The team behind West Hill’s Juneteenth celebration


Photo of MyKa’La Alexander and Bria Nolan smiling while showing off their balloon hats.

Emma Austin, Editor-in-Chief

Empowerment and unification were the main focus of West Hill’s first annual Juneteenth Celebration and Festival, put on by an especially dedicated group of coordinators last weekend.

Initiated by Cherryl Jackson-Williams, Family and Community Engagement Coordinator for Renton’s Innovation Zone, and a few others in West Hill, Jackson-Williams connected with several members of the district who helped her to plan and successfully execute a vision for the celebration.

The group included MyKa’La Alexander, AmeriCorps VISTA Early Learning & Afterschool Program Development Specialist, Niela Hampton, Highlands Partnership Coordinator, Kimberly Shell, Bryn Mawr and Campbell Hill Partnership Coordinator, and Bria Nolan, Lakeridge’s Partnership Coordinator.

They started planning as early as March, giving themselves months in preparation time. It began with collecting ideas and crafting the ideal layout that would allow the event to serve as not only a community bonder, but something that would present history and open the stage for talented artists of color.

They debated over several activities for the younger attendees, including some that did not make the cut, like laser tag, the Sounder’s octagon and a Seahawk’s themed obstacle course. But attendees would find the activities which did make the cut were the most important, like the Buffalo Soldiers group who gave an historical introduction to the history of the African-American soldiers who served in the military following the Civil War.

Outreach became of high importance during the period of approval and disproval, so with reaching out to high schools and programs in the area, they hoped to successfully connect with a plethora of talented artists that could add character and display African-American excellence in the arts.

Multiple local artists ended up performing for the crowd at West Hill’s Juneteenth, from tear-jerking spoken-word poetry to fierce dance and step routines, the set was multi-talented.

Renton High School had a strong presence at the celebration, with the presenting of the Black National Anthem sung by student Dajane Tullis and her sister Damira Tullis, followed by a step routine performed by RHS’ Black Student Union (BSU), to student volunteers at the table fair, and others capturing moments while acting as photographers.

Niela Hampton did an incredible job as MC, serving as not only an eloquent speaker, but as a powerful voice of empowerment and a generator of excitement.

Hampton gave a shout-out to Jason-Williams between sets during the celebration, encouraging the audience to acknowledge the hard-work put into making West Hill’s Juneteenth happen.

“…I want to give a shout-out to Cherryl Jackson-Williams for putting all of the logistics together to make this happen, ‘cause without amazing wonderful people that are willing to put in the work to make things happen for the community—we wouldn’t have opportunities like this…” announced Hampton.

The Juneteenth team also noted the importance of creating a multi-cultural safe space where families with language barriers could still benefit from the resource fair, so they reached out to multi-lingual volunteers as possible translators.

They also agreed that encouraging education towards cultural appreciation and access would be of utmost importance for the West Hill community. With that in mind, they organized collaborations with organizations who work to empower teens and support families, a few included: Renton Area Youth and Family Services, Health Point, RAYS, Skyway Youth Network (SYNC), and others, whose tables served as an outlet to receive resources during the celebration.

In reflection of the turnout, MyKa’La Alexander spoke with us about why she decided to join the project and found it so important.

“I decided to be a part of this project because it was a great way to bring the community together and a great opportunity to work on a project that would educated people about Juneteenth,” Alexander shared.

Alexander later noted, “The turnout for our Juneteenth Celebration was great. There was a lot of families and youth that attended and they all enjoyed themselves.”

This West Hill Juneteenth group plans to continue hosting the yearly celebration and even mentioned reaching out to other Juneteenth event coordinators in other areas to increase turn-out at the 2nd Annual West Hill Juneteenth 2020.