Juneteenth Festival brought the Ogden community together at Weber State University on June 19-20. (Emily Crooks / The Signpost)
Juneteenth Festival brought the Ogden community together in celebration of African-American heritage at Weber State University on June 19-20. (Emily Crooks / The Signpost)

The summer’s first real heat wave did not dampen the spirits of vendors and attendees at this year’s Juneteenth Festival in Ogden.

The event to celebrate the liberation of the last slaves on U.S. soil 150 years ago was held Friday and Saturday on Bell Tower Plaza at Weber State University’s campus.

According to Marissa Arave, whose family helped organize the music performances at the festival, the main purpose of the event is to peacefully unite people from all backgrounds. “We want to bring everybody together, especially with everything that’s going on with the cops (and African-Americans),” she said.

“This festival isn’t just for black people,” Arave added. “It’s for everyone, especially for families.”

After the expected slow Friday, vendors returned Saturday morning to prepare for the climax of the festival, which featured live music and a variety of Southern food. Free opportunities to find out about one’s ancestry were also provided.

“It’s part of my identity to know where I come from,” said Sheena Roberts, who found new details about ancestors coming from west Africa, some as early as 1790.

By noon, the smell of barbecue and the sound of laughter and conversation filled the air on the WSU campus, all accompanied by a saxophone playing jazz melodies. Still, the festival hadn’t drawn in the large crowds organizers had hoped for.

“We have a lot of time to talk to you,” vendor Shanmel Brower said. “There are not very many people here yet.”

Indeed, a couple of hours after the beginning of Saturday’s festivities, the sign-up list for more information about the free day care that Brower promoted was still empty.

Brower’s co-worker Lacey McFarland, a WSU graduate, was still confident that people would eventually come to their booth and show interest.

“We focus on the children to make them thrive in all areas of their lives,” McFarland said, adding that their day care mostly served low-income families, whom both her and Brower expected to attend the Juneteenth Festival in large numbers.

The Juneteenth Festival didn’t feature just non-profit organizations, but also local businesses run by African-Americans. One of these businessmen was Lawrence Sanders, the owner of a screen printing company that produces T-shirts with the slogan “Straight Outta Ogden.”

“The young people here will get what (that slogan) means,” he said, adding that it makes reference to the vibrant Ogden hip-hop scene. “It gives them something unique to represent themselves and Ogden.”

It wasn’t until he started talking about the feelings the festival triggered in him, that his face lit up.

“It’s so positive to see people come together from all these different backgrounds and organizations,” he said, pointing to the neighboring booth where another man also sold T-shirts. “We’re not competitors at all today because we’re celebrating this great cause together.”

As temperatures rose, Sanders’ impression of a peaceful celebration was confirmed as more people began to fill up Bell Tower Plaza.

“We’ve had the events in Charleston, Baltimore and Ferguson, and all that has come with it in the media. Today, we also want to set a sign to show that we can live well and have a good time together, without any incidents or bad feelings towards those of other backgrounds,” said Rob Miller, who attended the festival with his wife and his daughter.

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