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Community wants you to Experience Black Puyallup at city's first Black History Month celebration

Colorful banners hang from an archway.
JMarie Johnson-Kola
Community members began decorating Puyallup Nazarene Church's lobby on Thursday for the Experience Black Puyallup event.

It wasn't until this year that the city of Puyallup officially recognized Black History Month. The first-ever citywide Black History Month celebration takes place Feb. 25-26 at Puyallup Nazarene Church.

The two-day event will include an interactive museum-like experience featuring a photo exhibit put together by Puyallup high school students who captured their local heroes. There will be live performances and African drumming, a discussion on Black mental and physical health, spotlights on Black businesses and a feature on local Black history in the military.

The idea for the Experience Black Puyallup event was sparked by JMarie Johnson-Kola. She’s been living in Puyallup since 2016, but she says the last few years, including the pandemic and a summer of protests against racial violence, left her starved for connection.

A colorful flyer has event details for the Black History Month celebration
Courtesy of JMarie Johnson-Kola
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Dozens of community members and sponsors pitched in to create the first ever city-wide celebration of Black History Month in Puyallup February 25-26, 2022.

“All those things made me really desire to know my neighbors, be with people who look like me, and who could understand what I was feeling during those things,” Johnson-Kola said. “And, then the heavy, heavy realization that I didn't know them. I didn't know how to get in contact with them or how to gather with them.”

Johnson-Kola partnered with community organizations and started with small lunchtime gatherings.

“When people walked into the room, Black folk, they all would say, 'I've never seen this many black people in one place, ever!' And so that just made me think.”

But the real “mind-blowing” moment came when she realized the city had never officially recognized Black History Month before. The more she talked with people from across the community, the more who jumped in with contributions to help create a celebration.

Filmmaker Valentine Douglas captured the stories of Black people who have lived in Puyallup for decades and made other promotional materials for the event. Some might question the need for this event, Douglas said, but he hopes they'll give it a chance.

“No matter how you feel about this event, come feel it, come experience it. I'm walking out of this experience different than I came into it, and I think everybody will have that same experience,” Douglas said.

Johnson-Kola said she hopes the event is just the beginning for Puyallup.

“It's an introduction of Blacks to each other. It's an introduction of Blacks to everyone else in our community. And we're hoping that people leave saying, ‘Wow, I didn't know. Now I do. Let me continue this,’ ” she said. “We don't want it to be the first and last celebration.”

That goes for other communities in Puyallup, too, Johnson-Kola said. She wants to see more celebrations of other cultures like the Asian, Latino and Native communities.

“We want to stand side by side with those groups when they do their own, and just do what we can do to make it good,” Johnson-Kola said. “The desire to belong and come together is universal, and when we find space for that to grow and be nurtured, then that's when stuff like this happens.”

Mayowa Aina is the special projects reporter at KNKX.