The rain, Trenise Rogers said, is symbolic for this June day — reminiscent of the tears of joy from her Black ancestors witnessing the celebration of freedom.
Over 70 community members, elected officials and city staffers gathered under umbrellas and canopies outside Federal Way City Hall on June 17 to celebrate the raising of the Juneteenth flag.
This year marked the city’s third annual observance of Juneteenth, a word short for the holiday’s official date of June 19.
The holiday, which acknowledges the freedom of Black Americans and their liberation from slavery, became a federal holiday in 2021.
Speakers and performances on Friday included the U.S. National Anthem and a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Black National Anthem, by Kimberly Sopher Dunn and her daughter, Nailah Dunn; invocation by Pastor Gordon Banks; and Amanda Gorman’s poem “Call Us What We Carry” read by Anisah Rogers.
The history of Juneteenth was presented by Diversity Commission Chair Trenise Rogers and commission member Tirzah Idahosa.
About 10 years ago, Rogers asked the city if Federal Way had any plans to commemorate the holiday, to which she learned they did not. Several years later and after much persistence, she was one of the driving forces behind bringing Juneteenth celebrations to Federal Way.
Maisha Barnett, a great-granddaughter of one John and Mary Conna, also spoke at the event about the history of Juneteenth and the history of the Connas. As a Black couple who first migrated to Tacoma in 1883, John Conna went on to become the first Black political appointee in Washington in 1889. He was an attorney, realtor, businessman, and political leader in Washington and Alaska, also owning 157 acres of land within the what is now City of Federal Way limits.
“I just want to put in perspective that some of the questions John Conna raised in 1894 are still relevant today, and I hope that with the progress that has been made in subsequent years in reorganization of Junteenth … that we can answer some of those questions,” she said, nothing questions of equality, freedom and awareness of oppressions against groups of Americans.
Tirzah Idahose told the crowd about Georgetown University in a private university in Washington, D.C. In 1838, the Maryland Province of Jesuits sold 272 enslaved people to financial benefit the university, according to Georgetown.
Today, the university is still working to provide appropriate reparations to families and descendants of the enslaved people. Idahosa’s family are descents of these enslaved people, meaning long-overdue reparations are on the way.
“My t-shirt says ‘Know your history 365 days,’” she said, while pointing to her t-shirt. “I’m here to say nothing more than: African-American history is American history.”
The Emancipation Proclamation was read by State Reps. Jesse Johnson and Jamila Taylor. The City of Federal Way’s Juneteenth Proclamation was read by Rep. Johnson, Rep. Taylor, Federal Way Public Schools Board Director Luckisha Phillips; Trenise and Anisah Rogers; Tirzah ad Lyn Idahosa; Cynthia Maccotan; Sheley Anderson; Maisha Barnett; Evan Cook; Felicia Hudson; Zuarel Blue; James Koroma; Councilmember Erica Norton; and Council Prescient Linda Kochmar.
Zuarel Blue, a Tacoma resident and member of the Federal Way Black Collective, raised the Juneteenth flag on Friday afternoon.
“It’s very liberating that I raised this flag,” he said afterwards. “This isn’t just a flag; we want equal rights, equality … this is so pivotal.”