SHAWNEE, Oklahoma - The holiday to commemorate the abolishment of slavery is coming up this month. Juneteenth celebrations are happening across the state, but a tribe is now joining the African-American community in Shawnee to make their event bigger than ever before. 

Once upon a time, black people in Shawnee could not go north of Main Street after day, and this new partnership with the Citizen Potawatomi Nation aims to remind others of that history. 

Shawnee's Juneteenth celebration started more than 50 years ago, promoting community unity.

“Having Juneteenth, we have a lot of people that just step across that aisle and say, let’s join hands together and unity is here,” said Dunbar Heights Community Group spokesman Timmy Young, “and it’s a lot better today than it has been in the past.”

On June 8, the event is moving to the biggest venue in town, FireLake Arena, where the Citizen Potawatomi Nation hopes to fill the seats with 4,500 attendees.

CPN human resources director Richard Brown said the purpose is to “let the young people of the day know what the Native Americans as well as African-Americans have come through to get to where we are today.”

After a parade through the historic Dunbar Heights neighborhood on Saturday, the main attraction will be the arts, showcasing the evolution of Black culture through gospel choirs, jazz and hip-hop artists and a step show. 

“Stepping started from slavery,” explained performer and host Marcus Clayton. “When they couldn’t communicate verbally, they had to use sounds. They had to use rhythms. They had to use certain things just to communicate, so we still do this to this day.”

The celebration will also feature a job and college fair as well as presentations on entrepreneurship, which have helped locals like Young launch their own businesses in the past.

Young said, “Today I’m able to have product on the shelves here at FireLake grocery store, in fact.”

The goal is to help the community as a whole.

“We hope that what it looks like is a representation from all races,” Brown added, “not just the African-American community or Native America. We want to celebrate freedom for all.”

The festivities kick off with a dinner on Friday, June 7. For a full schedule of events on June 8 and to connect with organizers, click here

Editor’s Note: News 9 is part of a local initiative that brings all of our local media outlets together to give Oklahoma a United Voice in promoting a healthy dialogue on race. To see more stories, visit UnitedVoiceOK.org.