Douglas County Commission approves $5K for Lawrence Juneteenth celebration; organizers share plans

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Douglas County Commissioners on Wednesday granted an uncommon ask for funding for a community event. 

Janine Colter, president of the Lawrence, Kansas Juneteenth Organization, told commissioners about some of the big plans for this year’s celebration. 

Events slated for Friday, June 17 through Sunday, June 19 include a gospel musical, a parade downtown, a march down to South Park to share oral histories, a kid zone, vendors, music and more. Colter said they’re also asking social organizations to come out and share what they’re about.

“We want to collaborate. We want to build a community, a stronger community,” she said. “We talk about Kansas being a free state, and there’s a lot of rich history here so we really want to share it with everyone and make it a lot of family fun.” 

But that comes at a cost, she said. The organization has fundraised and sought out sponsorships to make it all happen, Colter said, but they were asking the commission for some financial support as well. 

Markus Logan, who said he’s been part of the Juneteenth Organization for the past five years, told commissioners that “hopefully you guys will see in your hearts to help us put this on. It’s going on regardless, but we need the help.” 

Commission Vice Chair Shannon Portillo asked how the organization is including folks throughout Douglas County in the celebration. Colter gave some examples, including that some planned Underground Railroad tours will extend into Douglas County, and some oral histories involve people from other areas of the county. 

Commissioners noted that this type of request for support for an event, particularly outside the budget cycle, is uncommon but not unheard of. They have previously provided funding for a Fourth of July celebration, for instance. 

“I would say that we haven’t provided direct budget allocations for community based celebration, but the commissioners do have a small contingency fund inside their budget for smaller recognitions or smaller events that we’ve used in the past for kind of particular point-in-time requests like this,” County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said. 

Commission Chair Shannon Reid said she was interested in supporting the event. She said the heritage of Black families in the Douglas County community is strong, but the stories are often “undertold” or completely untold. 

“So I’m excited that you all have a real focus on the storytelling aspect of that and collecting oral histories,” she said. 

Commissioner Patrick Kelly said he was very supportive and happy to vote for the request, but he would like to have a conversation in the future about what the commission’s budget is for similar requests and how the process should work in the future. Other commissioners agreed, and they unanimously approved the one-time funding request for $5,000. 

For updates on the Juneteenth celebration, follow the organization’s Facebook page

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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