Grand Junction’s Juneteenth celebration: a day of togetherness, education and limbo

Stina Sieg/CPR News
Juneteenth drew a diverse array of people, many of them young, to Lincoln Park. Throughout the evening, speakers talked about how racism can be subtle in Mesa County — and also overt, June 2020.

Only about 1 percent of Grand Junction’s residents are Black — a bit more when Colorado Mesa University is in session. That’s why recognizing Juneteenth is so important, explained David Combs, who’s been organizing a celebration in the small city for five years. 

He sees the local event celebrating the holiday as a chance to share with his neighbors and to educate them on culture and history they might not have much exposure to on the Western Slope.

“We want them to understand about Black pride, even though we're a small portion of the community because we want this to be a welcoming community,” Combs said. “And with that, we know we play a part in that welcoming.”

The annual event, held from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday in Lincoln Park, starts off focused on family fun and togetherness. The first few hours feature live music, limbo and double-dutch contests. The official program begins around 4 p.m. with proclamations read off by officials from Grand Junction and neighboring communities. Awards will follow to recognize locals who exemplify inclusivity.

Throughout the afternoon, the event will host food, a cooling station and booths from various organizations, including local Democrats and Republicans. Combs said his group, Black Citizens and Friends, strives to make the event “apolitical” and welcomes anyone who has information to share. 

“If you have a cause that you wholly support, we will assist you in supporting that cause,” he said. 

Police officers have been part of the festivities from the start. Grand Junction’s previous police chief used to lead the limbo contest. In 2020, not long after a white police officer in Minneapolis murdered George Floyd, Grand Junction police made a huge showing at the Juneteenth event, with some dancing the “Cupid Shuffle” with a diverse group of kids and adults.

Stina Sieg/CPR News
The evening ended the way it began, with the “Cupid Shuffle.” Members of RAW insisted the police chief and mayor get up and dance. And they did, June 2022.

It was the kind of moment Combs hopes for every Juneteenth.

“When you see people of all colors, of all races come together for a celebration, it makes us proud,” he said. 

Combs hopes that Juneteenth, along with his organization’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day events earlier in the year, speaks directly to Black parents across the region who send their kids to school at the local university. 

“They want to make sure that their children are safe,” he said.

He believes these kinds of community celebrations help build that sense of safety, even though that feeling has been threatened and strained at times. In 2020, a man showed up to the local event carrying an assault rifle. As the armed man paced on the sidewalk, police asked Combs how he’d like them to handle the perceived threat. 

He told them to invite the man over and to let him know he was welcome at the gathering. When the stranger saw he wasn’t getting the outcry he expected, he left. 

“We attempt to be inviting, open-armed and open-minded to anyone that wants to be part of our celebration,” Combs said.