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Charlotte's Juneteenth Celebration Founder Says Holiday Is A 'Significant Part Of American Culture'

Pape Ndiaye
Jodie Valade
Pape Ndiaye poses outside his shop House of Africa on Thomas Avenue in Plaza Midwood.

For years, Charlotte's hosted a Juneteenth celebration that spans several blocks and days. More accurately, Pape Ndiaye has hosted the celebration. When he first came to Charlotte, he felt there wasn't much recognition of the day that memorializes the end of slavery in this country. So he started his own and invited the community.

That was 24 years ago. And this year it's taken on an added significance as thousands of people have taken to the streets protesting racial injustice. And then there's the limitations a pandemic places on gatherings, too.

Lisa Worf: Good morning, Mr. Ndiaye.

Pape Ndiaye: Good morning. Good morning. How are you doing today?

Worf: I am doing well and you? As you get ready for your celebration?

Ndiaye: Getting ready for the Juneteenth Festival of the Carolinas again.

Worf: How are you approaching this year's Juneteenth Festival differently? Are you?

Ndiaye: Yeah, it is. It is going to be a different Juneteenth, very different Juneteenth. We will do it in a different platform this year, but it will happen -- to keep just the spirit alive.

Worf: And what does that platform look like?

Ndiaye: It will be celebrated like drop-in. Usually we close two blocks and have thousands and thousands of people during the four days. But this year is going to be different. Like, the street will not be closed. So is going to be just a celebration with African drumming, a DJ playing music, open mic and guest speakers talking about the history of Juneteenth, why Juneteenth is important.

Worf: And a drop-in because of the limitations of a pandemic on gathering?

Ndiaye: Correct. We encourage people to wear masks and gloves to just get rid of this pandemic.

Worf: As far as what we've been seeing over the last few weeks ... I mean, thousands of people here in Charlotte and across the country marching in the streets, protesting racial injustice. Does this give the festival a different tone this year?

Ndiaye: I don't think is nothing about protesting. That's fine. But I just want it to be done in unity. In peace. And nothing else but that. That's how you protest. That's how people will hear your voice. Not knocking people's stuff down, breaking things. That's not good. It is not good. I don't agree with that. You can protest now, but peacefully. And do it in unity and togetherness. That's how you should be, for best thing.

Worf: Have you heard from more people about this celebration than than in past years?

Ndiaye: Yes. I see the difference. This year is more people aware about what Juneteenth is than before. When I just got here, people would be asking me, "What is Juneteenth? What is Juneteenth? What is Juneteenth?" Now, I'm not hearing those questions. I've been looking to hear it in the past two weeks, but no one asked that. What is the meaning of Juneteenth? They know now about Juneteenth. That's great.

Worf: Do you think that partly has to do with all the events over the past three weeks? And how so?

Ndiaye: They are just waking up. George Floyd really make them be aware of who we really are. I think that's what makes them aware about Juneteenth this year. They're talking about more than ever.

Worf: And are you saying you're hearing that among white people more?

Ndiaye: White people, black people. Every people. Because I think and believe that Juneteenth is not just an African American holiday. Juneteenth is a significant part of the American people, of American culture. It is a significant part of American culture. It is part of Juneteenth. It is part of America. That's why I always say it is not just an African American holiday, but a significant piece of American history.

Worf: American history, and where our nation's history and roots go back to.

Ndiaye: Of course, Africa is the cradle of humanity. We all come from Africa. It's where everything started.

Worf: You've seen a lot of changes around Juneteenth and people's recognition of it here in Charlotte since you came here all those years ago. What do you think Charlotte needs to learn now about that history and its pull on the present?

Ndiaye: Is a whole lot that needs to be learned in Charlotte. Not just in Charlotte, but all over the world, in the nation. I always insist on peace. Turning our minds away from war. It is over the war in our heart, mind, body, all guns and war because of the space in which we live. That's why I always insist on the peace, not just for today, for forever. We will lay down our weapons insisting that peace be the light and the way.

Worf: That's Pape Ndiaye, founder of the Juneteenth Festival of the Carolinas. Mr. Ndiaye, thank you.

Ndiaye: You're very welcome. Thanks for having me.

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