City officials absent from Concord Juneteenth event

State Representative Jonah Wheeler addresses children on Juneteenth.

State Representative Jonah Wheeler addresses children on Juneteenth. Sofie Buckminster / Monitor staff

Organizer Fisto Ndayishimiye speaks at Juneteenth event.

Organizer Fisto Ndayishimiye speaks at Juneteenth event. Sofie Buckminster—Staff


Monitor staff

Published: 06-20-2024 3:39 PM

Modified: 06-20-2024 10:06 PM

Tiny hands flipped regular-sized bottles under the tables. Plastic cafeteria stools squeaked relentlessly. A constant buzz of young whispers filled the air, frustrating the few adults in the room who tried and failed to quell it. No matter how important the day, kids are still kids.

Project S.T.O.R.Y. (Supporting Talents of Rising Youth) hosted one of Concord’s only Juneteenth events Wednesday evening, inviting everyone to Mill Brook School to learn about the history of the holiday. The hosts were anticipating a community-wide turnout. Aside from a brief appearance from Mayor Byron Champlin, they didn’t get it.

“I was expecting city council to come, and law enforcement,” said Fisto Ndayishimiye, an organizer and guest speaker for the event. “I was expecting everybody to come celebrate.”

Still, over 30 elementary school students in one room presented an opportunity. The speakers pivoted.

After a brief history of Juneteenth and the emancipation of slaves in the United States, New Hampshire State Representative Jonah Wheeler gave the crowd an abridged introduction to how the legislature works.

“Do you think the school day should be longer?” he asked.

“No!” the kids shouted back.

Wheeler explained that his idea, which could also be called a “bill,” can be amended if the other people in the room don’t like it.

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“What if we make it the same length, but it starts later?” a girl in the audience asked.

“We have an amendment!” Wheeler said. “If we can all agree that we like this version of the bill, we can make it happen!”

The crowd cheered. The hypothetical bill had passed.

Wheeler, at 21 years old, ran for office once he turned 18. This year, he sponsored a bill that would empower workers to take legal action if they faced hair-based discrimination from their bosses. 

“A lot of us here have braids or dreads,” he said. “How many of you love your braids?” Almost every hand in the room shot up.

He told the kids about his bill. “When you turn 18, you can run for office just like I did,” he said. “Changing the world is absolutely possible. I know that without a shadow of a doubt.”

Wheeler had the kids listening more attentively than they had been, but the room was still in chaos. Girls tried to climb the wall behind him. Boys bounced from table to table, getting re-scolded for talking at each one.

Project S.T.O.R.Y. founder and director Charm Emiko stepped in.

“Who here has experienced racism in Concord?” she asked.

Again, almost every hand shot up.

“Project S.T.O.R.Y. wouldn’t exist if Concord was giving you everything you needed,” she said. “We can celebrate, yes, but it’s also important to know that we have a lot of work left to be done.”

A young girl with white beads in her hair turned to the table behind her and whispered, “Shh!” For the first time, the buzz fell quiet.

Sofie Buckminster can be reached at