Celebrating Juneteenth

UND faculty member organizes Juneteenth celebration in Grand Forks

Hamzat Koriko has two hearts.

“One is inside me, and the second is in the drum,” Koriko said. “When you play, you are looking to create a space. The drum represents a heartbeat.”

Hamzat Koriko

Drumming is one of many passions for Koriko, a UND alum who teaches in the University’s honors program and founded the African Arts Arena in Grand Forks. He is organizing the Juneteenth celebration in Grand Forks, which will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday, June 19, in the Grand Cities Mall.

The program includes remarks by Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski and others, an African drum performance, a drama about the story of Juneteenth, poetry, and more.

Sponsored by the City of Grand Forks, the United African Community, and Praxis Africa, it is open to all. Refreshments will be provided by Steers Somali Restaurant and Bully Brew Coffee House.

“Even though I’m an immigrant of African descent, I’m learning a lot about African American culture and black history,” the Togo native said. “One of the ways we can learn more about it is to make sure we celebrate Juneteenth. It’s a way to learn about the community.”

Juneteenth Celebration

Juneteenth, on June 19, marks the day in 1885 when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free in Galveston, Texas. The North Dakota Legislature passed a bipartisan bill in April to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, and the bill was signed into law by Gov. Doug Burgum.

Before this year, North Dakota was one of just three states that didn’t recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. Koriko contacted the governor’s office to lobby for Juneteenth, and was especially pleased when Burgum signed the legislation into law.

“We wanted Juneteenth to be on the calendar, just like every other celebration,” Koriko said, adding that he also reached out to the Grand Forks City Council. Koriko also organized the first Juneteenth celebration in Grand Forks last year.

Koriko earned his undergraduate degree in theatre in Togo, where he was a storyteller, playwright and director. After living in France, he came to the United States in 2014. He settled in Fargo, then moved to Grand Forks to attend UND, where he met Kathy Gershman, professor emerita of educational foundations & research.

“She’s been a wonderful mentor since I set foot into Grand Forks,” Koriko said. He earned both master’s and doctoral degrees in educational foundations & research. He also taught French while earning his degrees.

African heritage

Koriko serves as founder and executive artistic director of the African Arts Arena, a cultural and arts organization that engages communities and shares African cultural heritage.

“We try to create a space for new immigrants of African descent and Africans living here so we can relive and share our culture as we grow into a new community,” he said. “We also do after-school and mentorship programs.”

He co-chairs the North Dakota New American/Foreign-Born/Immigrants Advisory Board and is owner and CEO of Kori-ko Consulting LLC.

Koriko has won awards for community engagement and leadership in the U.S. and abroad, and recently received a $12,500 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to translate an African play, Catharsis, from French to English. He is working with Michael Beard, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English.

He speaks seven languages, and spent nearly three years in the Peace Corps, where he taught English in Armenia.

“I love sharing my experiences and learning from people,” Koriko said. “I want to use art to promote diversity, inclusion and equity, and reach out into the community. There is something about Grand Forks that I love. This is my home.”