Courtney and Nicole Mallery on Freedom Acres Ranch with family and friends. Photo credit: Courtesy of Black Land Owners Matter Instagram

Juneteenth celebration at Colorado’s Freedom Acres Ranch met with local hate, but Nicole and Courtney Mallery carry on

5 mins read

Last Juneteenth, Nicole and Courtney Mallery celebrated a small, but powerful nod to justice when charges against them were dropped in a fight against Colorado townspeople who lodged a racist campaign to kick them out of a small, rural town. This year, they’re hosting their own event, but the road to their Juneteenth festival has been rocky. But, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn them ’round.”

The first light of Saturday morning has yet to kiss the sky, but Nicole and Courtney Mallery have been up for hours, gearing up to celebrate the age-old tradition, Juneteenth. Inviting family, friends and a community of farmers, activists and military veterans, their inaugural event, Juneteenth Dinner En Blanc, will take place on their expansive, Freedom Acres Ranch

“Juneteenth is about freedom,” Nicole Mallery told Ark Republic. “Today we are having this event on Black-owned land hosted by Black ranchers and farmers to showcase our freedom and how we can be victorious against the gate when we work together.”

Juneteenth is an annual celebration started by formerly enslaved Blacks in Galveston, Texas who found out two years after Emancipation that they were free. While there have been a number of liberation observances throughout the U.S., Juneteenth was named a federally-observed holiday through the decades-long advocacy of retired school teacher, Opal Lee. Today, it has turned into a nationwide commemoration with events springing up from California to New York. For the Mallery’s, their celebration will take place in Yoder, Colorado, a small town where they resettled in 2020 when they purchased their 1,000 acre ranch.

Freedom Acres Ranch plans for a day filled with games and creative activities for children; live jazz, rhythm and blues; and a deejay spinning in the background. There will also be a Black cowboy procession through Yoder. At the center of the day is a dinner using local produce and food cooked by a renowned chef. Participants, dressed in their finest whites will dine outside on the picturesque ranch then end the night with a firework display.

The planning leading up to the event has been constant meetings, calls and emails worth of logistics. But, the underbelly of their Juneteenth preparations reminds the Mallery’s that freedom in their part of Colorado is far from glitz and glamour. Like the ancestors before, freedom has been hard fought.

Since the Mallery’s posted their Juneteenth event, they have received non-stop harassment and attempts for their event to be canceled. From a barrage of hate messages via email and on social media platforms, to townspeople lodging complaints about the event—their experience has been mixed with the sweetness of overwhelming support along with the flood of local vitriol. Yet, they are far from surprised because their arrival to Yoder sparked years of being under siege by unwelcoming neighbors.

Freedom ain’t free

After the Mallery’s moved onto their ranch in 2020, they began to experience various forms of harassment and hostilities from white neighbors and townspeople.  The Mallery’s detailed constant surveillance, vandalism to property, stolen farming equipment, death threats and the siphoning of their water source and electricity. Moreover, they discovered multiple animals from their ranch butchered, gutted, poisoned and disappeared from their property. And that was just the beginning of it.

Eventually, local law enforcement from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department got involved due to the various calls and complaints from the couple, and mainly, one neighbor, Teresa Clark. According to the Mallery’s, they were also targeted by some local sheriffs at the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department, and in particular, Sergeant Emory Ray Gerhart, who they said threatened to arrest them if they continued to call the police about various complaints. They also claimed that he forbade them to farm on all of their land.

Eventually, both were charged with various violations. Ms. Mallery was arrested and charged with providing false information to an officer and discharging a firearm. Mr. Mallery was charged with stalking and two misdemeanors (petty theft and tampering with public utilities), in which he was arrested and had to be bonded out. While in jail, Ms. Mallery said that authorities told her that they lost her husband in the system and could not find him to bail him out.

Ark Republic broke the Mallery story in January 2023 in a series titled, “Get Out.” Simultaneously, Ark Republic’s sister organization, Black Farmers Index, started a campaign asking their community of mostly Black farmers to assist the Mallery’s who were close to losing their land right before Mr. Mallery was arrested. In fact, Mr. Mallery learned of his charges while Ark Republic interviewed them. In the end, the appeal and reporting resulted in a deluge of support from farmers, military veterans and waves of concerned citizens. Thus began the emergence of a community that remains in support of the Black ranchers.

Months later, all charges were dropped against the Mallery’s in May of 2023. From then on, they have been on a mad dash to build adequate security and expand their operations. Continuing their philanthropic relationship with organizations such as Montbello Walks and Kaizen Food Rescue, they also paired with a handful of veteran organizations. 

One year later, the couple is putting the final touches on a day that recognizes the price of freedom is always a costly endeavor. “The event is being done to thank farmers, veterans and the community  for coming together against hate and ensuring no more Black land loss,” said Mrs. Mallery. “We still have a long way to go, but this event is for the people. Every last person who made a call, donated, showed up to volunteer, sent encouraging works, and signed a petition. This event is for the people- community veterans farmers who rallied behind us and gave support.”

For the People, by the People

For the Mallery’s, their Juneteenth event is an extension of their goal to “provide fresh food to people who didn’t have it.” When they opened their operations around 2021, their mission was to give low-income communities access to fresh, healthy food. Because they started during the pandemic when food insecurity ran rampant through poor and vulnerable parts of Colorado, the couple donated pounds of meat and eggs to food pantries, community organizations and even refugee-centered initiatives to feed families who were unsure if they were able to enjoy a nutritious, daily meal. This also included local people in Yoder who felt what they describe as “the rippl[ing] effects that the pandemic had on the food supply.”

Where there is hate, there is love. The proverb might be idealistic, but it has been a mantra that the Mallery’s stand affirmed on in the most difficult ordeals where they are still called racial epithets by locals and their land is sabotaged frequently. Still, the sheriff’s department rarely answers their calls; and they must thwart off rumors and lies that attempt to scandalize their efforts. 

On the other hand, there has been an overflow of support for the day. “We have to stay focused on those who stand with us,” ensured Mrs. Mallery. “We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams.”

The Black Lives Matter flags still fly high on their ranch. If anything, they matter, and their work is invaluable to thousands. For this year’s Juneteenth gala, the Mallery’s will celebrate, but will keep their safety in mind and heads on a swivel. The event will take place on Saturday, June 15, 2024, from 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM at Freedom Acres Ranch.

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