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Honoring Juneteenth: Local Brewery Gets It Right

DENVER (CBS4)- Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. The federal government officially recognized Juneteenth in 2021, but the "new" holiday has been celebrated for more than 150 years.

The commercialization of holidays isn't new in America, however, many feel there's already a disconnect between companies and the significance of June 19.

Walmart's Juneteenth ice cream sparked criticism on social media, prompting the company to remove the product from its shelves. Many accused the big box store of being tone deaf. Images of Juneteenth plasticware and can coolers with the phrase "IT'S THE FREEDOM FOR ME" went viral.

Denver's Juneteenth celebration was one of the largest in the country long before the government declared it a federal holiday. It continues to attract larger and larger crowds every Summer.

Norman Harris, the organizer of the Juneteenth Music Festival, says Denver's celebration serves as a model for others around the country.

"Juneteenth's visibility has grown quite a bit, especially with it becoming both a city, state and now a federal holiday. I imagine a bunch of folks are trying to figure out how to properly celebrate," said Harris. "It's always been important for us to make sure that we do it properly with respect and include our community, bringing them to the table."

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When he first saw images of the big box Juneteenth decor for sale, Harris described it as abrasive and done in poor taste.

"I would ask brands like Walmart if they're really interested in connecting with communities and connecting with organizations, so they can properly curate things of this nature," said Harris.

He says it's especially disappointing when the Black community has so many artists with the skills to produce these products. However, Harris says that doesn't mean there isn't a place for creatives of all colors to forward the celebration of Juneteenth.

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"While I'm disappointed in what I saw initially, I do think that there are opportunities for us to connect," said Harris. "There are genuine pathways for people to have a thorough understanding of different cultures."

Spangalang, a brewery in Five Points, is releasing a 2022 Juneteenth beer. Co-Owner Taylor Rees says he didn't take the holiday edition brew lightly.

Spangalang did more than slap "Juneteenth" on a can.

"We wouldn't have attempted to do it if we didn't think we could do it right. The way we did it right was by working directly with the community here," said Rees. "We're two white guys with a brewery in Five Points. We're not going to try to benefit from Juneteenth."

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Harris helped guide Spangalang with the concept and flavor. A local Black artist, Jermaine Jude, designed the can's label.

"I hope this might serve as an example and motivate some other folks to knock on our door so we can help curate this properly," said Harris. "The last thing that we want to happen is for folks to feel like they're being alienated because of their lack of understanding. I'm very comfortable with providing grace for our entire community to figure this out."


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