs out here that have made it happen, and this is our day.

“It’s obviously also to commemorate our ancestors that had to fight for their freedom to get us to where we are right now," he said. "Obviously, the emancipation proclamation is kind of where it all stems from, and I think Juneteenth is an opportunity to celebrate Black culture and to be able to celebrate each other’s successes, each other’s hard work, and to come together as a community."

Juneteenth became an official federal holiday in 2021, although Minnesota and Wisconsin do not designate paid days off statewide. Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans on June 19, 1865, when enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free.

Astrid Jones sits at a grill with hot dogs and onions
Astrid Jones grills hot dogs and onions Saturday for the Twin Ports Juneteenth celebration on Barker's Island in Superior.
Laura Butterbrodt / Duluth News Tribune

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Juneteenth events in Northland on Sunday

  • St. Mark's Gospel Brunch at Hillside Sports Court, Fourth Avenue East and Eighth Street, Duluth, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Go to duluthchamber.com.
  • Juneteenth celebration at the KAXE Rotary Tent, 260 NE Second St., Grand Rapids, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Go to kootasca.org.
  • NAACP Juneteenth Jubilee at Central Hillside Community Center, 12 E. Fourth St., Duluth, 1-6 p.m. Go to facebook.com/duluthnaacp.
Stephan Witherspoon shows off his T-shirt
Stephan Witherspoon of Doc Witherspoon's Soul Food Shack in Duluth shows off his T-shirt while selling spicy pork sandwiches and dirty fried rice Saturday at the Twin Ports Juneteenth celebration on Barker's Island in Superior.
Laura Butterbrodt / Duluth News Tribune

Related Topics: SUPERIORBUSINESS
Laura Butterbrodt covers health for the Duluth News Tribune. She has a bachelor of arts in journalism from South Dakota State University and has been working as a reporter in Minnesota and South Dakota since 2014.
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