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Juneteenth festival working to boost Black business for more than the weekend

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Posted at 9:05 AM, Jun 18, 2021

DENVER, Colo. — Juneteenth’s yearly celebrations bring the entire community together to celebrate when the last slaves learned of the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery in the United States, and it’s usually a great weekend of business for Black-owned shops and restaurants.

In Denver, the organizers of the celebration are planning to make this Juneteenth leave an impact far beyond the festival.

Fathima Dickerson sees the need for support and investment in Denver's historic Black neighborhood, Five Points. She and her family have owned the Welton Street Cafe restaurant for decades.

"We sacrifice friendships, relationships. We sacrifice our bodies with the labor. It's not easy. Restaurant work is not easy," said Dickerson.

Still, there’s nowhere she’d rather be than inside her family’s restaurant.

"It is the family reunion. It is where we gather, and food is why we gather," said Dickerson.

However, the place of love and soul is struggling to stay open.

"Surviving COVID as Welton Street Cafe has been a quiet storm," said Dickerson.

Her loyal customers are keeping the spot alive but her family doesn’t own their building, and rent in addition to maintenance is tough to afford.

"We always see a lot of pretty stories about being in business, and nobody likes to talk about the shortcomings or the downfalls, the failures that balance out success."

Dickerson's watched many Black-owned businesses struggle around her but she knows the neighborhood's success will only help all those around it too.

"This needs to continue to be the hub for us to call home so that we can get the resources and the services we need to better our families because that way we build a better community," said Dickerson.

She has hope that this neighborhood will survive and thrive, and this year, the Juneteenth celebration may help start that change to boost Denver’s Black community.

"When you think about it being larger than a weekend, it is. I'm Black every day, every single day. And when you're a Black business owner, you need support for your business every single day," said Dickerson.

"We look at it as a launchpad," said Norman Harris, the President of JMF corporation and the lead organizer of Denver's Juneteenth Music Festival.

Harris is organizing for partnerships with companies like Amazon and has web developers helping Black-owned businesses build websites for free.

He wants to make sure this festival is helpful beyond all the fun; that it is growing businesses, too.

Some of the proceeds of the event itself will go to businesses like Welton Street Café, so whether online or in person, this year's celebrations will help boost Black-owned businesses.

"When you get that type of synergy that happens within our community spaces, it's priceless," said Harris.

Denver’s online and in-person plan to boost businesses is modeling the way for Juneteenth celebrations across the country, a movement Fathima wants to last.

"Juneteenth is a lifestyle. I will say that it is. It is what I breathe, how I move. Juneteenth is representing and supporting the culture of Black people," said Dickerson.

Historian Dr. Vern L. Howard said it’s these moments of collaboration that can build Black wealth for generations to come.

"That is what the Emancipation Proclamation was about," said Dr. Howard, Chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission. "And that is what Black businesses are about, is to leave a legacy and an inheritance to your offspring."

And the chance to pass this business down is a dream Dickerson isn’t willing to let go of.

"You save Welton Street Cafe, you save Five Points. You save Five Points, you save Juneteenth. You save Juneteenth, you save the Black community. We are trying to save a life," said Dickerson.