Honolulu Celebrates Juneteenth 2023 With More Events
While many offices remain open, Juneteenth is a federal holiday with eclectic community activities focused on the end of U.S. slavery.
Federal offices—including the U.S. Postal Service—will close for the Juneteenth holiday in Hawai‘i on Monday, June 19, making it a three-day weekend for some that offers more ways for the community to take part in a variety of joyful celebrations this year on O‘ahu.
The name Juneteenth is short for June 19, 1865, when the end of slavery was proclaimed in Galveston, Texas. That was two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery in January 1863.
Here on O‘ahu, Hawai‘i’s Black community annually marks the day in smaller ways. But in recent years, the day has gained broader recognition as a time of jubilant celebration that welcomes anyone in the community who wants to take part, says Akiemi Glenn. She serves as executive director of The Pōpolo Project. The organization works year-round to redefine what it means to be Black in Hawai‘i through educational and cultural opportunities, community gatherings and sharing knowledge and kinship. And Glenn sees Honolulu reaching a milestone with more community events offered by more organizations across the Islands.
Finding Juneteenth in Honolulu
This year’s events include a block party at Bishop Museum, a cookout at Sweet Land Farm in Waialua, trivia night as well as the annual community gathering at Kapi‘olani Park. “I think that’s more normal in other communities that have larger Black populations and the fact that there’s so much energy and diversity is a real testament to some big changes in our community over the last few years,” Glenn says.
Glenn recalls a kind of funny moment talking about Juneteenth a year or two ago with a friend who is Native Hawaiian who asked, “What other secret holidays do you guys have that I’ve never heard of?” That’s another way that Juneteenth provides an opportunity for the Black community to share traditions that “explore where we kind of fit into the tapestry of the local community.” By sharing cultural practices, people can find out more about Black heritage. “Like other ethnic communities in Hawai‘i, we bring our traditions with us,” she says.
While Glenn was growing up in rural Virginia, Juneteenth brought big celebrations, including sprawling family reunions, lots of red foods and joyful gatherings on the mall in Washington, D.C. The red food tradition is traced to a variety of symbols: the blood shed by those enslaved; the color’s association in West African cultures with strength and spirituality, and links to drinks made from the fruit of two West African plants: the kola nut and hibiscus.
In the past, Hawai‘i celebrations tended to be smaller, revolving around church celebrations and family get-togethers. And that’s another reason why Glenn sees this as a time to recognize Hawai‘i’s unique role. Historically, the Kingdom of Hawai‘i was an independent nation that banned slavery in 1852, years before the U.S. Civil War, and welcomed people who had been enslaved. But many of our Hawai‘i cultural celebrations focus on the ethnic groups whose families immigrated to Hawai‘i to work on the plantations: Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese and Korean.
Hawai‘i’s Take on Juneteenth
While Hawai‘i remains justifiably proud of its “minorities are the majority” status, Glenn says some groups that joined the community later haven’t achieved the same levels of acceptance. “Like the Micronesian community, for example, who don’t always have the same kind of social space, political space and are not always feeling as welcomed,” she adds.
Glenn welcomes the changes she’s seeing this year. “I think for non-Black people who are interested in Juneteenth, this is actually a really important and interesting way to learn about our cultural traditions,” Glenn says. “We are celebrating in a way that we believe represents the joy that those people in Galveston, Texas, felt in 1865.”
State libraries, the Honolulu Zoo and most other city and state government services will operate normally with no free holiday parking. But many banks and businesses are observing the holiday, so it might be wise to check before you show up.
In 2021, then Gov. David Ige signed a bill in 2021 that made Hawai‘i the second-to-last state to recognize Juneteenth as an official day of remembrance, and South Dakota was the last to do so this year. At least 18 states have made it a paid state holiday, according to the Congressional Research Service.
What’s Happening This Week?
In Honolulu, some events began weeks ago, but these continue through Juneteenth weekend:
Juneteenth Black Trivia
Friday, June 16, 7 to 9 p.m.
Sponsored by the Pōpolo Project. Gather a team to test your knowledge and win prizes.
Box Jelly Ward Lānai, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., 2nd floor, thepopoloproject.org
Black Is Art
Saturday, June 17, noon to 5 p.m.
Indoor/outdoor event in Kaka‘ako for 21 and older featuring art, DJs, live entertainment and poetry and offering cocktails, cigars, food and hookah for purchase.
$40 general admission, Workplay HI, 814 Ilaniwai St., afroaloha.com
Afro Aloha Juneteenth Cookout
Sunday, June 18, noon to 6 p.m.
Join a family-friendly cookout at Sweet Land Farms with a mix of activities that includes arts and crafts, a keiki zone, yoga, live performances, food and retail vendors, goat feeding, farm tours and more.
$5 suggested donation for adults, free for children, Sweet Land Farm, 65-1031 Kaukonahua Rd., Waialua, afroaloha.com
Juneteenth Block Party
Sunday, June 18, 2 to 9 p.m.
Sponsored by For the Culture Hawai‘i. Help celebrate the cultural achievements of Black American scientists, artists, activists, musicians, scholars, inventors and more. Organizers invite the community to gather, dance, sing and learn. The event includes more than 40 vendors, a talent showcase and family-friendly activities.
Free, Bishop Museum, 1525 Bernice St., RSVP here
Juneteenth Community Art and Altar Space
Monday, June 19, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The event will include a gathering to create art, a ceremony to honor the ancestors and a look to the future.
RSVP to reserve art materials, Kapi‘olani Park, 3840 Paki Ave. thepopoloproject.org
Juneteenth Poetry, Wine and Jazz
Monday, June 19, 5 to 10 p.m.
This event will feature a wine tasting and pairing, live music by Jonathan Ho‘omanawanui and a soul food dinner catered by Second Helpings Hawai‘i, a nonprofit “providing hope and empowerment to women in transition seeking positive change.”
$55, 45-550 Kiona‘ole Road, Kāne‘ohe, buy tickets