Marking a historic stride in Federal Way’s 30-year past, the city raised the Juneteenth flag for the first time ever June 19.
The flag is a symbol to honor the Juneteenth holiday, which acknowledges the freedom of Black Americans and their liberation from slavery.
On June 16, the Federal Way City Council recognized Juneteenth Week for the first time in the city’s history (June 15-21).
Earlier that day, Mayor Jim Ferrell met with 13-year-old Anisah Rogers and her parents, Trenise and Keith Rogers.
Both Anisah and Trenise Rogers graduated from a leadership program focused on civic engagement. Trenise Rogers graduated from the Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI) and Anisah Rogers participated in the Children’s Leadership Training Institute (CLTI). Based in Everett, the 11-week course teaches individuals how to understand systems and develop civic, advocacy and public speaking skills to become community leaders.
The courses are in collaboration with the Washington State Family and Community Engagement Trust and Everett Community College, created by the Connecticut Commission on Children’s National Parent Leadership Institute.
Anisah Rogers sought out an opportunity to discuss current events with the mayor and Federal Way Deputy Police Chief Stephan Neal. Trenise Rogers is also a member of the Federal Way Diversity Commission.
Anisah Rogers asked the mayor about his personal and professional views on current issues, along with past history that influenced them. She also asked the mayor what actions he believes are necessary for the future.
This conversation had “a profound influence on making today’s flag raising possible,” the mayor told the crowd on June 19. In fact, he said, it was a followup email from the Rogers family that spurred the idea.
Trenise Rogers, the Mirror’s Hometown Hero for June, is a dedicated advocate in Federal Way, fighting for the city to recognize Juneteenth and its historical meaning to people of color in the local community.
“I feel like I’m standing on the shoulders of my ancestors,” said Trenise Rogers, who is originally from Louisiana. “I feel like it’s my duty and my purpose to make it happen.”
Trenise Rogers also expressed gratitude to the city for having a “culturally responsive” mayor who was willing to move forward with the necessary work.
“This is monumental,” she said.
Inspired by Federal Way City Council member Greg Baruso’s call to action at a June 16 meeting requesting the council’s public show of solidarity to Black Lives Matter, Trenise Rogers said she also felt compelled because of her own past attempts at asking the city to honor Juneteenth.
After her daughter’s interviews and the council meeting, Trenise Rogers sent an email to the mayor, asking for a flag-raising recognition event. The mayor expressed great interest. The only piece missing was a flag.
“I called organizations and companies as far as Canada trying to obtain a flag,” she said. “Something told me to find something local.”
She reached out to FASTSIGNS of Federal Way, which created a Juneteenth flag in less than 24 hours for the event.
“For us to have a Juneteenth flag raising in the Northwest, it’s very rare, so we’re bringing a tradition that is commonly celebrated in the South to here,” Trenise Rogers said of the ceremony. “It’s well overdue, and what better time than now, right?”
The Rogers have lived in Federal Way since 1997, and Trenise is serving her third three-year term on the Diversity Commission. This acknowledgement is movement in the right direction, she said.
“This is an opportunity to celebrate not only African American history, but American history,” she said.
Raising the flag
On June 19, a crowd of more than 80, abiding by social distancing guidelines and donning face coverings, gathered outside of City Hall for the momentous ceremony.
The crowd consisted of elected state officials, Federal Way City Council members, Federal Way’s Diversity Commission, members of Federal Way Black Collective, Miss Black Washington, local leaders, pastors, city employees and community members — who all met to recognize Juneteenth.
Pastor Joe Bowman of Integrity for Life Church led the group in the invocation, followed by Zaneta Billyzone-Jatta, who sang “The Star Spangled Banner” and the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Many attendees broke into song with Billyzone-Jatta as she sang the Black National Anthem.
“Although we are celebrating racial progress today, we also have to look within ourselves and self-assess and reflect on the progression of racism today,” said State Rep. Jesse Johnson, who first acknowledged the meeting was taking place on Indigenous land. “Because the fight is not over.”
This is a special day for the city of Federal Way, he said, “but we must remember that Black liberation is liberation for all — we cannot stop here.”
In the year 2020, Black males are still 21 times more likely to be killed by police, Black men are five times times more likely to be incarcerated, and Black families earn 13 times less than the median household income rate of white families, Johnson said.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Johnson, who represents the 30th Legislative District. “As we go forth, we must remember to self-reflect, self-assess, stand up, speak out against injustice and let’s make change together.”
Franchise Owner Dohn Johnson with FASTSIGNS of Federal Way made the Juneteenth flag within 24 hours of the request, said Mayor Ferrell.
Once the city received the email from the family, the mayor said, “we thought we’re going to make a flag and we’re going to bring this community together.”
Juneteenth is the oldest celebration recognizing President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all enslaved individuals in the United States.
“We need to take every opportunity to assure each other — as well as our citizens — they will be honored and respected,” Ferrell said.
The Juneteenth Week proclamation was also read aloud by Lyn Idahosa, Rep. Jesse Johnson, Pam Ashe, Councilmember Lydia Assefa-Dawson, Trenise Rogers, Anisah Rogers, Cynthia Maccotan, Stephanie Surprius, DeVaughn Williams and Council President Susan Honda. Anisah Rogers read Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” to the crowd, met with cheers and applause.
“I feel inspired. I feel like I inspired a lot of people and I started something that needed to be started in this community that needed to bring it together,” said 13-year-old Anisah Rogers.
Raising this flag is no small act, Ferrell said. The Juneteenth flag now flies above City Hall with the Pride flag — both symbols of change in Federal Way. The Juneteenth flag will be flown through June 26, and the Pride flag will remain up through the end of June.
“This flag not only represents the triumph of the end of slavery,” Ferrell said. “It also represents the commitment to finish the job of equality for all.”