Codye Hatcher’s three little daughters are getting old enough, now, to where they can go running off in the park on their own on a weekend like this one.
They know everybody they see now, Hatcher said, as they bounce around the familiar faces and festivities, and even at six years old and younger, they know what they’re in for even before they get there.
“They look forward to it as much as I do myself,” he laughed.
The annual Juneteenth Celebration in Odessa has become a family affair for Hatcher and his girls, just as it has for so many members of the West Texas community — and the festivities are set to gear up again this weekend for four days of fun starting Friday.
The Black Cultural Council of Odessa is in its 21st year organizing its event that coincides with the annual holiday, which commemorates June 19, 1865, the day the slow-moving news of the Confederacy’s surrender two months earlier finally reached Texas, emancipating slaves in the state.
The BCCO’s Juneteenth Celebration is set to feature musical performances, picnics, food vending, a pageant, a parade, its long-running annual basketball tournament, and more, centered in Woodson Park and sprawling out across locations throughout Odessa, June 15-17 and June 19.
“It’s special for the community,” Hatcher said, speaking over the phone last week, knowing what it can mean for a young family in West Texas, and looking forward to returning to the court for another year in the tournament and spending more relaxing time out at the park.
“It brings everybody back together.”
And this year, the BCCO’s event is bigger than ever.
Jo Ann Davenport Littleton, BCCO board member, said the event is attracting more vendors this year, and that it has seen an uptick in local businesses sponsoring food and giveaways and the like.
Musical acts in the styles of gospel, soul, hip hop and more line the weekend’s schedule for the stage at Woodson Park, where food trucks and vendors from all around will be available, and events like Saturday’s parade on Dixie Boulevard, a comedy act at Blackshear’s auditorium, and the basketball tournament at the Odessa College Sports Center bring the celebration spilling out across Odessa.
Admission is free for events throughout the celebration. For a full schedule, visit OdessaBCC.org.
“To be a part of the organization, to be a part of the celebration, to see it grow, the way it’s growing, with the participation, with the excitement and people buying in — it’s a great feeling,” Littleton said.
“We feel that our city is embracing our Juneteenth celebration and that’s very exciting.”
Meanwhile, the celebration is giving right back to the city and the area, attendees like Hatcher can attest.
Hatcher first moved to Odessa in 2014, ahead of his junior year of basketball at UTPB. It could’ve been a bit of a culture shock, he agreed, moving from his native Tennessee to Odessa, where black or African American people make up a much smaller portion of the area’s overall population. Odessa’s black population makes up about five percent of the city’s total population, according to Census data.
But the Juneteenth Celebration is like a cultural anchor for the black community in West Texas, Hatcher agreed — and now, years after his college basketball career ended, he’s still in the area, raising his young family in Midland.
Juneteenth festivities have helped make a home out of West Texas for plenty other members of the black community in the area, too, said Danny Wright, the longtime area Boys and Girls Club coordinator, ECISD educator and former Permian basketball coach.
“What it brings is a restoration of history and a celebration of a group of people,” Wright said, amid organizing the 38th annual Danny R. Wright Basketball Tournament as part of the festivities.
“If there’s a guy who, let’s say he’s a freshman at UTPB or Odessa College … and he’s been around the city … you very seldom see any African Americans,” he said. “If he messes around and comes to Juneteenth: ‘Wait a minute man, did I go to sleep and wake up in a different city? What is going on here?’” he laughed.
“But I think that’s a good thing.”
This year’s iteration of the high-level basketball tournament is set to tip off at 6 p.m. Friday and again at 9 a.m. Saturday, with Hatcher and a crew of UTPB alums and contingents looking to win a third straight championship — and fellowship along the way.
“It gets them involved in where they’re at,” Hatcher said of other African Americans new to the area like him, perhaps who came to the area for education or for the oil industry. “When you’ve got events like that to come up, and those kind of people who want to figure out what’s going on or know about West Texas, that’s one of the great events to go see.”
Ned Simmons said he has seen more of the same in his years in Odessa. He came to the area to play at UTPB in the summer of 2005 and then spent several years working in the school’s athletic department after that.
“When you get to go out to a Juneteenth Celebration, being at the park, they get to see, ‘Wow, there is this black population out here. It is something that I can get used to, and be around and be a part of,’” Simmons said.
Among so many other things, the event celebrates and carries on a heritage and a culture, Wright agreed, and that’s why it’s important that the event has continued and even grown.
“We when we first started to do it, we would have a couple of cars playing music at the park,” Wright said. “And the thing has grown, thanks to Jo Ann Littleton and BCCO,” he said, noting that they’re among others.
“It’s an opportunity to come out and it’s a secured environment, a controlled environment, a structured environment. … We don’t do that enough. It’s almost like a family reunion, but all the participants don’t necessarily share the same bloodline.”
The BCCO’s weekend event kicks off in earnest Friday, with musical performances starting at 3 p.m. at Woodson Park.
“I invite anyone who has never attended one, to please come be a part of our celebration,” Littleton said.
“If they come once, they’ll want to come back.”