With Juneteenth coming up this weekend, we chatted with Paige Ingram and Junauda Petrus-Nasah, organizers of the Juneteenth Revolutionary Blackout Bike Ride, about the June 19 holiday, which marks slavery’s end in the United States and became an official Minneapolis holiday this year. Register for the bike ride here, and learn more about Juneteenth and what it means to Minnesota here.
Paige Ingram is an artist, a national and regional organizer for Black liberation, an activist, and a budding outdoor enthusiast who is passionate about spirituality and connection. Ingram worked with Free Black Dirt, an artistic partnership based in the Twin Cities.
What did you do for Juneteenth last year?
When George Floyd was killed, there were a lot of black abolitionists that were getting together to strategize and be connected and support each other in the work that we were all respectively doing in response. It was centered in community care—mutual aid was already happening because of the pandemic.
I remember having a conversation with Junauda about how important it is for Black folks in particular to have a different relationship with the public sphere than before. In activism, getting out on the streets can have a strong impact on your body and your spirit, especially for Black folks at that time. With that, what can we do to help people get back into their bodies? To get back into their relationship with the land that we’re on? To stake claim in public space that’s not necessarily a protest?
So, we linked up with Anthony Taylor, a serious activist and outdoorsman, who is one of the main folks with Slow Roll in Minneapolis. We wanted to do a bike ride for Juneteenth. There were kids, folks on rollerblades, people who popped up to join us. It started on the Northside, in Theodore Wirth Park. We had music and DJs, bikes for people that didn’t have them, people to help repair bikes, etc. We wanted to make an intergenerational space that centered on our needs and our bodies. We stopped at the Walker Sculpture Garden to look at Black art and had a meditative moment for the same amount of time that George Floyd was being choked by the Minneapolis police. It was an amazing time to just lay out on the grass, listen to the birds, listen to children playing, and just be together. Then we biked down to George Floyd Square and back to the Northside. When we got back, we had music and snacks.
It felt so powerful and comforting to be taking up that much space as a bunch of free Black people. It felt really secure, even biking at night. There’s something about togetherness that created security and closeness.
What plans do you have for Juneteenth celebrations in 2021?
We definitely are planning another Juneteenth Revolutionary Blackout Bike Ride. We do want to keep it as an explicitly Black liberatory space and experience. Because last year’s was so transformative, we’re working on developing a couple other bike rides in addition to other outdoor experiences. We want to do a bike ride in St. Paul. There’s a ridiculous amount of Black history and Black spaces to be in there too.
Something that we’re really committed to is branching out and creating more opportunity for liberatory play, learning, and teaching, particularly rooted in the earth and the outdoors.
For you, what is Juneteenth?
There was a Juneteenth before the uprising and there has been a Juneteenth after the uprising. In my mind, there was something that transformed many people and the way we take up space. Especially with the pandemic, many Black people in particular have been holding on and reclaiming relationships with ritual. Celebration has become a really important thing. In Minnesota, the summertime, being together, and celebrating liberation is so important for the Black community here. Folks are connecting with each other to have a different relationship with their history. There’s something really profound about each of us living through this time as historic relics ourselves, recognizing the historic time that we’re in right now. I’m really excited to keep exploring that with Juneteenth in particular, especially this spring and summer, a year after the world started looking at us in a different way.
What would you like to communicate to an audience who may not know the significance of Juneteenth?
To Black folks who are trying to gain a connection and understanding about Juneteenth, yes it’s important to connect with the written resources out there, but also connect with the community. Community events have been going on for a really long time here, so if you’re looking to experience it, it’s really an experience to be embodied on a spiritual level.”
I suppose that goes for anybody. To really support and embrace the offerings that people are making in our community around Juneteenth is really important.
Junauda Petrus-Nasah is a writer, a soul sweetener, runaway witch, and performance artist of Black-Caribbean descent, born and working on unceded Dakota land in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her work centers around wildness, queerness, Black-diasporic-futurism, ancestral healing, sweetness, shimmer and liberation. Her first YA novel, The Stars and The Blackness Between Them received a Coretta Scott King Honor Award. She is the co-founder, with Erin Sharkey, of Free Black Dirt, a Black, experimental healing art collective. She is currently working on her second novel Black Circus, set in the ’90s about a young, Black woman studying circus.
For you, what is the significance of Juneteenth?
Growing up, there were always Juneteenth celebrations up North [Minneapolis]. It was a way for young people to just get together and get out and about in the summer time. I didn’t really know the significance until I was much older, learning about it as the day that enslaved Africans in Texas had been freed, a delayed freedom.
For me, Juneteenth speaks to a sense of freedom, but also freedom delayed. So how are we constantly pushing and making and opening up our world towards actual liberation and freedom for all?
As an artist and activist in this moment, I think about how do we celebrate Black resilience and Black joy. Juneteenth is about struggle but it also has this element of jubilee. After the end of heavy oppression, there’s an importance of celebrating, shaking loose, and being free. As a local artist, how do I make spaces for people to not only think about freedom, but to literally feel free? Juneteenth is a holiday that unapologetically signifies that.
What did you do for Juneteenth last year? What inspired you?
I’m an avid bicyclist. I was thinking, how do we using biking, the space that biking takes up, and the freedom that we feel to acknowledge this moment. Paige [Ingram] and I came up with the idea of a bike ride after George Floyd. Especially with the nice weather, a bike ride also offers some natural social distancing. It was a way that, as Black people, we could take up space but also be socially distant and enjoy Minneapolis.
When I called Anthony [Taylor, of Slow Roll], he had the idea of doing something for Juneteenth. But it was also only a week away. Honestly, I thought it was just gonna be the homies. We created a little Facebook vibe, but the word got around and next thing I knew NPR hit me up. There we were, talking about this thing that we just decided to do last week.
We decided to make it a Black-only space, to insulate us because we were still very tender from the last few weeks. Let’s take care of that by centering Black folks unapologetically. We gave allies the opportunity to bring water and snacks and fix bikes, to be in solidarity. We took charge and sanctified all these places around Minneapolis with our presence, just being with each other.
It ended up being even more magical than I had imagined. All kinds of people showed up and brought treats, really wanted to care for us in that moment. It ended up being a blast! We provided bikes for those who needed them; Anthony made that happen and lots of allies even donated bikes. It was part of the blueprint for how we get past these moments of deep oppression and violence, by centering those who need a space to be and showing up for each other.
What plans do you have for Juneteenth celebrations in 2021?
I’m excited for this year! Last year, after only a week of planning, it was bomb like that. We’re thinking about places in Minneapolis and St. Paul where we can acknowledge Black space, like the Rondo or Central or Northside neighborhoods. How do we use Juneteenth and making these stops to recognize all the ways that Black presence and impact have been a sacred part of what it means to be in the Twin Cities?